As the reality of Yogi Adityanath's elevation as the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh settles in, reports in a section of the media seem to be shifting towards the next inevitable step: an attempt to "normalise" the Hindu hardliner as an individual who's not a religious bigot, especially in his dealing with people in his daily life.
Several newspapers have since carried stories of ordinary Muslims employed at the Gorakhnath Math in Gorakhpur, run by Adityanath, who have confessed to have been his beneficiaries. From the first engineer of the institution to the caretaker of its finances to the handler of the 400-odd cows living on the premises under the loving care of the Yogi, these Muslims praise their employer's fairness.
Not only is Adityanath a just employer, who doesn't discriminate on the basis of caste or religion, he is also a "green activist" and an animal-lover, we are told. A roster of his frugal lifestyle, shorn of luxuries such as a television, is detailed to portray his austere habits. The portrait that is pieced together with such trivia is in striking contrast to the image of a divisive, rabble-rousing public leader who has no qualms about spewing the most toxic communal venom in service of his politics.
Do these, reportedly moderate, aspects of Adityanath's personality make him any less culpable of inciting public sentiments of communal disharmony? If that's the assumption, we are then looking at a classic case of non-sequitur. Firstly, his personal conduct is irrelevant — what matters is his message and his politics. Secondly, an Islamophobic person may well employ Muslims in positions inferior to themselves — in fact, such a decision would fit in with their contempt for the community. By the same logic, coexistence with fellow Muslims, or a passing tolerance of them, does not necessarily indicate a mindset that treats them as social equal.
Stories of Adityanath's faithful Muslim workers and kind nature, while possibly being an indicator of his behaviour as a private individual, don't erase the damaging public remarks he has made on his way to becoming the chief minister of the state. Nor does his supposed personal magnanimity even out the sharpness of his divisive rhetoric.
Sample some of his statements : "If one Hindu girl is converted, we will convert 100 Muslim girls"; "Mother Teresa was a part of a conspiracy to evangelise India"; or "there is no difference in the language between Shah Rukh Khan and Hafiz Saeed".
A man who has campaigned and won the elections of the strength of such divisive beliefs has to be taken at face value, in spite of attempts to add new spins and twist to his perceived popular image.
The tradition for changing narratives, which demand that even candidates accused of serious offences be given the benefit of the doubt if they are elected to public office until proven guilty, is long and hallowed.
In India, we have the example of a sitting prime minister whose reign as the chief minister of a state saw one of the worst violations of human rights under his jurisdiction in 2002. More recently, in the US, there were attempts to "normalise" Donald J Trump, an allegedly habitual sex offender with a dodgy tax record, after he won the presidential elections against all odds. Trump's threat of building the wall between Mexico and the US and his Muslim ban were projected to be empty boasts of a right-wing politician that would never be executed by a leader holding a public office. We know now how that turned out.
It may be too early to say what Yogi Adityanath would unleash on UP during his rule, but never too late to point out that being kind to a handful of Muslims subservient to him or a love for animals should not detract us from the corrosiveness of Adityanath's politics, which has won him high political office.
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