To some, Yogi Adityanath, the single most divisive, abusive, polarising figure in UP politics, is both hero and saint; to others, the choice of the Yogi, the 44-year-old shaven-headed, saffron-clad servant of the Lord Shiva, who has been elected five times in a row to parliament and elevated to the highest political office in Uttar Pradesh, a state of 220 million people, seems ominous.
Since becoming India’s youngest MP in 1998, Adityanath has championed a range of reactionary Hindu causes, from the banning of cow slaughter to the proposed construction of a temple to Lord Ram in Ayodhya. With his elevation, a slogan is coined in Uttar Pradesh that “UP mein rahna hai to Yogi, Yogi kahna hoga’ (If one wants to survive in UP, then he/she will have to sing paeans of Yogi). Though time will only tell his future, but the way things are taking shape, indicate that Yogi has begun his stint as a ruler with a bash.
Since Day one, Yogi, a possible successor of Narendra Modi, has been on the job of putting the affairs at the right track in the largest state of the country. Yogi’s devotees, whether from the temple at Gorakhpur in eastern UP where he has long served as high priest, or from a Hindu youth-cum-vigilante group that he founded, respectfully touch his feet and call him ‘Maharaj’.
India’s 180 million Muslims find Adityanath scary. Time and again he has warned of an alleged “love jihad” to convert unwary Hindu girls to Islam, and of the existential threat from rising numbers of Muslims. He often denounces the imaginary flight of Hindus from Muslim persecution of some sort or another. Time and again in UP, such talk has helped turn ordinary scuffles into ugly sectarian clashes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s calculations in appointing Adityanath as UP CM are political. For the first half of his term he pandered mostly to better-off, better-educated city folk; the choice of a firebrand priest is meant to placate a different and restless demographic, his party’s rural Hindu-nationalist base. But some ascribe the move to ideology: Modi’s big win in UP suggests there are few rivals to challenge his party in the next national election, in 2019, freeing it to carry out its religiously inspired mission.
Adityanath has already shut down slaughterhouses and meat shops, suspected of handling beef and has set up an “anti-Romeo squad” to hunt love jihadists and other predators. But the best indication of his intentions will be Ayodhya. Hindu-nationalist “moderates” have long counselled patience regarding the building of the Ram temple; hard-line groups say they want it to happen now. Which approach will Adityanath take?
In fact formation of anti-Romeo squads in the state was to keep the promise made by the party in its election manifesto, which was titled as ‘Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra’. The squad, meant to check the eve-teasing menace, has been posted near colleges to ensure the safety of college-going girls. Except for a few stranded cases in which the real love-in couples were also put behind the bars by the cops in the name of their anti-Romeo drive, the initiative has been well appreciated all over. Interestingly other states like Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have also taken a cue from the initiative. Soon after assuming office, Adityanath got cracking and directed all his ministers to give details of their income, movable and immovable assets within 15 days, signalling his vision towards making the state corruption-free one. Above all, Yogi has ordered the review of all the major projects which had been undertaken by his predecessor Akhilesh Yadav. Yogi’s bold decisions are likely to make him a populist CM which will not only help BJP to repeat history during the forthcoming state Assembly elections due in Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and the ensuing general elections, slated for 2019.