December 11 will be D-Day for the Uttar Pradesh CM who held about 70 rallies in the past one month.
“Lord Hanuman was a Dalit”; “Keep your Ali, I have Bajrangbali”; “If BJP comes to power in Telangana, Hyderabad would be renamed as Bhagyanagar.” These are just some of the remarks made by Yogi Adityanath, the monk chief minister of Uttar Pradesh while campaigning in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana where polling concluded recently. He also told voters that “BJP has established ‘Ram Rajya’ in all the states where it rules.”
As expected, the CM of Uttar Pradesh bagged much attention with his rallies, often overshadowing the Prime Minister and his party chief Amit Shah.
December 11, when the Election Commission will announce the results of the Assembly elections of five states, will, thus, be a big day for the BJP and “Yogi’s brand of politics”; And perhaps even Yogi’s future.
After all, he was the biggest star campaigner of the Bharatiya Janata Party in these Assembly polls that some may consider the semi-finals ahead of the 2019 General Elections. Yogi has held over 70 rallies in the last one month, including 17 in Madhya Pradesh, 19 in Chhattisgarh, 26 in Rajasthan and eight in Telangana.
A senior BJP leader says: “At some places, his rallies were held against the wishes of local candidates. They had reservations that Yogi’s aggressive speeches could have a negative impact that may add up to anti-incumbency, especially in the changing scenario where Congress seeks to play soft Hindutva card.”
As recently as December 5, Yogi campaigned in Telangana with this trademark aggression, promising to rename Karimnagar as Karipuram. This was at a time when his own state was in trouble owing to mob violence over alleged cow slaughtering in Bulandhshar. Hindutva groups attacked the state police, which lead to the death of a police inspector and a young man allegedly part of the mob.
Has Yogi’s hardline politics helped BJP so far?
Yogi, who is also the founder of Right-wing group Hindu Yuva Vahini that had recently declared a ₹ 1-crore bounty on Navjot Singh Sidhu’s head, is referred to as “Maharaj Ji” by many of his Cabinet colleagues, officials, cops and even journalists. Some also publicly touch his feet.
Since March 2017, several government buildings in the state, including the Haj House (which was reverted to the original white colour after heavy criticism), parks, and buses, have been painted saffron. The state also celebrated Grand Diwali in Ayodhya and a Grand Holi in Mathura; a statue for Lord Ram has also been announced, along with Ramleela grounds being renovated. Schemes for cows are also being launched.
Meanwhile, a large number of slaughterhouses have been shut down, a crackdown on Madrassas has started, and even a controversial encounter policy was launched to “curb crimes,” an act that had supposedly eliminated over 50 “criminals” in extrajudicial killings.
However, nothing has electorally helped the party so far.
In the past year-and-a-half since the BJP took over UP, Yogi has lost three key Lok Sabha by-polls in the state. This includes his own seat in Gorakhpur and also that of his deputy CM Keshav Prasad Verma, and another one in Kairana. These defeats took place despite massive campaigns being conducted by Yogi and his entire Cabinet in various constituencies.
Despite this, Yogi campaigned in Gujarat and Karnataka, where Assembly elections were held early this year.
Some analysts this reporter spoke to are of the belief that people of UP have rejected Yogi’s brand of politics, which the BJP is still in awe of.
Sharat Pradhan, a senior journalist based in Lucknow, says: “Yogi’s hard Hindutva hasn’t succeeded wherever he campaigned in the past. Factors other than Yogi were behind the BJP’s improved performance in the Karnataka Assembly polls and in some other states where Yogi campaigned. Leaders like him have a captive vote bank, which is less than 1-2 per cent. Most Hindus in the country are still secular and rational.”
He adds: “This segment of voters—which largely includes youngsters—decide the fate of every government. They are not loyal to any party and cast their vote based on issues.”
Ramesh Dixit, former professor and head of politics department of Lucknow University, holds a different view. “If the BJP is defeated decisively in at least two of the three Hindi-speaking states, just like Congress during 1977, only then does it mean that Yogi’s brand of politics has been rejected by the people. However, exit polls have not shown such a clean sweep for the Congress. Loss of a few seats happens due to anti-incumbency.”
In fact, such a close contest would validate Yogi’s brand of politics, Dixit says.
Observers point out there is hardly any difference between Yogi, Modi and Amit Shah’s style. “Only difference is that Yogi is bold and openly pursues communal agenda. Modi and Shah do it in a subtle way. All of them are part of one game-plan of BJP.”
Question mark over Yogi’s administrative skills
Political observers also say that December 11 is an important day for Yogi’s own survival. His party’s victory in two out of the three Hindi speaking states will overshadow the shortcomings of his government, but unfavourable results will raise a question mark on his capabilities as the chief minister.
Crime in UP refuses to subside despite Yogi’s “encounter” spree in the state. Over a dozen people were killed in 800-odd riots that took place in the state in 2017. The figures for 2018 are yet to be made public.
“The results of five states would not only highlight the massive failure of PM Modi but will also expose Yogi’s so-called Ram Rajya as well. Apart from renaming Allahabad and Faizabad to Prayagraj and Ayodhya, painting the buildings saffron, and hijacking the works of the Akhilesh Yadav government, Yogi hardly has anything to his credit,” says Samajwadi Party spokesperson Sunil Yadav Sajan.
BJP Spokesperson Harish Srivastava defends the CM. “We are confident of winning the three Hindi-speaking states. Even if we don’t, it would be because of anti-incumbency eminent—not Yogi’s campaigns.”
On Yogi’s performance in UP, Srivastava insists: “His prime agenda is in governance only. Incidents like Bulandshahr do raise a question of law and order, but we think that the district administration had managed the situation very well by foiling a big conspiracy to incite riots. Under Yogi, mafia of all kinds has been abolished. Though crimes haven’t stopped, at least there is no political interference to save criminals now.”