In my book, The Monk Who Became Chief Minister: The definitive biography of Yogi Adityanath, I argued that the state of Uttar Pradesh, with 22 crore people and 80 Lok Sabha seats, is a crucial political piece in India’s electoral puzzle. With a history of producing many prime ministers for the country, UP may have given yet another prospect for the prime minister’s office in the post-Modi era.
Narendra Modi and Yogi have some similarities, which force political pundits to make the Modi-Yogi comparison. The media has created a Hindu hardliner image around both. Both are extremely popular among their supporters. Modi and Yogi are both bachelors and have minimal involvement with their families, which make them free from any obligations or nepotism. Both are extremely hard working, disciplined human beings in their food habits, yoga routine and work ethic.
Yogi Adityanath completed six months as Chief Minister at the pancham tal on September 19. Modi inherited a decent Gujarat to be turned into a good, even best Gujarat, which he did meticulously and there emerged a Gujarat Model of development. Yogi got a miserable Uttar Pradesh, where showing instant results will be very tough. Yogi needs to focus tactically on the low hanging fruit, along with long-term strategic initiatives. It’s too early to pronounce a verdict on his performance but the initial days look promising. In a state marred with corruption, mis-governance, nepotism coupled with a “Bimaru” and dysfunctional machinery, the initial months, maybe years in office, will be spent in basic housekeeping. Even Yogi’s detractors have commended his work in the power sector, his transparent procurement policy, streamlining the transport department, cracking down on bogus ration cards, making long-pending payments to sugarcane farmers and initiating the process of recruitment of 1.5 lakh police personnel.
Yogi’s main difference from Modi, and a challenge for him, is that in a very disciplined cadre-based party like the BJP, Yogi has never held a party position. This makes him a bit distant from the party. Modi, an RSS pracharak, had held various important positions in the party throughout the country before taking over as the chief minister of Gujarat. Chief ministers of the BJP manage their state through a combination of factors — their political acumen, administrative ability, effective use of the bureaucracy, a set of confidantes among ministers and most importantly, their connect with the party cadre, who act as their eyes and ears on the ground. While Yogi seems to score well on all counts his connect with the party cadre is not the best.
In UP today, the organisational secretary and Amit Shah’s strongman, Sunil Bansal, is filling this gap for Yogi and providing the much needed connect with the party cadre. The new state party president, Mahendra Nath Pandey, will also get into action soon.
In the BJP, most sustained political journeys have been undertaken by a pair. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had L.K. Advani as his close confidant and PM Modi has Amit Shah as his alter ego. But Yogi still seems to lack a close aide in the party. He should soon identify someone from his set of ministers to be his partner in this long political race.
Even Modi’s critics commend him for the effort he has put in over the years to groom himself for office. Be it his effort to constantly hone his oratory, the use of technology to connect with his followers, his command over the English language or his ability to attract the best teams to work with him, Modi has stood ahead of the pack. Journalists covering the 2014 elections were amazed to see the multiple teams that Modi was operating in parallel for his campaign — first, the party and RSS cadres, then came the BJP’s IT backbone lead by Arvind Gupta, there was data crunching by Rajesh Jain’s team and on top of all this, Modi utilised the services of the likes of Prashant Kishor for communicating his aspirational message far and wide. Yogi has the image of a champion of the Hindu cause. Going forward, he needs to access the best new-age support teams, technology interventions and communication channels to race through the governance track, along with his hardliner image.
Despite these challenges, Yogi has his own set of achievements. At 44, he is one of the youngest chief ministers, that too of a humongous state like UP. When the age of 75 is an internal ceiling in the BJP for active politics, Yogi has age on his side. At a young age, he already has two decades of gruelling experience as a parliamentarian. His performance in terms of questions, debates and private members’ bills is among the best in Parliament. His natural ability to connect with the people, through his janta darbars at the mutt, is paralleled only by a long-time RSS pracharak.