UTTTAR Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has said that he would be taking five days off in a month to attend to his duties as head priest of the Gorakhnath Temple. Television networks ran this part of his speech only once. Either the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) forced the channels to take the story off or the chief minister himself felt so embarrassed that he withdrew his statement. That could be the reason why the speech did not see the light of the day in print. What Yogi had said was that he would continue to be the head priest and attend to the religious duties along with his callings as chief minister of the state. But this is only for the consumption of the people. Otherwise, he is continuing as head priest of the temple and also in his post as chief minister.
However, one disturbing thing which is obvious is that the gulf between Hindus and Muslims is increasing further. There is an atmosphere of communal tension. More than half of UP is under the gaze of police because there is a riot-like situation in most places. So much so the centre, despite being ruled by the BJP, has expressed anxiety over the situation. Unfortunately, Chief Minister Yogi is openly attending to the duties as mahant and also carries out what he considers is his task as chief minister. The situation is whimsical and the opposition parties have rightly criticized the Yogi for saffronising the office of chief minister. Apparently, the RSS backing is so strong that the chief minister could get away with what is parochial and partisan.
But this should not raise eyebrows. We all know that the appointment of the Yogi as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh came as a surprise to political observers. During the UP campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the main campaigner, largely concentrated on the agenda of development. This was true despite his attempts, halfway through the election, to consolidate the Hindu vote through the use of communal speeches and words. Nor was there any major communal incident or riot, as happened prior to the 2014 national elections. But then what had become clear was that even if the BJP were to bring in development in UP as promised, the path to winning the 2019 general elections will be through communal polarization.
This is where Adityanath, a familiar face in national politics due to his communal remarks from time to time, including those prior to the voting in western UP in an attempt to gain the Hindu and particularly the OBC vote in the face of Jat opposition, fitted it. A five-time MP from Gorakhpur since 1998, he was appointed the mahant in 2014 and the Gorakhnath mutt has been involved in political matters for decades.
What may not be as well known is the manner in which the Yogi rose to prominence in the late 1990s, gradually replacing the upper-caste mafia of the 1980s that dominated the politics of the region. This mafia had vast patronage and solid connections with political parties, but still had no communal linkages. The decline of this mafia provided space to Yogi, leading to a shift from caste-centric mafiadom to religious criminalization. Adityanath also had the advantage of being a Rajput with good connection in the dominant upper-caste besides forging successfully an alliance with the OBCs and dalits to maintain a balance. That is how he, as a 26-year-old, was fielded as the BJP candidate from the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency and, as they say, the rest is history. Emerging as a leading force and communalizing politics of region, there could not have been a better option than Adityanath to help BJP win elections in 2019 as UP, with 80 Lok Sabha seats, would be vital in party’s scheme of things to capture power at centre. Yet, there was much speculation as both Modi and party president Amit Shah wanted a person with a developmental image to lead the state. But the RSS had its way and persuaded Modi and Shah to accept Adityanath as chief minister.
There are a number of reasons why the BJP-RSS has selected him to head the state. First, the 2000s have witnessed the attempt by the BJP to create a strong non-Brahmin Hindutva, not only in UP but in many states in the country. While in the 1980s and early 1990s the BJP was viewed as largely an upper-caste Hindu party, since at least the mid-1990s in UP there has been an attempt to consciously mobilize and bring into the ambit of the party non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav dalits, who constitute the large majority, in order to meet the challenge posed by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The chief minister should be attending to the immediate problems facing the state like the deaths at the Gorakhpur hospital and the burning issue of the Banaras Hindu University where the students have been agitating. The recent issue about the Taj Mahal, which is our heritage, having been removed from the list of UP Tourism attractions has added to the chapter of controversies.
We have the bitter experience of having part-time Prime Ministers. They embarrassed the party or a combination of parties and did little work when so many problems were awaiting solutions. This is what the BJP and chief minister Adityanath should remember because the party won the assembly polls on the promise of development. The greatest harm to the office of chief minister is that it is seen something like a temporary arrangement. The UP chief minister staying away from his Lucknow office with all security to perform the rituals as the head priest for the five days is a violation of the Supreme Court order stating that public money cannot be used for religious purposes. A PIL should be filed to protest against the loss it has caused to the concept of democracy. Even otherwise, the larger question that needs an answer is whether Adityanath is a mahant first or the CM.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.