There has been a lot of speculation in the media about how PM Narendra Modi would like to rein in Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath and possibly even get rid of him. It has also been said that the entire Sangh parivar has been in deep chintan (worry sessions) over what to do about the Monk from Gorakhpur who likes to be referred to as Maharaj.
Here’s why I think it’s very hard to change the chief minister of a state headed to polls in February/March 2022.
First, Yogi Adityanath will never go quietly into the night. The authority of the RSS does not extend to the CM as he is a product of the Gorakhnath mandir. He is an authority unto himself and is unlikely to prostrate before a prime ministerial diktat as he has so far failed to do over the appointment of a particular officer sent from Gujarat to UP, considered Modi’s pick. Besides, Yogi runs his own Hindu Yuva Vahini akin to a private army of storm-troopers: he will therefore make a terrible scene and thunder out with the rage and could even plot revenge. After all, in the past, when has not got his way, Yogi even put up candidates against the BJP.
Second, who is the replacement? Many MLAs are unhappy with Yogi. But if he is removed, regardless of the scenes that will follow, the idea would presumably be to again project Narendra Modi as the face of the BJP without projecting a CM candidate. There is a view this may offset the growing anti-incumbency after the great mismanagement of the second wave of Covid-19 by the Adityanath regime. On the other hand after the PM image got dented following the over exposure in the West Bengal elections, should Narendra Modi not have a fall guy in place in case the script goes wrong? After all, the PM’s image needs to be preserved till 2024.
Third, the main plank on which the BJP will fight the state elections will be Hindutva (they have nothing else to offer) and Yogi is a Hindutva icon. If the elections are going to be about spreading a million divisions, then who better than Yogi to do so as his pet themes are love jihad, Romeo squads et al.
Yet, there is still an argument within a section of the BJP/Sangh parivar to change the CM before the elections. The results of the panchayat polls, where the SP did better than the BJP, stunned them. There are some who say drastic measures need to be taken.
It may also be remembered that Narendra Modi’s own career in electoral politics began after a veteran BJP leader Keshubhai Patel was compelled to vacate the CM chair in Gujarat at a time when there was a belief the party would lose the next state election. Modi was “selected” and sent to Gujarat on 7 December 2001, in late February 2002 the terrible Gujarat riots took place and in December 2002 Modi would get elected for the first of his three terms.
Keshubhai, incidentally, remained a dissident through most of the Modi years in Gujarat although he was from the RSS unlike Yogi.
But since the 2002 riots Narendra Modi has been the man of destiny also cast as the original Hindu Hriday Samrat. It is during his reign as PM that the transformation of India to a Hindu First nation has taken place, be it the abolition of Article 370, the downgrading of Kashmir to a Union territory, the ongoing construction of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya besides CAA, NRC. Yogi Adityanath wears saffron robes but his hindutva operates at the level of a rabble rouser.
Possibly the BJP needs both to go full throttle in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends most of its MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Meanwhile, power equations within the BJP are in a state of flux but all the worthies have taken an image hit. Had the Modi-Shah duo won Bengal, things would have been different. Currently the PM image is also at the lowest after the Bengal defeat and the Covid-19 bungles by the Centre. The question of who is the successor to Modi remains hanging but had Bengal been won, Amit Shah would certainly have been comfortable in that slot.
Yogi Adityanath’s state has seen the greatest disasters of dead bodies rotting by river banks and flowing down the Ganges. But he remains in the chair, ambitious and possibly believing he is the true Hindutva successor to Modi in the BJP’s pantheon. The Maharaj Monk of India cannot be discarded easily.
(Saba Naqvi is a Consulting Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.)