Facing questions over his government’s handling of the Hathras case and with some critical voices within, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath struck back Tuesday invoking his crackdown on the anti-CAA protests to underline his resolve to counter what he called an Opposition conspiracy.
“You must have seen their faces, those who protested against the CAA; those who, during the corona pandemic, sheltered Tablighi Jamaat to try and spread the disease…who tried to spread anarchy at different levels in the state…not only did the government unmask them but also took steps to counter these elements,” said the Chief Minister.
He alleged there was a plot to malign his government’s image by whipping up “animosity” in society. “The Opposition has no other issue to raise than indulge in negative publicity. They are constantly trying to create divides…create hindrances (in development),” the CM said.
His remarks came hours after the BJP, for the first time from its national platform since the Hathras incident, accused the Opposition of cherry-picking cases for “vote bank” considerations.
Said BJP general secretary Dushyant Gautam, himself a Dalit leader: “Any crime — rape, murder — is committed against a daughter, whether Dalit or poor, is abhorrent irrespective of which government is there. It is sad when people pick a crime looking at who is in power and which community the murderers or rapists belong to…what is the vote bank there.”
These comments, in Lucknow and New Delhi, are part of the BJP’s campaign to underline that the same set of protesters, from Opposition political parties and civil society, flit from issue to issue — CAA or farm Bills or Hathras — and their objective to attack the legitimacy of an elected government they cannot counter politically.
But what has slightly complicated this narrative in Hathras is the fact that the woman is a Dalit and the BJP, of late, has been underlining the tension between Dalits and Muslims – several arrests have been made in a series of clashes — and is aware of the political cost of seen as insensitive to Dalits. More so, when Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Azad very visibly joined the protests.
This narrative, to link the Hathras protests to the larger pushback by Opposition parties and activists came up for discussion at the first meeting of the newly appointed national office bearers taken by party president J P Nadda Tuesday.
This is also meant to counter disquiet within the party against the way the administration handled the Hathras incidents.
“Some MPs, MLAs and even Ministers don’t agree with how things unfolded. Many of them feel the Chief Minister is ill-advised by the coterie of officials around him,” said a senior party MP.
Another party leader from Uttar Pradesh said: “The CM relies on bureaucratic advisors which could be useful in crises. But what he glosses over are the political inputs. He had not taken any political feedback over the (Hathras) developments until the overnight drama of the cremation.”
At least three MPs and two MLAs said that the Chief Minister wasn’t kept briefed on the “actual” ground situation.
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Said a senior BJP leader familiar with the government’s response: “No one seemed to have told the Chief Minister that police pushing for the cremation of a Dalit girl at night, all captured on camera, sends a very negative signal…they had convinced the CM that it was needed to avoid any law and order incident in the morning. It was a bureaucratic response, not a political one and it hurt us. That it was wrong was evident the next day when temperatures went down once we lifted the blockade and allowed people to meet the family.”
Former Union Minister Uma Bharti and Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, who is from the Dalit community, have questioned the state government’s handling of the Hathras case.
The timing couldn’t be more crucial, with less than three weeks until the Bihar elections, said a senior leader. A state where Dalit/backward class support base is significant and where an anti-Dalit signal can have a big political cost. “The image of the Chief Minister and of our government did get affected. It’s not a positive event. We need to work on all fronts, legal and political, to control the damage,” said a BJP leader. “That explains our decision to seek a CBI probe…we have even urged the Supreme Court to supervise the probe, there is nothing to hide.”