The new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh is a five-term MP with a private army. Yogi Adityanath, who set up the Hindu Yuva Vahini after his first electoral victory from Gorakhpur in 1998, is best known for a minority-baiting that militates against any inclusive idea of India. The Vahini is best known for stoking communal tensions and conflagrations, and taking the law into its own hands, as when it retaliated violently to Adityanath’s arrest in 2007 for his role in communal violence in Gorakhpur.
Campaigning for the just-concluded UP assembly elections — in which he held many more public meetings than in earlier polls but was not projected as the BJP’s CM face — the Yogi kept his message simple and bigoted: If elected to power, he would say, the BJP would undo the “kabristan ka vikas (development of the graveyard)” of the SP-BSP, and set up “anti-Romeo squads”. In an earlier election, in 2014, Adityanath was reprimanded by the Election Commission for speech “provoking feelings of enmity”.
In that bypoll campaign, he sought votes for his rabble-rousing against “love jihad” and exhortations to convert 100 Muslim women for every Hindu converted by Muslims. Among the charges in the several criminal cases against Adityanath: Promoting enmity between groups, defiling places of worship, attempt to murder, criminal intimidation, trespassing on burial places. He has likened Shah Rukh Khan to JuD chief and terror patron Hafiz Saeed, urged those who oppose yoga and the surya namaskar to leave India and drown in the sea.
The day after the unprecedented mandate won by the BJP in UP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been singularly credited for the triumph, by the BJP and by others, spoke of the importance of “sarvamat” or unanimity, even though governments are formed by “bahumat” or majority. He spoke of the election results holding up a glimpse of “New India” — “A new India of the dreams of the 65 per cent, under-35 population and of uniquely aware women’s groups”.
However tall a tree may be, he said, it bends the moment fruit grows on it, and that the BJP government belongs to those who voted for it as well as to those who didn’t. The PM’s words were seen as an assurance that the BJP would read the mandate in its best, most encompassing, version. That the party did not give a single ticket to Muslims, or that party president Amit Shah labelled his political opponents as “KASAB”, or the PM himself spoke of “kabristan” vs “shamshan” during the campaign, it was hoped, would now be overtaken by the imperative to address a sprawling and diverse state tiring of an identity politics that had lost its radical charge and was delinked from any agenda of development. The swearing-in of Adityanath as UP chief minister on Sunday, is a tragic let-down.
More than why, the question is: What next? Until yesterday, the BJP’s fig leaf was that hate talk was a speech bubble of the marginal and the fringe. That fringe is now in charge of India’s most populous and politically crucial state. To what extent will the new CM go against his basic divisive instinct? Will the PM’s uplifting vocabulary of governance be judged as mere gloss to the pandering to the base? Going ahead, there are no fig leaves. As Yogi Adityanath begins his job as CM, blessed by the PM and the party, all three face a test like none before.