When Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited Kerala this February to flag off the state BJP's Parivartan Yatra(meaning Journey of Transformation) ahead of the April polls, he exhorted Malayalees to vote to power a government that would develop Kerala into a state like his own. Of course, the Malayalees had a good laugh over this as while UP aces other Indian states in violent crimes, crime against women, crimes against Muslims and Dalits, gang wars, land scams, arms trafficking etc, it bottoms out in education standards, general living standards, sex ratio, infant mortality etc.This suggestion by Yogi offered a sense of déjà vu as earlier too, Malayalees (with no offence to Somalia) were similarly amused when we heard people in Constitutional positions comparing Kerala to the country in Africa.
On his Kerala visit, Yogi also underlined how Prime Minister Modi was almost on the last leg of ushering in Ramarajya in Ayodhya and "believers" in Kerala should be more vociferous about their rights to the government. Even believing Hindus in Kerala reserve enough cynicism to reject such religious humbug sprung on the masses for political gains by Modi and Yogi.
Suffice it to say that in a matter of months after the PM's Bhumi Pujanat the Ram Temple, the Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshethra Trust is alleged to have pilfered the donations received from fervent devotees.The news of the Ayodhya trust's land scam that threatened to seriously dent the faith of lakhs of believers in Modi, was quickly countered by the PM calling a virtual meeting, in which an elaborate plan to develop Ayodhya as a spiritual centre, global tourism hub and a sustainable Smart City was unveiled.As soon as the second wave of the pandemic showed signs of abating, the PM is back to his election mode with his eye on 2022 assembly elections in UP.
High-tech, infrastructural vikaas woven together with a rabid Hindutva are the twin visions that have so far proved potent to bring all subcastes and subsections within Hinduism in UP under a single tent. While Modi appeals to both the suave, educated, middle-classes and the flotsam jetsam, Yogi appeals to the more hardline and violence-prone underbelly of Hindutva. However, despite the public show of unity between the two leaders, their power struggle has of late become too evident to be neatly swept under the carpet. The result of the UP legislative assembly elections, to happen in eight months' time, will be the litmus test of Modi's longevity beyond 2024.
In the 2017 Assembly elections, BJP won Uttar Pradesh by a landslide, (325 out of 403 seats), riding on the back of the Modi wave. Although a CM face was not projected during the election campaign, Modi's choice fell on the invincible Mahant of Gorakhpur Mutt, who had won the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat five times in a row (1998-2017). The especial reasons for choosing Yogi were:i) Yogi's ability to bring about a social coalition of various castes within Hindu religion, ii) his polarizing hate speeches against the state's 19% Muslim population, iii) his Sanskritised Hindi, iv) his intimate involvement in local politics, and iv) his "great discipline" in combating dissent.
Malayalee journalist Varghese K George, currently the Associate Editor of The Hindu, was the first to predict that the saffron-clad Yogi, who then led a 'fringe' life as the Gorakhpur MP,as one slated for the national stage. Putting Yogi for the first time on the front pages of a national daily as early as 2004, Varghese warned his readers that they would hear his name more and more in the years and decades to come.
In 2017, Modi chose Yogi as CM of the state that sends the maximum legislators to the Lok Sabha as his ideal partner to take forward the making of the Hindu rashtra into its next stage.
However Yogi proved to be a double-edged sword, supremely conscious of his clout to mar the government at the Centre. His state, which is the biggest subdivision within any country, is a republic all on its own. He is not prepared to kow-tow to Modi's diktats.
Right from trying to control the decades-old political flavour of Gorakhnath Mutt by parachuting the Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishen as the new Gorakhpur MP, Modi and Amit Shah has indulged in a game of putting checks and balances to keep Yogi in control. However inside UP borders, it is Yogi's rule. In Yogi's time, UP Assembly has witnessed quite stupendous scenes of the BJP MLAs demanding protection from the state police and blaming their own government for setting the state machinery upon them.
If Modi showed on a national level how power can be concentrated in a single individual by muzzling protest and criticism, Yogi cares even less about press freedom, law and order and bodies floating in the Ganges. Who cares about post-truth and fake news, the UP CM said, "We are doing the highest number of tests, we will complete 6 crore tests soon. If you see the death rate, UP's results are better than all big states and many other countries." About the floating dead bodies in the Ganga, the state CM said that it was part of the culture of people living along rivers to do jalpravah.
June saw moves and countermoves by Modi and Yogi, with a lot of damage control exercises thrown in, in view of the elections.
While Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya, an OBC leader close to Modi, raised voices of revolt against Yogi's style of functioning, the other Deputy CM Vinay Sharma has affirmed that UP will go into the 2022 elections with Yogi Adityanath as the CM face. As Yogi appointed former UP chief secretary Anup Chandra Pandey as the State Election Commisioner, the move was countered by the BJP at the Centre by selecting Anil Sharma, close to PM Modi, as the UP state BJP vice-president.
Public relations exercises can no longer check the chinks in the utopia shared by the two men. The internal ranklings could very well be kept within the BJP fold but eight months is quite a long time when we talk about two impetuous and mercurial menwielding unquestioned power, if one goes by the flurry of activities that we witnessed in June.
(Leena Mariam Koshy is an independent writer based in Kozhikode, Kerala.)