Following the decisive and historic mandate to the BJP in the recently held Uttar Pradesh elections, most people were nonplussed when the party chose firebrand Hindutva leader Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister. The five-time MP from Gorakhpur and the mahant or head priest of the Gorakhnath Temple is a deeply controversial and polarising figure. But let's not be under any illusion. While his elevation to the top position in the state might have come as a surprise to the electorate, it's likely something that was a given for the party's cadres and support base. One thing seems clear: the ruling BJP has interpreted the mandate as one of majoritarianism and not just of a majority.
In an article in the Indian Express, political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote, "In the moment of his political triumph, Modi has chosen to defeat India." The headline pretty much summarises the current political reality of our country. Let's be very clear. The unprecedented support where BJP achieved nearly two-thirds majority in the UP assembly needs to be attributed to Narendra Modi. The electorate chose to repose their faith on him and his leadership. But his interpretation of the mandate and his choice of CM in the form of Yogi Adityanath signals at a future where the marginalisation of minorities in UP and elsewhere will now be translated into a programme of their cultural, social and symbolic subordination.
The mainstream media that has confounded me with its attempt to legitimise Yogi Adityanath and give him some sort of a quick image makeover.
The argument that Adityanath is massively popular in Uttar Pradesh is hogwash. He might enjoy support amongst the core voter base of the party but he's not the person the electorate has voted for. If they were so confident of his popularity, why didn't they announce him as their chief ministerial candidate during the elections and fight it under his leadership? During the elections, the tensions between Adityanath and the party leadership was so strong that his outfit, Hindu Yuva Vahini even fielded candidates against the official BJP nominations. Yet, in an election fought on the plank of development, the party has chosen to go ahead with the politics of extremes.
With his anointment, the saffron surge reached a new level. The party now is giving a clear signal that they do not care and will do whatever they wish to. What else can otherwise justify the choice of Adityanath? A man against whom there are charges of attempt to murder, criminal intimidation, rioting, promoting enmity between different groups and defiling place of worship. These charges are listed on his very own election affidavit. His past statements reek of bigotry and hatred. Some of those on record includes, "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 of Shah Rukh Khan and Hafiz Saeed."
But more than the party's choice, it is the mainstream media that has confounded me, with its attempt to legitimise Yogi Adityanath and give him some sort of a quick image makeover. Soon after his appointment as CM, leading newspapers and publications carried stories about his lifestyle, choices, eating habits etc. The reports were so obvious and brazen that even a kindergarten kid would be able to smell the propaganda. Sample this for consideration. A Facebook post by a journalist named "Imran Khan" claimed that he was quite surprised when he found out that Adityanath had adopted an orphaned Muslim boy, who was now his closest personal aide. "Don't fall for your set notions," the post noted. "The world often isn't the way it seems."
The only possible "development" work that he can boast of is renaming historic neighbourhoods... Urdu Bazar became Hindi Bazar, Ali Nagar became Arya Nagar and Miya Bazar became Maya Bazar.
As happens with most propaganda and lies, this too got caught when ABP news decided to cross check and visited Adityanath's house; only to come to know that the viral post was false and that he never had a Muslim orphan as his close aide. Do we really need a man who needs to rely on such propaganda to be in the popular narrative? At a time when the electorate gave the party such a resounding mandate? What UP and its electorate needs is development. Even if we ignore the bigotry and hate speeches made by him in the past. His track record as a five time MP of Gorakhpur isn't very encouraging either. There is no visible development that the city can boast of in any sphere— industry, infrastructure, education, healthcare, all are crumbling.
The only possible "development" work that he can boast of is renaming of several historic neighbourhoods. The city's Urdu Bazar was renamed Hindi Bazar, Ali Nagar became Arya Nagar and Miya Bazar became Maya Bazar. For all those who hail this as developmental work, good luck to them. Even his rhetoric on law and order sounds shallow when looked at his own track record. Between 1998 and 2007, around 40 communal incidents were reported in and around Gorakhpur, majorly in the villages of Gorakhpur, Basti, Devaria, Azamgarh, Kushinagar and Ghazipur. Adityanath is himself an accused in several criminal cases, also apparently pushed Gorakhpur into Hindu-Muslim riots in 2007. Two people were killed and property worth crores was burnt. Curfew remained imposed in the area for several days.
When you speak to locals there, they tell you that most of these cases started off as criminal incidents that later converted into communal activities once Adityanath or other leaders of his Hindu Yuva Vahini got into the fray. Between 2002 and 2007, when Adityanath was arrested, Gorakhpur and its neighbouring districts witnessed at least 22 major riots, most involving him or his henchmen. Even after he assumed office as Chief Minister, BSP leader Mohammed Shami was shot dead in Allahabad when he got out of his car and was heading towards his house. Two unidentified men, who came on a motorbike, fired at him with bullets and fled. This after Adityanath spoke strict about maintaining law and order in the state.
His talk [as CM] is not about improving infrastructure, education, healthcare or even law and order but instead about banning slaughterhouses.
Now that he is in power, his rhetoric speaks louder than any whitewashing of his track record. The talk is not about improving infrastructure, education, healthcare or even law and order but instead about banning slaughterhouses. Three slaughterhouses were shut down in Lucknow. Then three shops selling meat and fish were set afire by unidentified persons, triggering panic in Hathras. Similar incidents of violence and harassment are being reported from many parts of UP. Even the renowned food joint Tunday Kababi pulled their shutters down on Wednesday owing to tensions and lack of availability of buffalo meat. Such is the situation in UP that the state has now cracked down on the citizens' plates. The new government is certainly setting their priorities right.
Whether the decision of anointing a hardline Hindutva leader as the Chief Minister was correct or not, only time can tell. But even as you read this, the chorus for the building of the Ram Temple is increasing. Meanwhile, the so-called Anti-Romeo squads are harassing young couples and particularly men in the name of women's safety. Isn't it the job of the police to ensure safety of women anyway? Then why do we need such thuggery? Is this kind of extra-judicial moral policing what UP has voted for? Looking at the turn of events in the past few days, only one piece of advice can be given to the electorate. Weep my beloved countrymen, weep!