In politics and governance, as much as in inter-personal relations, credibility is a necessary virtue. If a leader promises something and doesn’t deliver, he loses trust. But if he promises something and routinely does the exact opposite of what he has promised, he not only becomes untrustworthy but also compels others to think that he has dishonourable motives.
In his first term, the promise Prime Minister Narendra Modi made to the nation was “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” — to seek the partnership of all and to ensure development for all. When he won a renewed and bigger mandate in 2019, he enlarged the promise to include “Sabka Vishwas” — to earn the trust of all.
How much the Prime Minister has delivered on each of these three assurances is debatable. But the debate is already settled beyond any doubt if one looks at the performance of his party’s government in the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. The state’s Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, does not even pretend he believes in any of these promises. On the contrary, he has deliberately broken them by showing that he cares two hoots for earning the trust of Muslims, who constitute nearly one-fifth of UP’s population.
Uncouth Tweets, Lies Abound
Indeed, maligning and targeting the Muslim community with the aim of keeping the BJP’s vote bank intact has been the hallmark of his governance. As his five-year term comes to an end, and as the state readies to elect a new Legislative Assembly in a few months, he has sharpened the communal polarisation of voters in order to win a second term.
With each passing day, Adityanath’s anti-Muslim propaganda is becoming more brazen. Sometimes his tweets and talk are uncouth, and based on lies, as when he said that “only those saying 'abba jaan' were getting ration before 2017 in the state”.
He routinely clubs together Muslims, Pakistan and the Taliban in his communal communication. On November 1, he tweeted, “If the Taliban moves towards India, an airstrike is ready. No country can dare to raise its eyes at India." There is no factual basis whatsoever for suspecting that the Talibanis from Afghanistan are planning to move towards India. No one in India’s defence or intelligence establishment has hinted at this possibility. On the contrary, leaders of the Taliban-led government in Kabul have stated that they want friendly relations with India. Yet, a falsehood is all that Adityanath needs to whip up hyper-nationalist sentiments among his supporters.
When the Indian cricket team suffered a 10-wicket defeat by Pakistan in the T20 World Cup match in Dubai, Shalabh Mani Tripathi, UP Chief Minister’s media advisor, saw a Muslim conspiracy in it.
In a barely veiled attack on Mohammed Shami, the only Muslim member of the Indian team, he tweeted that “even RAW and IB could not find such traitors as easily as a cricket match could find”.
Yogi Has Been on a Renaming Spree
Adityanath directed the state police to file sedition charges against those who allegedly celebrated Pakistan’s victory over India in that match. Kashmiri students in a college in Agra, who were suspected of doing so, were actually beaten up inside court premises in the presence of cops.
Earlier, on October 22, the Chief Minister posted five tweets on a single day, attacking the rival Samajwadi Party and Congress of being anti-Hindu and “Ram Drohis” — betrayers to the cause of construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
Erasing Muslim-sounding names of places in Uttar Pradesh — which actually amounts to obliterating the Muslim history of Uttar Pradesh and India — has been a part of Adityanath’s communal politics. His government has decided to rename the Faizabad railway station as Ayodhya Cantonment railway station. Months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the name of Mughalsarai town was changed to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Nagar. Earlier, in 2018, the historic city of Allahabad was renamed Prayagraj. Fortunately, the Allahabad High Court rejected a plea demanding that it be named as Prayagraj High Court.
A Hindutva Headman
When it comes to promoting his communal politics, the Uttar Pradesh CM has no compunction in interfering in matters of other states. This is probably because he regards himself as a national leader to advance the Hindutva cause. His supporters certainly think so. While campaigning for the BJP in Hyderabad municipal corporation elections in Telangana in November last year, he said that the city should be renamed Bhagyanagar. “We renamed Faizabad as Ayodhya and Allahabad as Prayagraj after BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh. Why can't Hyderabad be renamed Bhagyanagar?"
Here is another example. In May this year, he tweeted: “Any distinction on the basis of belief and religion is contrary to the basic spirit of the Constitution of India. Presently, the formation of Malerkotla (Punjab) is a reflection of the divisive policy of the Congress.” This invited a sharp rebuke from Captain Amarinder Singh, Punjab’s then Chief Minister (he had not yet quit the Congress). He contrasted the communal harmony in Punjab with the “divisiveness” being promoted by the Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh.
Why has Adityanath intensified the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the run-up to the assembly election? Is it because he is feeling unsure of the BJP repeating its winning performance in 2017? There are reasons to believe he is rattled by the unfavourable situation that is developing in the state.
Akhilesh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party is the principal challenger to the BJP, has begun to draw huge crowds at his rallies, even though he has been rather late in hitting the campaign trail. Several non-Yadav OBC castes and even some Dalits have moved away from the BJP and turned towards SP. Some influential leaders of the Bahujan Samaj Party have also joined SP.
But Who Is the Bigger Loser?
Even the Congress, which had been written off by political observers a few months earlier, has become visibly energetic. Priyanka Gandhi’s courageous protest after the Lakhimpur Kheri incident — in which the son of a Union Minister allegedly mowed down four farmers under a speeding jeep — has galvanised Congress supporters across Uttar Pradesh. Her recent mass rallies in the state have been highly impressive. With the Congress having performed very well in the by-elections in various states, its workers will surely feel more motivated.
In western Uttar Pradesh, the farmers’ movement has made life extremely difficult for BJP’s MPs, MLAs and activists. This movement has bridged the Jat-Muslim divide which had greatly helped the BJP in the 2017 assembly poll. The Rashtriya Lok Dal’s young president, Jayant Chaudhary, has emerged as a popular leader to frustrate the BJP’s prospects in this region. To his great credit, he has also been organising ‘Bhaichara Sabhas’ — public meetings to promote Hindu-Muslim brotherhood in towns across western UP.
Add unprecedented price rise, unemployment, and mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic to these factors, and the picture that emerges is one not very hopeful for the BJP.
Whether Yogi Adityanath’s politics of polarisation will trump these adverse developments and give him a second term in office, is unpredictable. However, one thing is certainly predictable. The more brazenly he plays his anti-Muslim politics, the more untrustworthy Modi becomes. After all, it is the Prime Minister who has given the ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ promises. Not that Indian Muslims have believed in these assurances. But if Modi allows Yogi to cross all limits in his divisive election campaign, the Prime Minister will be a bigger loser in the eyes of those who believed in him.
(Sudheendra Kulkarni served as an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and is the founder of the Forum for a New South Asia. He has authored Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age. His Twitter handle is @SudheenKulkarni and he welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org)