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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Yogi Adityanath must focus on what he was elected for and less on spiritual matters

While no one denies him the right to practise his faith or be a protector of cows and builder of statues of deities, Yogi Adityanath’s primary function for which he was elected CM of Uttar Pradesh is to implement schemes to alleviate poverty, improve literacy and healthcare, ensure security and create jobs

columns Updated: Nov 12, 2017 08:55 IST
Hindustan Times
Utter Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on his way to attend a Cabinet meeting at Lokbhavan, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh October 31
Utter Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on his way to attend a Cabinet meeting at Lokbhavan, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh October 31(Subhankar Chakraborty/HT)

To those who are discomfited by the somewhat regressive utterances and actions of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, I can only quote George Bernard Shaw: “Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

To be fair to him, Adityanath, after his surprise elevation to chief minister has never really sought to project himself as something he is not. He is first and foremost a priest and is far more concerned with his spiritual duties than anything else. Is this all right for the chief minister of India’s most populous and politically volatile state? Of course not.

There are those who felt that with great political responsibility would come great change in the Yogi. But that is to reckon without his ingrained beliefs, among them righting the wrongs done to Hinduism, upholding its tenets on cow protection and the construction of a grand temple at Ayodhya. He is not about to change his mind in a hurry and become a secular moderniser, a cow-belt Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

His latest outburst on the cow is an example of how much his beliefs take precedence over all else. Already, the position of the state government and attacks by self-styled gau rakshaks or cow protectors, have wreaked havoc on not just the bovine economy — its centre of gravity, as chance would have it, is in Uttar Pradesh — but also pastoral economics with farmers abandoning unproductive cattle that they can no longer afford to take care of because the option of selling these for slaughter is becoming a risky one. Adityanath, putting faith above all else, has declared that not an iota of meat would be exported out of his state.

The saint-cum-chief-minister said this at a recent meeting of gau-rakshaks in his state. These vigilantes have been at the centre of some horrible acts of violence. Apart from the sheer horror of people getting lynched on mere suspicion of being cattle rustlers, the image of India of which the government is so concerned about, took a real beating.

It seemed a throwback to medieval times that justice would be meted out on the streets by unemployed lumpens posing as gau rakshaks and indulging in their bloodlust. Adityanath’s concern for cows and those harming them could set off another round of bloodletting despite the fact that the prime minister himself has expressed his anger against these cow vigilantes. To be fair to Adityanath, he did ask the gau rakshaks to exercise restraint.

It is now widely accepted that the promise of the promise of jobs and development, disenchantment with the politics of the ruling Samajwadi Party, the fading fortunes of the Bahujan Samaj Party, smart caste-based selection of candidates, and demonetisation won the Bharatiya Janata Party the state.

The cow was nowhere in the picture then.

Uttar Pradesh has many problems, none of which are of Adityanath or his party’s doing.

For instance, this year, like every year, there has been an unacceptably high level of infant deaths in UP hospitals but apart from an angry outburst from the chief minister, this has not been taken as seriously as it should have been. The state has an infant mortality level equal to Mauritania, in west Africa.

While it all very fine to have cow ambulances and electronic tagging for cows, the people voted the BJP and Yogi Adityanath to power to improve their lives. Having the highest infant mortality rate in India at 64 deaths per 1,000 live births is hardly a badge of honour. This is not surprising, as a study by Observer Research Foundation shows, that the state has 84% fewer specialists than needed and only 19.9% of health workers, the lowest in the country. This has led to a situation in which 46.3% of children are stunted and 39.5% are underweight.

I won’t go into all the promises of high-tech primary health centres and speciality hospitals which were to have been set up. It would be just too cruel to the parents who have lost their babies when timely medical intervention could have saved them.

I have always wondered how it is that young men seem to materialise with such rapidity whenever there is any perceived crime being committed like cattle being transported or young couples sitting together in public places. Why are they not at work? The answer is quite simple. They don’t have any work.

At least 58 people per 1,000 are unemployed in UP; among the youth, it is 148. So the choice is to stay in the state and be jobless or leave for uncertain pastures elsewhere. But with poor education and poorer skills, most of them get low paying backbreaking jobs in cities and towns. Jobs were an important issue in the last election, but Adityanath has other things on his mind – for instance, building the country’s biggest statue of Ram.

This isn’t an either-or thing — the new administration should do both, focus on reducing the infant mortality rate and building a huge statue of Ram.

The BJP has a chance to pull UP out of the morass it has been in since Independence. But the first few months of the party raise the obvious question: What happened to the development agenda? Television channels have been routinely showing the filthy conditions in the state’s hospitals, its broken-down schools, its poor infrastructure and its frightening law and order problems.

These are issues which should worry anyone, most of all the chief minister under whose watch young men seem to have assumed the licence to harass, even maim and kill under some misguided zeal over protecting cows and morals. He has been given a mandate that most politicians can only dream of. Initially, it was thought that he would settle into the job and get things done in the state where his word counts for a great deal. Instead, we have seen him push the real issues onto the backburner and focus on those which are not essential; indeed some of them are divisive.

How much more people would feel reassured if they saw photos of him with sick babies than patting well-fed cows! While no one denies him the right to practise his faith or be a protector of cows or builder of statues, his primary duty for which he was elected is to implement schemes to alleviate poverty, improve literacy and healthcare, ensure security and create jobs — all in India’s most populous and politically important state.

But maybe I am being pessimistic. Adityanath still has a good four years and three months to go before the next state election. Having assured his core constituency that matters of the faith will not be ignored, perhaps he will eventually move from the spiritual to the corporeal world where real people live with their very real problems.

First Published: Nov 12, 2017 08:55 IST

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