Keeping up with UP | In action-filled 100 days, Yogi attempts an image makeover

BySunita Aron
Jul 04, 2022 09:08 PM IST

As communal temperatures run high across the country after the Udaipur beheading, CM Yogi Adityanath has preferred restraint to rhetoric. This has not gone unnoticed.

The first 100 days of the Yogi Adityanath government 2.0 were full of action on every front as the state vacillated between communal upsurge and progressive moves.

Make no mistake. The CM’s past remains a key feature of his politics. (PTI) PREMIUM
Make no mistake. The CM’s past remains a key feature of his politics. (PTI)

While the state and the country faced upheavals on religious issues, chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath refrained from making any provocative statements, unlike in the past when he used to join issues at the drop of a hat, without mincing words. And now when the communal temperatures are running high across the length and breadth of the country after the Udaipur beheading, he has preferred restraint to rhetoric.

And this change has not gone unnoticed, but people are assigning different reasons to it.

Preserving peace, protecting image

Professor Rajesh Singh, the vice-chancellor of the Gorakhpur University, lauds Yogi for controlling the aggression that he acquired while contesting elections in the mafia-dominated politics of the region. This interpretation holds that the CM’s focus is now on the development of the state as it would hold him in good stead whenever he will play a bigger role.

The fact that there is a change in the balance of power within the state, in terms of inter-community ties, due to the CM’s first stint has played a part too. Yogi’s biggest challenge now is keeping the peace, for he seems aware that communal riots can mark his image and erode the perception that he has sought to construct a state at peace.

The Muslims of the state are fearful as they feel they are the target and action is usually one-sided, but supporters of Yogi quickly point out some prompt actions taken by him against self-styled Hindu leaders. In Agra, the Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha leader was promptly booked for declaring a bounty on the Udaipur murder accused. Before that, in April, seven persons, including the leader of Hindu Yoga Sansthan, were arrested after some torn papers of a sacred textbook and raw meat were found outside four mosques and FIR was lodged against a religious leader (Hindu Sher Sena) for threatening to rape Muslim women.

Calibrated actions

One example of how the CM has sought to implement decisions that at another time would have provoked huge controversy, accompanied by explicit communal polarisation, is his approach to loudspeakers.

The Yogi government removed loudspeakers from all religious shrines — but it was able to do so without any turmoil, even as similar decisions created havoc in Maharashtra, Karnataka and other states. What paved the way for the peaceful removal of 75,000 loudspeakers was the initiative taken by the head of the Mathura shrine to voluntarily remove the loudspeaker, followed by similar decisions from other Hindu temples.

This brought moral pressure on other religious shrines, mainly the mosques, to remove their loudspeakers. Those who resisted were firmly told to comply with the orders. The CM, who is also head of the much-revered Gorakhnath Math, must have sent a word around. Incidentally, not only the noise pollution levels come down, but the loudspeakers were put to good use in schools.

The politics of rhetoric

Make no mistake. The CM’s past remains a key feature of his politics.

Yogi has consistently hit the headlines for a set of remarks that have been deemed communally offensive — from framing the elections as a battle between the “80 per cent vs 20 per cent” to explicitly saying that “those indulging in love jihad should get ready for Ram naam” to telling “those who avoid Yoga and Lord Shankar” to “leave Hindustan”.

But there is a shift in the politics of rhetoric. The same CM has now told his ministers to refrain from making any provocative statements that may vitiate the social atmosphere. The meeting was held soon after the Nupur Sharma controversy had hit the country. Yogi even told the ministers that people occupying government positions should uphold the dignity and decorum of their offices.

Someone who became a trend-setter for other BJP-ruled states to follow his decisions with communal overtones such as love jihad, religious conversions, cow slaughter, and bulldozers, Yogi is now making a concerted effort to build a new image of “development baba”.

Apparently, the Hindutva mascot realises that it’s time for an image makeover- from that of a rabble-rouser, who incited communal polarisation to that of development baba, which will help him move forward in his political career.

Is this image makeover meant for his next flight to Delhi?

The past, the future

Though Yogi Adityanath won his first election to the Lok Sabha at the young age of 26 in 1998, almost 16 years before he became the head of Gorakhnath Math on September 14, 2014, his monk status always overshadowed his political face.

So, when he moved from Gorakhnath math to the chief minister’s bungalow, his aura of the monk remained impeccable, but he combined that with a laser focus on politics. Even his political detractors, who criticised him for his vindictive politics or Hindutva agenda, conceded his hard work. However, what chased him like a shadow was his rabble-rouser image as he emerged as the biggest polarising figure in the party. He spoke on his pet issues, like no other BJP chief minister could.

Yogi Adityanath now seems to want to overcome the limitations imposed by his past image, as it may prove to be a liability if he has to leapfrog from the state to a prime position at the Centre. With his ideological commitments proven, the CM feels confident enough not to reinforce the past image.

If his first tenure was more about a monk’s journey to the CM’s chair, after his spectacular victory for a record-breaking second stint, even his detractors see him as the future PM of the country. Former UP CM and national president of the main opposition Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav had said during elections, “If he wins a second stint, he will be a candidate for the prime ministership.” Even Union home minister Amit Shah, in an interview with a national daily, had said it was “natural” for people to talk about Yogi as a future prime ministerial candidate. He had quoted development works done by him in the state.

Among all BJP CMs, Yogi stands the tallest. But the state that he heads is beset with multiple problems. He will have to showcase a shining UP and that remains his biggest challenge. The investor’s summits have raised hopes of industrialisation and employment but lots still needs to be done at the ground level. Law and order, power, civic infrastructure remain a challenge in UP. In the next phase of his political life, the CM needs to address precisely these issues. And to do so, he is attempting to showcase the Gorakhpur model of development. After all, the road to power in Delhi goes via UP.

From her perch in Lucknow, HT’s resident editor Sunita Aron highlights important issues related to Uttar Pradesh

The views expressed are personal

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