One of the most important takeaways from the BJP's national executive in Uttar Pradesh earlier this week was the manner in which Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was given the honour of presenting the party's political resolution.
The importance of this is evident by the fact that for the past few years, this was being done by veteran leader Rajnath Singh, who is presently the Union defence minister.
Yogi Adityanath also attended the national executive in person and not virtually as many other CMs had done.
What was the reason behind the prominence given to Yogi Adityanath?
There’s a Backstory to This
Earlier this year, there were reports of a tussle between the BJP's top brass and Yogi Adityanath. Apparently, the Centre was unhappy with Adityanath's handling of the COVID-19 crisis and also didn't want the latter to emerge as a parallel power centre within the BJP.
The tussle was resolved after a series of meetings that began towards the fourth week of May and went on till the first week of June. The meetings involved a number of important players: PM Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, RSS Sarkaryavah Dattatreya Hosabale, BJP president JP Nadda, BJP general secretary BL Santhosh, senior party leader Radha Mohan Singh and UP General Secretary (Organisation) Sunil Bansal.
Hosabale in particular acted as an important intermediary between the two sides, emphasising on the importance of persisting with Adityanath.
While the issues were resolved and the Centre, as well as party leadership both, praised Adityanath in public, pinpricks remained.
Criticism Against Adityanath
Adityanath's detractors in Uttar Pradesh have become more vocal in the past few months. Some say, a section of the BJP's central leadership may also be tacitly egging them on.
An important figure in this context is UP's Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya. Last month, Maurya was accused of creating a controversy around Yogi's leadership.
On being asked by a reporter whether elections will be fought under Adityanath's leadership, Maurya answered, "BJP will fight the elections under the leadership of the lotus symbol" indicating that Yogi's leadership wasn't a done deal.
Maurya wasn't acting individually. For some time now, Maurya has been presenting himself as the 'Karyakarta's leader' or someone who listens to party workers and gets their work done. This is in contrast to Adityanath who is often accused of not engaging with party workers, MLAs, MPs, and even ministers, leave alone getting their work done.
In the past Maurya and Adityanath have had several run-ins. Sources say that on a few occasions the CM had even threatened to take action against Maurya.
The BJP's central leadership didn't openly support or censure Maurya. Party insiders believe that the party leadership decided to wait and watch how much support Maurya could gather.
However, compared to Adityanath, Maurya is a political lightweight and doesn't enjoy complete support either in his caste group or in the area he comes from.
While Maurya's assertion may not have led to much, the criticism against Adityanath remains and that's why the pat from the central leadership is important to him.
Another line of criticism against Adityanath is that he promotes his own community – Thakurs – at the expense of others. When he was appointed CM, the BJP hoped that Adityanath would move beyond caste loyalties and achieve a broader Hindu consolidation. But that didn't quite happen as he came to be accused of favouring Thakurs over others, including communities like Brahmins and Jats who have been solid supporters of the BJP.
Legitimacy Ahead of Elections
The honour given at the BJP's national executive gives Adityanath much-needed legitimacy in the face of criticism from party leaders and cadres that he is inaccessible, doesn't listen to them, and that he has alienated key caste groups.
PM Modi realises that winning UP in 2022 is crucial to the party's fortunes in the next few years and that Yogi Adityanath remains the party's best bet in the state. All said and done, he did deliver 64 seats for the NDA in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections despite a formidable challenge from the Mahagathabandhan.
On the other hand, Adityanath has been made to understand that he doesn't command the support of the entire state BJP and needs the support of the BJP's central leadership to win the election.
Presently, ground reports suggest that the BJP may still have an edge in Uttar Pradesh. However, the party is facing a few challenges, such as dissatisfaction due to price rise and unemployment, damage in West UP and parts of Terai due to the farmers' protest and an increasing consolidation of anti-BJP votes behind the SP.
These challenges make it imperative for the BJP to put up a united front and the top brass' honour to Adityanath is the result of this.