The appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh might have been a surprise to many, but it's hardly a shock. As a party that won a decisive electoral victory in this crucial election, the BJP had every reason to go for bust. If not Adityanath now, then when? Its victory gives BJP every right to choose its own leader. And it has chosen Yogi Adityanath.
A popular theory doing the rounds is that this is a measure of the party's desperation. The development mantra is not doing it for them, so they have brought out the tried and trusted Hindutva battering ram (or Ram if you prefer). The anointment of Yogi Adityanath suggests that the BJP "is wary of waging the battle of 2019 on the plank of development", writes Ajaz Ashraf in Scroll.
Modi is signalling his own comfort and belief in a more long-term transformational project, laying the ground for a robust dynamic second rung of strong leaders.
The BJP is not confident of riding economic performance to victory and would rather "surf the tide of communal polarization". The signals were clear during the progress of the Uttar Pradesh campaign, writes Kumar Uttam in the Hindustan Times.
Modi raised Jai Shri Ram slogans in Lucknow last October. The BJP manifesto promised a ban on mechanical slaughterhouses. Power Minister Piyush Goyal accused the Samajwadi Party government of discriminating between Hindus and Muslims when it came to electricity distribution. And then came Modi's famous shamshaan versus kabristan, Holi vs Ramzan comment. Back in 2014, French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot had said in an interview: "Plan A for Modi is to succeed on the economic front, and if that does not work then emphasizing on Hindutva politics may be an important Plan B."
It must be some consolation to Modi's opponents, especially the more battered ones dreaming of a mahagatbandhan, to take refuge in this theory that the Prime Minister is falling back on Plan B because Plan A is not taking off.
Modi has never made it a secret that he wants to be a transformational leader. He could be making a play for both development and Hindutva. Why should he just be content with raising the GDP?
That perception of failure must give them some hope for their own comeback. But there's nothing to indicate that for the Modi government, Plans A and B are mutually exclusive. Modi has never made it a secret that he wants to be a transformational leader. He could be making a play for both development and Hindutva. Why should he just be content with raising the GDP?
Consider the UP elections. The government's own shifting goalposts on demonetization indicate that economically it did not deliver what it was meant to deliver. Bhaskar Chakravorti wrote in the Harvard Business Review that it was a "case study in poor policy and even poorer execution". Modi slammed Harvard economists in his campaign.
"On the one hand are those (critics of the note ban) who talk of what people at Harvard say, and on the other hand is a poor man's son, who through his hard work is trying to improve the economy." After the UP verdict Chakravorti admits "When people believe that you're fighting for them, it seems even the most concrete evidence, be it data or history, wields less and less influence... Ultimately the victory of narrative over data may be the takeaway from India's demonetization saga."
The demonetization definitely caused immense hardship to ordinary people, especially the poor. But the people still believed in the narrative that Modi at least was trying to do something about corruption, they admired the kickass drama of it. In UP the BJP chose not to project a chief ministerial face thus making it a referendum on Modi (and by extension on demonetization).
Many were so tired of the UPA government's many failings that they persuaded themselves that once in power, Modi would jettison his own roots and focus only on development. That was just wishful thinking.
And the results showed people still strongly believed in the promise of Modi even at the cost of their own personal hardship. It's a powerful asset. His hold over the BJP seems more absolute now. To construe this as a desperate BJP dusting off old Hindutva flags to shore up its base would be foolish in the extreme. If anything, UP showed a much more confident Modi and the appointment of Adityanath only underscores that confidence.
It's just that some of Modi's supporters wilfully blinded themselves to that reality. Some of them are already coming out with their mea culpas post Adityanath. Eminent civil servant BS Raghavan writes in Rediff.com he once paid high tributes to Modi for "for the new vision that he has placed before the country in tune with the spirit of the ongoing revolutions in knowledge, communications, technology and social engineering driving the world."
Now he says his romantic notions have been dashed to the ground because of Modi's "seeming utter contempt for public perception of the yogi being an unrepentant bigot who also carries the malodorous baggage of many criminal cases against him for the incitement of riots, murders and the like."
Many were so tired of the UPA government's many failings that they persuaded themselves that once in power, Modi would jettison his own roots and focus only on development, that he would not consolidate his vote bank just as other parties had consolidated their own vote banks for years. That was just wishful thinking.
In fact in the furore over Aditynath's incendiary remarks we often forget that by choosing a can-do man in his mid-forties, Modi is signalling his own comfort and belief in a more long-term transformational project, laying the ground for a robust dynamic second rung of strong leaders, something the paranoid Congress was often hesitant to do and for which it is now paying the price.
UP shows there is no need to tissue wrap Hindutva in development rhetoric. They can co-exist in Modi's worldview. Once the phrase "Hindu rate of growth" was a term of mockery for India's creeping economic progress. Modi might be wanting to reclaim that term with chest-thumping pride.