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Adityanath’s leadership as much on test in UP as charisma of PM Modi, Shah

Yogi Adityanath
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Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s standing, leadership and political skills are as much on test in the Lok Sabha elections as the charisma and credibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah’s organisational finesse.

On Friday, when Shah addressed the media in Delhi, he elaborated on the BJP’s “unprecedented” campaign and highlighted that while Modi addressed 142 public meetings and conducted four road shows, he spoke at 161 public meetings and did 18 road shows. Among the chief ministers on the stump, Adityanath topped the charts (135 rallies), followed by Himachal Pradesh’s Jai Ram Thakur (106), Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis (91), Gujarat’s Vijay Rupani (86) and Uttarakhand’s Trivendra Singh Rawat (58). The number of meetings they addressed went beyond their respective states and signified a “demand” for their presence, a BJP source said. Ironically, the source said when Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister sought an audience outside his state, there were no takers. It is reliably learnt that the clamour for Adityanath was “many times more” outside UP although he visited practically all the 80 constituencies on home turf.

The conduct of Adityanath’s two-year dispensation was as intense a subject of discussion with UP voters as the Centre’s. At some point, the two got so inextricably entangled that it was hard to tell who the referendum was on: Modi or Yogi. While Yogi was uniformly praised by Hindus, transcending caste lines, for bringing back “security” in their lives and ensuring that their “mothers, sisters and daughters” were unharmed on the streets after dusk, he was criticised on other counts.

The cow, an object of blind faith for the custodian of the Gorakhnath Math (monastery), turned into his greatest bane. The “lawaris pashu” (disowned cow), left to fend for herself after she stopped yielding milk, became a metaphor for everything that was wrong in UP. After a serious crackdown on slaughter houses and meat exporters that launched his tenure in March 2017, nobody was willing to touch an unproductive animal, leave alone put it up for sale. Farmers across the state rued how cattle fairs had become history. Shops selling meat and eateries with non-vegetarian fair pointedly mentioned that only chicken, and not even mutton, was on sale. Let loose, the cows made a feast of the fields that were not allowed to be fenced until recently. Farmers spoke bitterly of how they spent the winter out in the open guarding the standing crops from the marauding bovines.

Additionally, farmers had other complaints: higher power tariff although supply was largely undisrupted, five kilo less urea for the same price and tardy payment of backlogs for sugarcane purchase by private mills that the CM had promised to clear within a stipulated deadline. From March 2018, urea was sold in 45 kg bags instead of 50 kg at the earlier price if Rs 242 (excluding tax), ostensibly to cut its consumption and promote a balanced use of fertilisers.

One major reason why the unalike Opposition alliance, made up of historically antagonistic castes and community, worked on the ground was because of Yogi’s “Thakurwaad”, that meant excessively indulging the Rajputs of his caste to the detriment of ignoring the Brahmins and Bhumihars, harassing the Yadavs, slighting the non-Yadav backward castes whenever they demanded a bigger slice of the reservation pie, persecuting Dalits and tormenting Muslims. The BJP worked on the premise that its 2014 formula– that heaped together the upper castes, non-Yadav backward castes and non-Jatav Dalits in a large pile– would work forever. Adityanath evidently unravelled the formula to an extent that the cracks in the BJP’s Brahmin-Bhumihar following surfaced. These castes might not vote the coalition or the Congress in a big way but they have become indifferent towards the BJP.

The touchstone of Adityanath’s popularity (or lack of it) will lie in his ability to wrest Gorakhpur, his constituency of several elections that he lost to the Samajwadi Party in a by-election in 2018. It’s unclear if Ravi Kishan Shukla, the Bhojpuri film star fielded by the BJP, was endorsed by the CM. In the past elections, if the BJP put up someone he did not approve of, he unleashed the Hindu Vahini, the youth militia he founded, and fielded its candidates against the BJP’s and at times, spoilt its chances. This time, there’s no trace of the Vahini. Adityanath lured away Praveen Nishad, who had won the by-poll. The Nishad Party his father, Sanjay Nishad had formed, claims to represent the communities who live off the rivers flowing through East UP. The BJP hoped to augment its core votes with those of the Nishads.

In the line-up of chief ministers that Shah named, those of Raghubar Das, Pramod Sawant, Sarbananda Sonowal and Biplab Deb respectively from Jharkhand, Goa, Assam and Tripura went missing. Sources said Sonowal and Deb were confined to Assam while Das was up against a “strong” Opposition alliance in Jharkhand. Along with Chouhan, the former Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh CMs, Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh maintained a low profile.

Source: Business Standard