The BJP, indeed, seems to be heading for a possible tailspin in Uttar Pradesh. Polls for a new assembly in the state are slated to commence from next month, and state ministers along with MLAs loyal to them are jumping out of the ship helmed by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. So, what went wrong and who is responsible for upsetting the party’s applecart in the politically most-crucial state only weeks before the elections?
Both Swami Prasad Maurya and his cabinet colleague Dara Singh Chauhan have slammed Yogi’s “uncaring” government while parting ways with the BJP and before possibly joining its rival Samajwadi Party (SP) soon. Thus, Yogi and his style are obvious reasons for the sudden desertions from the party and this could justifiably be so from the point of view of the two ministers who have now quit both the Cabinet and the party.
Yet, it is a fact that for the past five years there were no signs of the kind of revolt against Yogi that has erupted in the state barely days after the announcement of the poll dates. The reason behind this could well be a possible loss of support among the electorate for Yogi and the BJP. Clearly, the two ministers and their cohorts must have read the writing on the wall before bolting out from the BJP bandwagon. They obviously waited for an opportune moment to strike – an unsuspecting Yogi was in Delhi for an election meeting with central party leaders when Maurya tendered his resignation from the cabinet first and Chauhan followed. Three other MLAs said to be close to Maurya also left the BJP. They are Roshan Lal Verma, Brijesh Prajapati and Bhagwati Prasad Sagar.
Such a quick turn of events at Lucknow indicates a churning of sorts among both leaders and the electorate. The latest outcome of this has sprung a surprise for the current ruling elite as well as the media. This is palpable by the hushed silence of the former and wishy-washy analysis of events in Uttar Pradesh by the latter. The profound shift in politics that has unfolded just days before the elections has to have deeper reasons. Though ineptness on the part of Yogi in handling the state and its leaders is palpable, the fact is Yogi has never been into policymaking and running a public office despite being elected to Parliament a few times before becoming chief minister.
Yet, the saffron-robed monk from a Gorakhpur temple rose to the top post of the state in 2017 as inexplicably as the unfolding of the current revolt against him. He was not the prime minister’s choice as Modi wanted Manoj Sinha, a central minister at that time, to become chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The most plausible reason for Yogi’s extraordinary ascent as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh appears to be the fascination of the Hindutva brigade’s main and no less consequential protagonists for the priestly class. This became somewhat clear when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat took to a lecture series last summer called ‘positivity unlimited’.
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On May 15, 2021 Bhagwat blamed a general complacency on part of the government, administration and public at large for the explosive second wave unleashed by COVID-19 virus. Amid lakhs of Delta virus cases and thousands of deaths occurring daily, Bhagwat exhorted people against going into merits and demerits and stand together. This was also the time when numerous bodies were seen floating in Ganga at several places through its course in Uttar Pradesh, putting Yogi in a rather tight spot.
Within weeks of Bhagwat’s widely televised talk, Yogi met Modi in Delhi, giving rise to speculations about a possible reshuffle of the Uttar Pradesh cabinet so as to streamline the administration. But before the expansion of the cabinet in the state, a large reshuffle of central ministers took place in Delhi where the then Union health minister was dropped from the Cabinet along with a few others. The exit of the then Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan was seen as a result of the highly lethal scourge inflicted by the second wave of the COVID under his watch. So the ax for the mishandling of the pandemic fell on him rather than Yogi.
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister expanded his cabinet two months later. But what was common between the two expansions was the entry of quite a few ministers from backward castes. These changes were said to have been effected with an eye on the elections in the state. Quite a few ministers belonging to backward castes were sworn in both in Modi and Yogi’s teams.
Strangely, it is this electorally significant section whose ministers and MLAs have raised the banner of revolt against Yogi in Uttar Pradesh. They accuse him of neglecting the backward castes and diluting the provisions for job reservations meant for them. These allegations against Yogi have the potential of swaying electorally significant backward caste voters from the BJP to Samajwadi Party.
The BJP’s response against this appears to be shaping on the lines of breaking the ranks of rival parties by wooing their leaders to the party as a tit for tat on the one hand, and further intensifying its Hindutva pitch on the other. Indications for the first have come with the defection of Samajwadi Party’s Hariom Yadav and Congress’ Naresh Saini to the BJP. Yadav is a two-time MLA from Sirsaganj in Firozabad district while Saini is a legislator from Behat in Saharanpur. Both joined the BJP on January 12. As for stepping up the Hindutva pitch in times of polls, it goes without saying that this has an unmistakable stamp of the larger Sangh Parivar which has been behind the rise of Yogi in Uttar Pradesh since the beginning and this continues to be so.
Throughout his tenure, Yogi has been projected as BJP’s answer to the virtual clout that rival parties were said to be building up in Uttar Pradesh with the help of certain Muslim leaders, including a few tough and alleged blowhards. With SP leader Azam Khan being in jail besides a similar confinement of Mukhtar Ansari and Atiq Ahmed in different cases, Yogi and his Sangh cohorts have been claiming a victory of sorts over what they call attempts to pose a Muslim challenge to the Hindutva’s upper hand that he has always been keen to ensure in Uttar Pradesh.
Amid the shifting sands of Uttar Pradesh politics, what has rather been a virtual constant is the fact that the state has invariably been voting along either communal or caste lines for decades now. Voters have preferred either caste or faith since long. Of late, the BJP’s aggressive appeal to Hindu voters has paid rich dividends to the party. Thus, Yogi was only trying to trump over the caste divide by attacking Muslims relentlessly when a challenge from the backward community came his way.
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Yogi by the virtue of his training as a priest dealing mostly with privileged castes and considering the upper-caste character of the temple presided over by him, cannot be expected to handle the current caste-divide alone. Thus, the BJP is toying with the idea to play its temple card again by fielding him as a candidate from Ayodhya Assembly constituency. The party is weighing this idea with the hope that it will further strengthen the halo about the priest “holiness”, and help the BJP tide over the caste challenge posed by the current onslaught of defections from the party.
The Parivar now hopes that a more aggressive Yogism rather than Yogi as such can mar or blunt the appeal of the defectors to voters and well isolate the ‘new champions’ of the backwards’ cause in Uttar Pradesh. Whether this plan is set into motion or abandoned for something else would be clear in a few days time.
(The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi and NCR. He tweets @abidshahjourno)
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