Yogi Adityanath has cross-caste support, judge him on performance, writes Swapan Dasgupta
The appointment of Yogi Adityanath was a political act that factored in the social ramifications of the verdict and the tasks ahead. To bless it as a revolutionary break from democratic politics is an over-reading that tells us more about the accusers than it does of Indiaanalysis Updated: Mar 23, 2017 09:30 IST
Certitude is often a feature of intellectualism. The belief that what is deemed right must necessarily be so is an attribute that is not limited to the bigoted or those with closed minds. It often extends to ‘thinking’ professionals, most notably in academia, media and other spheres where accountability is not an expectation.
The past few days have witnessed an explosion of stupefied bewilderment in India. The Uttar Pradesh election result, followed by the election of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister, created a wave of disorientation among those deemed opinion makers. For a start, the resounding outcome was not anticipated. There was a belief that a combination of anger against demonetisation and the ‘chemistry’ of the Akhilesh Yadav-Rahul Gandhi combination would produce a result that would deflate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and set the political stage for the 2019 general election. Indeed, a large section of the media prejudged the UP campaign in that light. Consequently, the BJP sweep and the complete decimation of its competitors came as more than a shock. It generated existential anguish.
As if this was not enough, the BJP followed its ‘disruptive’ mass outreach with the anointment of Adityanath as the chief minister. This decision has proved too much for the forces of intellectual enlightenment to stomach. The prevailing image of the Mahant of the Gorakhnath temple as one of India’s foremost ‘communal’ monsters, one who went a hundred steps beyond dog whistle polarisation, produced unequivocal outrage. Along with charging Modi and BJP President Amit Shah with hubris, the very fundamentals of democracy were questioned. It has been suggested that the selection of such a controversial saffron-robed sadhu implied, first, an end to the politics of development and, second, the advent of a nasty Hindu rashtra where the safety valves of democracy will be shut.
It is interesting that this outrage among a section of the intelligentsia which has been consistent in its opposition to Modi was not reflected in the political class. The conviviality that marked the presence of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh at Adityanath’s swearing-in ceremony last Sunday in Lucknow established two things. First, that the legitimacy of Adityanath’s appointment is not an issue; and, second, that despite his flamboyant, even reckless, pre-history, the new chief minister is viewed as a conventional politician by the political class. For those engaged in the rough and tumble of electoral politics where victory and defeat are occupational hazards, Adityanath will be judged on the strength of his performance rather than in terms of abstruse theory.
The political class’ unwillingness to over-interpret the election outcome in terms of a democratic counter-revolution is not short-sighted. All electoral mandates are read in hindsight and always in the context of the campaign that preceded voting. There was certainly a resounding vote of confidence in the direction taken by the Prime Minister in energising India. However, the sheer magnitude of the BJP victory, including a vote of nearly 42% for its alliance, indicate that there was a strong element of anti-incumbency in the final verdict.
The failure of the Akhilesh regime to keep pace with popular expectations of economic development was certainly part of the story. At the same time, the SP government was not entirely non-performing. Far more significant were accusations of bias in political management and lack of even-handedness in the allocation of state resources. Prime Minister Modi was pilloried during the campaign by the editorial classes for his samsan ghat-kabristan remark. However, it is undeniable that his plea for even-handed treatment of communities touched a chord among people because of their experiences in police stations and in the appropriation of common lands in villages. The election, apart from a few districts in western UP, wasn’t fought on overt communal lines. However, there were issues that meandered along sectarian fault lines, including the unending ‘secular’ obsession with Muslim consolidation.
Where the BJP succeeded much more than its rivals was in crafting a broad social coalition that spanned all the communities — upper castes, Backwards and Dalits. Only the Muslims stayed out of this coalition — a gap that, ideally, the party should, in time, address. Whether this owed to Modi’s image, the mobilisation of the Sangh Parivar, the ganging up of the left-outs or a blend of all three is for micro-studies to probe. Whatever the reality, the fact is that the BJP mobilisation owed less to caste exclusivity than to Hindu consolidation. For the BJP, therefore, the search was for a leader whose caste identification was tenuous and whose appeal was across castes.
Adityanath was by no means the only available candidate for the top job. What swung the decision in his favour was the fact (as gleaned from the party’s various internal surveys) that he was clearly the most popular BJP leader in the state, enjoying cross-caste support.
The new administration has two principal tasks. First, to improve law and order markedly and remove the impression of partiality towards communities. Equally, and in line with the Modi Mission, the new government is expected to fight corruption quite ruthlessly. The two tasks necessitated a leader with requisite political clout and unquestioned personal integrity.
The appointment of Adityanath was a political act that factored in the social ramifications of the verdict and the tasks ahead. To bless it as a revolutionary break from democratic politics is an over-reading that tells us more about the accusers than it does of India.
Swapan Dasgupta is a Rajya Sabha MP, senior journalist and political commentator
The views expressed are personal