Given his track record, it would have been naive of the BJP not to expect a degree of criticism when the party picked Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister for Uttar Pradesh.
Make no mistake though. The BJP won, and it is entirely within its rights to pick anyone it wishes as the leader of the legislative party and thus as the chief minister. The Opposition will have to live with the decision. But critics too are entitled to express their views on this choice, point to his record and ask uncomfortable questions. And the BJP will have to live with that also.
It would however be far more useful now to judge Yogi Adityanath and the BJP government on their performance and policies.
UP threw up a historic mandate, confounding pundits and politicians alike. The mandate was a result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s overwhelming popularity. It was a result of astute social engineering, where the party stitched together an alliance of the most dominant castes with the most marginalised of castes. It was a vindication of the BJP’s “pro poor” turn, which is how demonetisation was portrayed. It was a result of a degree of religious polarisation. It stemmed from the failures of both the BSP and SP-Congress alliance to project their achievements.
But distilled to its core, the mandate reflected the desire of the UP voter to live a better life. UP remains one of India’s most deprived states. Its infrastructure is in a shambles. It fares poorly on education and health indicators. And it seriously lacks jobs. Across the campaign trail, when I asked voters what they wanted most, the answer was resounding, “naukri”.
This promise of a better future was central to the election of “Modiji ki sarkar” in Lucknow. And it is on this yardstick that the Yogi government must be judged.
If the first two weeks are any indication, the signs are not particularly encouraging though it is really too early to make any definitive pronouncement.
Yogi Adityanath began by deploying “anti-Romeo” squads in various towns in UP. It is important to recognise that when the BJP promised women security and such squads in its election manifesto, it was responding to a real problem of harassment of women in society. HT has reported the disturbing, and rather disgusting, practice of mobile recharge “bhaiyas” selling phone numbers of women, based on their ”looks”, to men who would then call and hound women. The poor law and order situation under the previous government was a major reason for the SP’s loss.
Women must be protected by the law, but it is doubtful that anti-Romeo squads can provide a solution to this structural problem. Instead, it runs the risk of descending into vigilantism — with mobs targeting young adults. Individual freedom is sacrosanct, and consenting couples must be allowed to pursue their lives. There is also a subtle communal subtext to this campaign. In west UP in particular, it ties in with the narrative of “love jihad”. Yogi Adityanath’s government must find other ways of addressing the real problem of harassment instead of encouraging prejudice-laced vigilantism.
Look at the other big priority of the government — the closure of illegal slaughterhouses.
Once again, the law has to be implemented and if any enterprises are working outside its ambit, the government is fully within its rights to crack down on such units. But if this is indiscriminate, there will be a direct effect on the dietary needs and preferences of a substantial section of the population. It has also happened in a way that has drastically affected the livelihoods, of both Hindus and Muslims. Cattle markets across the state are reeling under a crisis.
What do these two big priorities of the Yogi government over the last two weeks tell us?
While there is nothing wrong in addressing the issue of illegal slaughterhouses and harassment of women, he should also look at the many other problems which beset the state. If not, the Yogi sarkar might seem to be overlooking crucial issues that need to be addressed without delay.
UP is a state desperately in need for administrative reform. It is a state that needs to improve its public school system and health facilities: Visit any primary government school or district hospital and you will realise the extent of deprivation. It is a state where the university system is collapsing: Colleges in smaller towns are producing unemployable young men by the thousands every year. It is a state that needs to focus on imparting skills and creating economic opportunities for its young. That is what the mandate demands. That is what the new government must focus on.
Yogi Adityanath has a historic majority and a full five-year term to change UP for the better. If he decides to stick to a narrow cultural agenda, it may thrill his base — but will alienate the substantial incremental vote that veered towards the BJP in this election due to the hopes for a better future. Alternatively, if he makes a distinction between majority consolidation — and the governance strategy, which should be sabka saath, sabka vikaas — Yogi Adityanath can still make a difference. I will be watching closely.