The elevation of Yogi Adityanath — long seen as a chief ministerial candidate in a BJP government, but not quite a frontrunner — as Chief Minister sends out important political messages and signals key likely trends in the politics of Uttar Pradesh in the coming weeks and months.
Rise of a new Thakur icon, eclipse of Rajnath Singh: From being a state president of the BJP in UP to ‘arranging’, from the MLAs of the Congress and BSP, a majority for Kalyan Singh in 1997, to becoming Chief Minister in 2000, Rajnath Singh has been the BJP’s most prominent Thakur leader in UP. The selection of Yogi Adityanath, a Thakur by birth, to lead the state suggests the likelihood of Rajnath gradually losing his importance — even though he does remain Union Home Minister. Thakurs constitute less than 5% of UP’s population, but are an influential community. They also tend to go with power, which currently lies with Yogi.
Hindutva first, development later: The election results have shown that former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s slogans of development did not work as well as the BJP’s finely tuned arithmetic of caste, which succeeded in polarising most Hindu votes in its favour. The BJP is aware that delivering on development in the two years that are left before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will be difficult in a state that is prone to viewing most things through the prism of caste and creed, and where the bureaucracy — which operates the levers of state — is divided on caste lines to an even greater degree than politicians and society at large. It is clear that Yogi will be expected to remain true to his well-known style, while development — which UP urgently needs — will be monitored by others. Both — Hindutva and development — could be the BJP’s issues for the elections of 2019.
Focus on upper castes: With Mayawati having got just 19 seats, it might have appeared logical that the BJP would try to capture vacant Dalit space and weaken her further — perhaps by appointing a Dalit leader Deputy CM. But the claim by BJP leaders that non-Jatav Dalits voted for the party does not square up with the fact that the BSP still got over 22% of the total vote. With a Thakur as CM and a Brahmin (Dinesh Sharma) as one of his deputies, it is clear that the BJP is not focusing on Dalits. Only 2 Cabinet Ministers and 3 Ministers of State in Adityanath’s ministry are Dalits — by contrast, there are 8 Brahmins (including Sharma), 8 Thakurs (including Adityanath), 4 Vaishyas, and 2 Bhumihars. Several OBC communities such as Gujjars have no representation in the ministry. It is clear that upper castes remain the BJP’s main focus.
Possible emergence of ‘one’ opposition: Aggressive Hindutva is likely to trigger aggressive opposition as well. Which among the SP and BSP takes the lead will depend on which side the Muslims stand. With Muslims having clearly chosen the SP-Congress (19 of whose 54 Muslim candidates won), the BSP faces the risk of becoming irrelevant. While a realignment of political and social forces is possible in the coming years, there remains a possibility that the SP and BSP, despite all their bitterness, might seriously consider coming together like in 1993 — with the Congress willing to join in to improve its relevance both in the state and at the Centre. It is likely that the BJP would try to keep the SP relevant so that Muslim votes remain with it, and the Congress gets no chance to revive itself.
A message to the RSS: The Sangh had expressed displeasure with the distribution of tickets, but has been silent since the results came in. In North-Eastern UP, the entire Parivar — RSS, VHP and BJP — is often seen as being split into those who are pro-Yogi and those who are anti-Yogi. The Chief Minister is more aggressive than any RSS leader, the Sangh has difficulty dictating to him, and there may be problems in the functional relationship between the RSS and the government. The two Deputy CMs will have a role in keeping the relationship going.
Test for the ‘na khaunga, na khane doonga’ pledge: The BJP has promised a corruption-free regime, but almost a fourth of its MLAs and a dozen Ministers in Yogi’s government are imports from the BSP, SP or Congress, who had worked with the leaders the BJP is most critical of — Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav. It remains to be seen how the BJP will react as problems inevitably surface. It also remains to be seen how the CM’s two deputies share responsibilities, and what mechanism is put in place to ensure coordination between Yogi and the Deputy CMs.