It is rare for a political party to make the fruits of its greatest victory taste sour within days of an electoral triumph, but that is exactly what the BJP has managed to do, with its astonishing decision to name Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh’s new Chief Minister.
The case for the 44-year-old saffron-robed mahant’s appointment rests seemingly on a few thin reeds: his undoubted popularity in Gorakhpur, whose Lok Sabha seat he has won five successive times; his powerful backing in the party, not least from BJP President Amit Shah; and his stirring, if also rabid, oratory in Hindi.
As against this, there are some pretty worrying considerations on the other side of the ledger.
The man entrusted with administering India’s largest state has never held executive office in his political life. He hasn’t even been a minister of state, let alone acquired a fraction of the experience required to supervise India’s largest state bureaucracy.
He may be an unbeatable MP candidate in Gorakhpur, but that has less to do with any personal merit than the fact that his seat has been held almost in perpetuity by whoever has been the mahant of Gorakhnath, including Mahant Digvijaynath who once mentored Godse, and Mahant Avaidyanath whom he succeeded as head priest of the famous temple.
I have nothing against Adityanath’s saffron robes. Many Hindu sages would have made excellent, open-minded and generous-hearted rulers of their states. But Yogi Adityanath is not one of those. His track record is the opposite.
He may be an effective orator, but what he says has often been deplorable. India’s ruling party has just placed in power a brazen advocate of “Hindu rashtra”, an unconstitutional objective; one who has declared that “those who avoid Yoga and Lord Shankar can leave Hindustan”.
Adityanath has even menaced Shah Rukh Khan with a boycott of his films that would leave him “wandering the streets like a normal [sic] Muslim”.
Some of his rhetoric has been more blood-curdling: in a 2014 speech available on youtube, he announced, “If one Hindu girl marries a Muslim man, then we will take 100 Muslim girls in return... If they [Muslims] kill one Hindu man, then we will kill 100 Muslim men.”
He has openly threatened that if minorities do not “stay in peace, we will teach them how to stay in peace, in language they understand”. This is not the language of a Chief Minister, but of a street-corner thug. That saying such things is not a disqualification for high office speaks volumes of the BJP.
“Is This The Best The BJP Could Do?”
It’s not just his words, though. In 2002, Aditynath established the “Hindu Yuva Vahini”, one of the many offshoots of the Sangh Parivar whose sevaks plied a fine trade in violent rioting, zealous cow-protection and drives for “ghar wapasi” and against “love jihad”. Woe betide any inter-communal couple seen canoodling on their watch: the Yogi threatened that they would be “hanged publicly”.
Amongst the many criminal charges filed against Yogi Adityanath are cases of attempted murder, defiling places of worship, rioting with deadly weapons and criminal intimidation. These will now presumably be withdrawn by the government he has been appointed to head, but they do not make for a pretty record.
Is this the best the BJP can do in naming a Chief Minister for India’s most populous state? Could the Prime Minister who once campaigned in the name of “good governance” genuinely believe that a man with such a track record embodies that principle he so frequently extols?
Here are a few questions that cross my mind as I contemplate the newly-appointed tonsured head of UP’s government:
- Does the BJP not believe that moderation and restraint in speech are necessary attributes for a holder of high governmental office, and repeated demonstrations of the opposite a disqualification from such office?
- Does the BJP not believe that the business of running a government of a state with 200 million inhabitants requires a modicum of administrative experience?
- Does the BJP not believe that for a government to win the respect of its citizens, it must not be headed by an individual with a long criminal record and a proven propensity to resort to violence in pursuit of his goals?
- Does the BJP not believe that in a state where 20 percent of the population is Muslim, a Chief Minister needs to enjoy the trust of the majority of the members of that community, even if they did not vote for him? Or has the party decided to write off an entire community from its frame of reference?
- And finally, does the BJP believe that the millions in UP who voted for it, stirred by the “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” speeches of Narendra Modi, really thought they were choosing to be ruled by an intemperate yogi who was not even among the 325 candidates they elected to the UP Assembly?
I do not have answers to these questions. The worry is, does the Prime Minister?
(Former UN under-secretary-general, Shashi Tharoor is a Congress MP and an author. He can be reached @ShashiTharoor. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)