Yogi Adityanath is no alternative to PM Modi

The mouthy monk could pull off a return to Lucknow. But that cannot make him Modi’s equal, let alone his superior.

Published: 23rd January 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd January 2022 01:48 PM   |  A+A-

PM Narendra Modi (R) interacts with Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath

PM Narendra Modi (R) interacts with Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath (File Photo | Yogi Adityanath Twitter)

Across religions and civilisations, the gods do not always behave like good guys. Often violent and capricious, they make war as much as they make love, after kidnapping unsuspecting virgins. They curse, cheat and betray. Natch, it is no wonder that their agents on earth should go to war for faith’s sake. Pope Urban II led a Crusade to free Jerusalem from the Moslems in 1095 with the battlecry “Deus vult!” or “God wills it!” Yogi Adityanath, god’s own countryman, is fighting the greatest crusade of his life. To perpetuate his legacy and sanctify his rule. To seek endorsement for both his politics and governance. And most of all, to be on the same pedestal as Hindu Hriday Samrat Narendra Modi by putting his unique stamp on India’s Hindu Weltanschauung. 

However, there is little chance for the Guru of Gorakhpur to become Modi’s alternative. Never mind the fawning media opinion polls and bookies, the mouthy monk could pull off a return to Lucknow. But that cannot make him Modi’s equal, let alone his superior. The Hindutva establishment had anointed Adityanath five years ago as the next big thing after Modi. His celibacy, austerity, humourless impatience, aversion to meat and drink, and incorruptibility made him the ideal Hindutva poster boy of Ram Rajya. Unlike Modi’s urbane flamboyance, bespoke eponymous jackets, Maybach shades and Movado watch, the political priest projects medieval severity.

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India is neither Ram Rajya nor Lanka. It is a sprawling subcontinent of different desires—spiritual and political. The contrast between Modi and Yogi is the former’s versatility and international exposure. Even as Gujarat’s chief minister, Modi rubbed shoulders with global leaders and spoke development economics fluently. His greatest achievement is giving Hindutva a modern face. Therefore, he became a youth magnet at home and abroad. Yogi’s Hindutva is devoid of nuances -- imagine Yogi at Davos, even with a fully functioning teleprompter. Mostly he has hectored about 80 percent versus 20 percent, banning beef in non-heartland states, comparing Shah Rukh Khan with terrorists and wowing Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban. While Modi’s rural and cosmopolitan fan base remains strong, Yogi’s guys lack cachet -- a mass of unemployed heartland youngsters and small businessmen representing freelance Hinduism with hate’s hoary hyperbole. 

While Yogi has become militant Hinduism’s icon on steroids, Modi occupies the lofty throne of spiritual politics. His hagiography pervades Kedarnath, dominating the Ram Temple consecration at Ayodhya and the Varanasi Corridor. Yogi, on the other hand, must overcome the perils of youth unemployment, parabolic prices, defections and caste complexities to be chief minister again. He has to woo back disillusioned Dalits like Jatavs and Valmikis while soothing ruffled Brahmin feathers. He must ghar wapsi disillusioned small traders and businessmen.

The credit for cash transfers, housing grants and LPG goes to the PM. It was Modi who won UP for the BJP, not Yogi who was then a local leader. Deploying the belligerent sanyasi in the state elections in Kerala, West Bengal and Maharashtra backfired, or got poor results because he does not speak the language of contemporary India which is Modi’s second tongue. At stake in UP is not just Adityanath’s career, but a result that could change the course of right-wing politics in India. God willing, or unwilling.

Ravi Shankar can be reached at


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