The choice of Yogi Adityanath, a rabble-rousing saffron mascot, to head Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state with a complex caste matrix, reflects BJP’s broader strategy to sustain Hindu consolidation ahead of 2019 general elections. The unprecedented mandate in the just-concluded Assembly elections seems to have clouded the judgement of the central leadership and prompted it to pursue a rabid brand of populist nationalism, coated with saffron, to reap political dividends at the hustings. In opting for such a risky political gambit, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have negated his own stated agenda of “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas.” Adityanath, a fiery monk who has a history of making incendiary anti-Muslim speeches, is seen as a terrible choice by many who had voted for BJP in the hope that it would stick to the agenda of development. The brazenness of the choice is as breathtaking as it is dangerous. It amounts to sending an ominous message to Muslim community, constituting 19 percent of the State’s population, that they are unwelcome in the new scheme of things. The firebrand Hindutva leader’s elevation adds insult to injury for section of the society that was not represented in the party’s list of candidates. One would have expected the BJP to pick a moderate face to lead UP in tune with its inclusive development pitch instead of going for a highly polarising personality. It should realize that the resounding UP verdict was for “Vikas” agenda and not for perpetuating divisive politics. The aspirational youth wants development and jobs but not a throwback to an era of bigotry and obscurantism.
A five-time MP from Gorakhpur and the chief priest of Gorakhnath temple, Adityanath has been the controversy’s favourite child. Be it his outfit’s strong-arm tactics in cow-protection and ‘Ghar Wapsi’ drives or campaign against ‘love jihad’, the Mahant was in the media spotlight for all wrong reasons. Founder of right-wing outfit Hindu Yuva Vahini, he has several criminal cases against him including rioting and attempt to murder. However, the 44 year old monk commands a massive following and was the most sought-after star campaigner in UP polls. Having renounced the family at the age of 21, Adityanath is respected by an army of his followers for his simplicity, corruption-free image and his no-nonsense approach. In a state that was, for long, a victim of misgovernance, he is expected to restore law and order and go tough on corruption. However, the challenge before him is to control hardline elements among his own followers. Though BJP leadership has maintained that development agenda will be the sole motto of the UP government, there is a growing perception that Adityanath’s elevation is an insult to the poll mandate.