Written by Ram Smaran Suresh

The appointment of Yogi Adityanath has been welcomed with polarized reactions from the media as well as the people. Will the rise of Adityanath hurt the  BJP’s image of secularism?

Just the other night, I was engaged in a routine conversation with a close friend. It was the usual small talk, stuff of little substance. Being a newcomer to UP (or Delhi, thanks to SNU’s peculiar location), I described to her a rather ghastly experience of riding in a bus that was driven (for a few kilometres) on the wrong side of a National Highway. “That is normal in UP”, she said in reply, as composed as MS Dhoni in a nail biter.

Such incidents are never in isolation. In fact, Uttar Pradesh is often a state that makes the news for all the wrong reasons. It is the state with the highest crime rates against women, it ranks 18th among Indian states on the basis of HDI (Human Development Index), it is the second most power deficit state in India (after Jammu and Kashmir), and the list just keeps getting longer.  These collections of facts do not serve to establish that Uttar Pradesh is, for the lack of a better phrase, a terrible state. Rather, the point that I am trying to make here is that it is a state that is desperately in need of some good governance. And that is where governments come into the picture. Or at least they should.

After alternating between BSP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the recent past, the mandate in the UP 2017 Assembly Elections has been handed to the BJP, which won a whopping 312 seats out of the available 403. The BJP certainly seems to be on a high since the general elections in 2014, and its historic win in the politically significant Uttar Pradesh reinforces this fact. The country seems to be riding on a Modi wave, and it is clear that Modi has built a brand of ‘majoritarian’ cult politics. After the win, the focus was on the potential Chief Ministerial candidates. Popular opinion was that India’s most populous state would come under either Rajnath Singh, or BJP’s UP Chief KP Maurya. Hence, the appointment of Yogi Adityanath was certainly surprising.

The primary reason why this development was unexpected is because Yogi Adityanath is an extremely polarising figure with an image as a “Hindutva firebrand”. Public reaction when he was announced the Chief Minister was rather multifaceted: some praising in revelry; others who were indifferent; or even those in denial. Adityanath’s opinions clearly do not signify inclusion whatsoever. Throughout his political career, he has maintained strong, overpowering rightist Hindutva views. Is he a CM who looks to cater to religion rather than the state? Where then, is “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (‘everyone’s support, everyone’s progress’, translated loosely)? Is his focus going to be on propagating religious sentiments or diminishing the crucial issues that UP faces?

Although it is too early into his tenure to answer any of these questions, it could be enlightening to see how he has fared thus far in his political career. Adityanath has been elected to the parliament from Gorakhpur for five consecutive terms, and has a respectable attendance of 77% in the Lok Sabha. He is also known to be an avid participant in parliamentary debates. It is questionable if his political strategies have been development oriented in his constituency (Gorakhpur), given that most of Adityanath’s vote bank is heavily influenced by his ideology.

After being appointed Chief Minister, the saffron clad Yogi has been a prominent figure in the media, for reasons right or wrong. His first month has seen an adoption of an array of reforms, which tells us that he is onto something. He has set off the much needed process of restoring law and order in Uttar Pradesh. If that is an overstatement, it can be safely said that he hasn’t violated his promise to do so. Take, for instance, the ban imposed on illegal slaughterhouses (illegal being the operative word). In the same vein, one could also look at the deployment of “Anti-Romeo squads” to keep a check on stalking and harassment, another illegal activity.

It is clear that Adityanath has been selective in choosing his policies, and has hinged on enforcing discipline and moral policing. He chooses to pounce upon aspects of the law that is in line with a Hindutva ideology. The intent behind his policies seem to be along the lines of imposing religious moral checks that are subtly hidden under the prerogative of law and order. The outcome will probably result in an improved law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh, but the manner in which it is dealt with is rather concerning.

The bigger question is whether such issues are the pressing problems of Indian society. What about the more fundamental problems of poverty, electricity, education and infrastructure? Shouldn’t the primary goal of the Chief Minister comprise of setting up these basic needs?

It has to be admitted that it is way too early to test Adityanath’s policymaking in varied domains. The answer to any of these questions would involve far-fetched speculation. The dangers of speculation are that it places too much emphasis on trends, and considers the future as a function of the past, both of which I find unfair to indulge in. As with everything, only time will tell if India will see the dawn of “sabka saath, sabka vikaas”.

-Ram Smaran Suresh

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Ram Smaran Suresh


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