The triumphant BJP put a week’s worth of speculation to rest by announcing 5-time Member Parliament from Gorakhpur and Hindutva strongman Yogi Adityanath as the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and State unit chief Keshav Prasad Maurya and Lucknow Mayor Dinesh Sharma as Deputy Chief Ministers. There are several ways to read into this decision.
- Bold decision making seems to become the norm for the duo of Modi and Shah. Modi first followed his decision to demonetize 500/1000 currency by making Uttar Pradesh assembly election as a referendum on his leadership skills. The election itself showed lot of bold decisions by the BJP campaign machine by first not naming a CM candidate (only major party to do that) and then not giving a single ticket to a member from the Muslim community. Each of these moves have paid rich electoral dividends and now the duo has followed it by nominating somebody who is seen as a Hindutva hardliner to the top job in the state. This is the sign of growing confidence on part of Modi and Shah.
- From personality dynamics view point too, this is possibly the boldest selection as Yogi Adityanath’s Hindutva credentials are far stronger than his party loyalty. Amongst all the large states ruled by BJP, he will be the first non-RSS Chief Minister. This kind of appointment, made after a close election result could have been the outcome of post poll compulsions. On back of such decisive mandate, it speaks volumes of the confidence the top management in BJP feels now.
- For a party known for its highly-centralized decision making, I don’t think the CM post was a close contest as the media has tried to portray it. The likelier possibility is that the party knew UP was in the bag and so worked on the tricky states of Goa and Manipur where the power was up for grabs, executed both the coups successfully and then allowed Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat his moment under the sun by focussing on his swearing-in yesterday. This kind of unhurried, sure footed decision making speaks volumes about Shah’s (for I guess this time-table was more his doing than the PM’s) ability to hang in tough even for smaller victories when bigger battles have already been won.
- The choice of two deputies to Yogi Adityanath is very interesting too.Maurya, who has been the state unit chief, proved himself to be a very important player in improving party’s ground game. He is also seen as a face of the large OBC community which made significant contribution to BJP’s wins in 2014 and 2016. Sharma, a second generation RSS man whose father was a close friend of the late PanditDeendayal Upadhyay, is close to both Modi and Shah. Both these men from RSS background and lot of behind the scenes work experience, can provide a good foil to the more charismatic but temperamental Yogi Adityanath.
Those expressing surprise at this choice need to remind themselves that, as a country, we have really not been averse to hardliners as leaders. The outgoing SP government had its share of hardliners in senior positions. Azam Khan, a former general secretary of the party, and a cabinet minister in Akhilesh’s government has made incendiary remarks about Kargil martyrs (saying Hindu soldiers received more benefits than Muslim) and has abused senior leaders like Narendra Modi as well as former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Student leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid have often called for bloody war against the state. Any member of media who did not have a problem normalizing these people but is now complaining about Yogi’s credentials will have a hard time explaining this inconsistency.
The bigger challenge for Yogi Adityanath as well as the party as a whole, lies in the danger of false expectations his elevation might create in the minds of hardliners within the party. Issues such as Ram Janambhoomi are bound by myriad legal and political complexities, and seeing a saffron clad man in the top chair of the state might make some people impatient for a speedy resolution.The real skill of the 5-time MP will be in negotiating those expectations without either alienating his base or subverting the broader vikas agenda.
I, for one, don’t see Yogi Adityanath’s religious views as an impediment to the development agenda. There is no denying his popularity in the state and with an overwhelming mandate at his command, Yogi Aditynath would do well to concentrate on pulling, to quote his party president Amit Shah ‘UP out of the list of Bimaru state’.
A word of caution to the mainstream media. I read senior journalist Barkha Dutt tweeting how some Lucknow based entrepreneurs and her driver (but of course) have expressed their disappointment at the choice of the CM. This can be seen on immediate level an attempt to create a hostile environment for the new CM and on a broader and more sinister level, an attempt to steal legitimacy of the mandate of this election by claiming that BJP voters would not have voted had they known Yogi Aditynath was to be the CM. Media tried to create similar narrative during demonetization too (remember all those driver/maid /yoga teacher stories?) and if the post demonetization elections across the country are any indicator, the narrative has completely failed. The ability of mainstream media to shape narratives and influence electoral results is at an all-time low. Under the circumstance, the media would do well to be patient and wait for the new CM to falter, rather than attempting to create resentment based narrative of its own.Its credibility, already severely dented after the SP-INC poll debacle in UP, may not be able to stand another false narrative.