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Yogi, BJP’s Hindutva Mascot in Uttar Pradesh, Losing Charisma?

Neelu Vyas |
The police brutality on NRC/CAA protesters, mismanagement during the second COVID-19 wave and atrocities on Dalits/OBCs have dented Adityanath’s image.
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There was a time when saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath was trying to market Uttar Pradesh (UP) as “Uttam Pradesh” through business summits, international investment and MoUs sending out a message that the state was the most fertile and preferred destination.

Adityanath even made no bones about the fact that he was tough when it came to law and order, and the most powerful conduit for the centrally sponsored schemes. Always bragging about the “double engine” government, the head of the Gorakhnath Mutt who took to the corridors of power in the state administration by capturing the bureaucracy, started sailing like a duck in water.

The entire state propaganda machinery was apparently put to one task: project brand Yogi. Posters, billboards and hoardings glistened with only one man and his image. His propaganda became so envious that chief ministers (CMs) of other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states wanted to imitate his style, mannerisms and publicity stunts.

Adityanath cultivated a star image much to the happiness of the Sangh. He became a brand even outside UP; he was almost seen as number two next to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the pecking order of popularity. BJP leaders started eulogising Adityanath as a prospective PM who could replace Modi in 2024.     

Adityanath’s honeymoon was short-lived: protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, (CAA) exposed the inhumanness of his government, which unleashed brute force on Muslims with the police showing a complete lack of sensitivity. He activated and charged his hate machinery to fulfil the Hindutva agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The phantom of NRC and NRC was overshadowed by COVID-19 and the lockdowns. During the second wave, when people were dying in the state due to the shortage of beds and oxygen, several BJP MLAs criticised Adityanath, who was seen as sitting in an ivory tower and impervious to the sufferings of the common man. 

The floating of bodies of COVID-19 victims in the Ganges, the denial of decent cremation to them and the anger of families of government schoolteachers who were infected and killed during Panchayat election duty for not receiving decent compensation gave the impression that the state government had lost the plot.

Then unfolded the law and order problem with the encounter of UP gangster Vikas Dubey, the Hathras gang rape and murder, and the sedition and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019, against journalists.

Adityanath’s image took further hit with the grim statistics of rising joblessness, malnutrition, school dropout and crime, wheat and paddy procurement targets not being met, priority to spending public money on temples, targeting of Muslims for meeting political ends, corruption, rampant casteism, illegal mining and the list of unfulfilled promises.

The neglect of Dalits and Other Backward Classes (OBC) triggered an exodus of ministers and leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharam Singh Saini to the BJP’s biggest challenger and rival in the state, the Samajwadi Party (SP). The BJP is gradually losing the grip on Dalit and OBC voters, who feel that they have been short-changed by the incumbent government.

With a wobbling turf, Adityanath is inciting communal feelings by making statements like that the forthcoming Assembly elections will be a fight between “80% versus 20% (Muslims)”. Maurya retorted to his remark by saying that the contest has turned into “85% vs 15%”, hinting at the loss at the possible loss of OBC votes.

That the BJP didn’t want to take any chances in UP, especially in the face of SP resurgence, was evident when the party decided to field him from his home turf of Gorakhpur, ending the frenzied speculation of him contesting either from Mathura or Ayodhya. Though Adityanath is confident of winning and bringing back the BJP to power in UP, his ability to retain the aura of an overarching CM is anybody’s guess.

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