Exactly 13 months ago, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) recorded a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh, clocking 312 seats in the State Assembly elections. The victory was significant in more ways than one. First and foremost, this was the highest number of seats registered by any party in the past two decades. Second, this marked the comeback of the saffron party after an exile of 14 years. Third, in a three-player contest, BJP was the only party that went into elections without a Chief Ministerial candidate, unlike Samajwadi – Congress Party alliance or the Bahujan Samaj Party. On one hand, rival parties alleged that BJP was not even able to put up a CM candidate for the largest state. On the other hand, party members revealed that BJP camp in UP was disunited at both the leadership and cadre level. National broadsheets were betting heavily on Rajnath Singh – a popular leader in the State, Varun Gandhi – BJP’s in-house dynast, Keshav Prasad Maurya – the Dalit poster boy of the upper caste party and few on the controversial Yogi Adityanath. As destiny of UP would have it, much to the chagrin of aspirational Maurya and woes of the non-creamy layer, the monk MP from Gorakhpur was announced as the Chief Minister of UP. Maurya, and Dinesh Sharma, former Lucknow Mayor, were appointed as Mahantji’s deputies.
BJP Electorate Split Over Yogi
This leadership combination immediately split the BJP electorate itself into two distinct segments in UP.
First, those who voted for BJP and Narendra Modi, but were uncomfortable with a verbal sniper at the helm of affairs. This electorate largely comprised of three groups of voters.
One, those who voted for the Gujarat model of development, economic growth, social inclusion on the back of functional law and order machinery.
Two, the non-Yadav Samajwadi Party supporters. The family feud in the Samajwadi Party had overshadowed Akhilesh Yadav’s performance, and a certain caste was ruling the roost. Moreover, the party’s pre-poll alliance with Congress exigently alienated those who believed SP was an alternative to Congress in UP.
Three, the traditional BSP vote bank which saw limited future for the party. In the absence of a second-tier leadership, Mayawati’s lack of physical and political visibility, and muted opposition by BSP between 2012-17, the voter saw little going for it at home. Also, with Keshav Prasad Maurya rising up the ranks, the BSP vote bank did see hope for themselves after all.
Second, those who perceived Yogi’s appointment as a sanction to create law and order crisis, brazenly push for agenda of exotic Vahinis and their ilk, settle personal scores under the garb of anti-Romeo squad, and soak the air with fear and fright. Appointment of Yogi as a CM has been treated as an implicit consent to propagate the Hindutva agenda in the State, call for upper-caste domination and leave no room for the “other”. Lines between religion and politics were never so blurred before.
Party Leadership Split Over Yogi
In an unprecedented sequence of events, BJP lost Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls elections in March 2018 to Samajwadi Party. This was a jolt for both, the State and Central leadership. Both, the seats had fallen vacant after five-time MP Yogi Adityanath and Keshav Prasad Maurya assumed Offices of CM and Deputy CM respectively. However, this defeat was not just an incident of gross oversight, political lapse, gaffe and goof, for the CM. These results have cast doubts on Yogi’s ability to manage cadre, campaign and crisis. There continues to be uncertainty on whether Yogi will ever be able to become a credible face of India’s largest state, which often is a deal breaker in the national scheme of politics, or was he best being the monk MP. Questions such as, was Rajnath Singh a better option, will Yogi’s lack of administrative experience work against him, will Yogi’s saffron politics dent BJP’s dream run, have become relevant and pertinent.
The last BJP CM in UP was Rajnath Singh (Oct-2000 to Mar-2002), who in the past few years, has stayed away from everything that Modi is condoned for. By staying away from the NAMO politics – Nehru, Ayodhya, Muslim and Om, Rajnath Singh has successfully built a brand for himself – one that directly reminds us of Vajpayee’s BJP. Known to be a seasoned administrator, an acceptable Thakur face, and one who could handle UP ke ladke, and govern like a Varishth Neta, he will certainly pose an existential challenge to Yogi’s future in the State. Every time CM Yogi goofs up Rajnath Singh has the last laugh.
BJP MPs Split Over Yogi
Within one month of CM Yogi in office, frequent incidents of caste violence began to surface. This was not the first time, that the State was witnessing caste-ridden bloodshed. However, with CM Yogi at the helm, incidents such as attacks on Dalits in Saharanpur, vandalization of Ambedkar statues were not just instances of caste violence anymore. They were sensed as attempts to muzzle the voice of weak by those in power. This sentiment has sustained and manifested itself in four Dalit MPs from UP protesting against the leadership.
Notwithstanding the fact that all these MPs are first time Parliamentarians from the State, it is noteworthy that all of them have switched from their original parties. This not only makes the party vulnerable to losing out mass leaders who joined the BJP during Modi wave, it also reflects the attitude of the party towards those who don’t “belong” to it. Also, let us not discount the fact that if these MPs have actually sensed retreat of Dalit voters from the party and are now preparing grounds for their own homecoming too, the SP-BSP alliance will shatter BJP’s – Mission 80 dream.
CM Yogi has the baggage of his past stance on religion and caste, which compounds the impact of any social disturbance in the State. The fact that his primary identity is religion implies that he needs to work harder than his counterparts to prove his commitment towards “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”, if he believes in it. He also needs to appreciate that his primary responsibility is governance, and abdicating responsibility from Gorakhpur, Unnao, Balia and ilk will erode his personal and political credibility. Decisions such as painting the Haj Office or Ambedkar statue saffron are not just political howlers, they are sticky messages that communicate inability of those in power to separate religious and political duties.
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