Religion sells. In most parts of the world, mixing politics with religion is recognised as an unwholesome practice. But in India, it is an accepted routine. Parties and individuals seeking votes in the name of religion is the rule in our country. In Uttar Pradesh, it is the sum total of everything. Openly and unashamedly, religion is used as a political tool.
The intensity of religious politics can only grow with Yogi Adityanath’s spectacular victory in the latest election, “saffron tsunami” as media geniuses called it. Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party became an also-ran; the speed with which Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party went past its use-by date carried its own message. The Congress seems to have lost its address.
For Yogi, victory is sweeter because it is the victory of a chief minister in office. He will now be stronger in his conviction that religion’s place in politics is legitimate, and that religion and money and power should all be intermingled. His strong-arm tactics also get a boost with this victory. After all, this is the Yogi who began his public activities with the formation of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a rough-and-ready outfit to enforce his ways.
As head of Government, he took steps to close down slaughter houses. Bulldozers were used to raze buildings considered illegal, and protestors against the Citizenship Amendment Bill were beaten back ruthlessly. He attacked earlier governments for allowing power cuts during Diwali, while keeping things functioning during Eid. He proclaimed his policy positions with no attempt to be diplomatic. In 2005, he led a purification drive called Ghar Wapasi, welcoming many “back to Hinduism”.
For all his sanyasi persona and saffron clothes, Adityanath was always a tough operator. He has faced charges ranging from attempt to murder to defiling places of worship, from rioting with deadly weapons to criminal intimidation. The Caravan, a magazine never given to sensationalism, once carried an article on him. The title was ‘Priest of Violence: Adityanath’s reign of terror.’ Among other things, it quoted the Yogi as saying: “In future, if a Hindu’s blood is shed, we will not get the administration to lodge an FIR. Instead, we will ensure that we kill at least ten in return. The crowd erupted in cheers.”
Why should citizens — all citizens — be careful about this Yogi? His narrow partisanship is not the only reason, although it is a powerful reason. More disturbing is his ideological ambition to change the very texture of India. Once he initiated a parliamentary move to change the name ‘India’, arguing that ‘Bharat’ was enough. He had introduced bills seeking the introduction of the phrase ‘Bharat that is Hindustan.’ He sought the Supreme Court’s approval for that proposal, but the Court thought otherwise.
The tone and temper of Uttar Pradesh, in many ways the most prominent state in India, have changed under this activist Yogi. What was once a vibrant stamping ground of great leaders like Gobind Ballabh Pant and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai has been turned into a benighted field where religious prejudices govern everything. The real tragedy is that the Yogi and his fellow Hindutva zealots cannot see the difference between what UP was once and what it is today.
The man honestly believes that he has taken UP to the peaks of glory. “There is strong pro-incumbency sentiment in favour of my government,” he said. That may be true in the land of political weirdos such as Mayawati. (Where are those massive statues of herself she got installed in her state when she was in power? What a torment that woman was!) Yogi’s own “achievement” is clear: He has taken the state of UP to be depths of communalism.
The show of strength in UP is bound to make Adityanath more ambitious. He will surely see himself now as the legitimate successor to Narendra Modi in Delhi. After all, he became MP at 26 and has been in seats of power ever since. Whether that will create internal tussles in the party is for the BJP’s elder leaders to sort out.
But the questions raised by Caravan will have to be faced one way or another. As Chief Minister, has Adityanath been making the lives of Muslims miserable? Did his powerful speeches lead to the burning of Muslim-owned buildings and businesses? Is it his government’s policy to show that minorities are lesser citizens? Major government programmes are under way to publicise — and glorify — the Chief Minister. These include big portraits to be posted in public spaces and collectibles like nice buttons, displaying the face of the “Karmayogi Sanyasi.” For beautiful buttons, go to the Yogi Government. For Karmayogi and for Sanyasi, look elsewhere.