Barely a year since he was appointed the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath has gone from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s trump card to a political albatross around the party’s neck in India’s most politically crucial state.
He is being blamed for the BJP’s humiliating defeat in the recent Kairana parliamentary polls where an overarching alliance between the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress brought local Jats, Dalits and Muslims together to trounce the saffron party.
The palpable failure of Yogi’s infamous skills of polarising voters on communal lines, despite desperate attempts to do so during the campaign and even though the Opposition candidate was a Muslim, has underlined his fading appeal.
Kairana results come in the wake of a similar beating just a few months ago in a parliamentary bypoll to the chief minister’s bastion, Gorakhpur, along with another in his deputy Keshav Chandra Maurya’s seat, Phulpur. The BJP lost both to a united Opposition.
The Kairana debacle has raised serious questions about the leadership qualities of the country’s best known monk.
Once a Wingman of Modi
The Yogi’s elevation to chief minister from chief storm-trooper in the BJP’s Hindutva brigade after the party’s sweeping victory in Uttar Pradesh had caused some initial surprise, since he was considered neither close to the Narendra Modi- Amit Shah duo nor the RSS. But it was soon touted as a political master stroke. He was projected as the second-most effective campaigner for the party after Narendra Modi.
The BJP strategists saw him as the prime minister’s wingman in a barnstorming campaign for the 2019 polls who would mop up the core Hindu vote by whipping up communal frenzy, even as Modi promoted his government’s achievements and the development agenda.
Amid these grandiose plans to use Yogi as a major spearhead in the 2019 poll campaign, little attention appears to have been paid by the BJP to his volatile temperament and absence of administrative skills, except those of a religious potentate running the Gorakhpur Math according to his whim and fancy.
He was soon embroiled in a series of controversies, including the anti-Romeo police squads that picked on innocent couples, the deaths of children in a Gorakhpur hospital for lack of oxygen cylinders, and hundreds of encounter killings that were feared to be extrajudicial murder of petty criminals to boost claims of a major crackdown on big-time crime.
‘Thakurbad’ and Temper Tantrums
Perhaps the biggest damage to the chief minister’s reputation came last April from the shocking case of a BJP legislator accused first of raping a minor girl and then complicity in the murder of her father, who had been arrested and beaten up for complaining about his daughter’s plight, while in police custody.
The legislator who, like the Yogi, was a Thakur by caste, was protected by the state administration till finally the case was handed over to the CBI who arrested him after nationwide outrage.
Indeed, the saffron clad monk’s brief yearlong rule has been marked by widespread fear and resentment across Uttar Pradesh about “Thakurbad” – or a reign of terror by Thakurs. Many believe this is the real reason why such diverse castes like the Dalits, Yadavs, and Jats are coming together to oppose the BJP government in the state.
Yogi’s temper tantrums and offensive behaviour has antagonised not just his political opponents but even his own colleagues in the BJP.
In March, a delegation led by RSS joint general secretary Dattareya Hosbale visited Lucknow and ticked off the chief minister after complaints were raised by at least four Dalit party MPs of him humiliating them when they raised issues of casteist discrimination.
He has even fought with his onetime right-hand man and leader of his private vigilante squad Hindu Yuva Vahini, Sunil Singh, who has since formed his own independent outfit.
Significantly, just a day after the party’s defeat in Kairana, a BJP legislator openly criticised the Yogi on social media for frittering away the huge electoral victory that Modi had brought them in Uttar Pradesh just a year ago.
Is It All Yogi’s Fault?
Yet, it would be unfair to lay the responsibility of the BJP’s slipping political fortunes in the state entirely at the doorstep of Yogi. The BJP general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Sunil Bansal, who is close both to the RSS and Amit Shah, is believed to be the man who really calls the shots in the state and cannot but be blamed for not being able to either guide the temperamental monk or bring some coherence to the administration.
There is also little doubt that quite a bit of the disenchantment and anger with the BJP in Kairana, particularly among the Jat peasantry, is not so much directed at Yogi but the Modi government itself for its lopsided agricultural policies and lack of empathy for demands from the Jat community.
Although there is growing talk within BJP circles of deflecting this criticism against the central government by making the monk from Gorakhpur the scapegoat before the 2019 parliamentary polls, this is easier said than done. Despite his nuisance value for the party, any arbitrary move to boot out such a powerful Hindutva icon like Yogi from the top job in Lucknow could jeopardise the BJP’s support base in its own constituency.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)