In a last minute surprise, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chose party’s firebrand leader Yogi Adityanath for the chief ministerial post in Uttar Pradesh, where the saffron party registered a landslide victory in the recently-concluded Assembly polls winning as many as 312 of 403 seats. Yogi Adityanath, who is known for his controversial statements against minorities, especially Muslims, has vowed to run the government in Uttar Pradesh following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ slogan and exudes confidence that the state would march on the path of development.
The BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh triggered a debate on whether the people voted for the saffron brigade buoyed by the campaign around development and change or for the party’s Hindutva agenda which includes construction of Ram Mandir. Since 2014, the BJP has been promoting the party’s Hindutva-wrapped agenda of development successfully to win electoral battles across the country. Despite the fact that BJP’s poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh was anchored by communal overtones, the party sought votes offering an undefined vision of ‘development’. Though the idea of development had remained at the forefront of the saffron party’s campaign, selection of a polarising figure like Yogi Adityanath tells a different story.
Yogi Adityanath was elected as the member of the 12th Lok Sabha in 1998 from Gorakhpur constituency, becoming the youngest MP at the age of 26. Since then, he had won parliamentary elections from Gorakhpur for five times. If you look at the track record of the Yogi Adityanath as an MP, you will find his political fortune does not depend on development issues. Rather, it is communal polarisation that helped him to rise.
Yogi Adityanath, who also serves as the head priest of the influential Gorakhnath Temple in Gorakhpur, raised 284 questions, participated in 55 debates and moved three Bills in the 16th Lok Sabha between between June 2014 and March 2017. The Bills that Yogi Adityanath moved include one on uniform civil code and one for ban on cow slaughter; both the issues provoke Muslims. The ‘development’ works done by Yogi Adityanath in the Gorakhpur constituency include renaming of several historic neighbourhoods. The city’s Urdu Bazar was renamed Hindi Bazar, Ali Nagar became Arya Nagar and Miya Bazar became Maya Bazar. If these are not the sign of communal mindset, they are not an indication of development either.
Yogi Adityanath, infamously known for his fiery speeches often laced with anti-Muslim rhetoric, failed to establish communal harmony in his own constituency Gorakhpur. Rather, his Hindu Yuva Vahini – a Hindu organisation – have allegedly unleashed an onslaught on Muslims in the villages of Gorakhpur, Basti, Devaria, Azamgarh, Kushinagar and Ghazipur. Between 1998 and 2007, around 40 communal incidents were reported in and around Gorakhpur. According to claims made by the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organisations, Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) is involved in abducting, raping and forcing teenaged Muslims girls to live with Hindu boys.
Yogi Adityanath, who himself is an accused in several criminal cases including rioting, attempt to murder, armed with deadly weapon, endangering life or personal safety of others, unlawful assembly, trespassing on burial places and criminal intimidation, allegedly pushed Gorakhpur into Hindu-Muslim riots in 2007. Two people were killed and property worth crores was burnt. Curfew remained imposed in the region for several days.
Another ‘development’ issue which was raised by Yogi Adityanath is Love Jihad, a controversial term used to describe an affair or marriage between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman, under the guise of religious conversion. While the BJP leader screamed a lot against Love Jihad, his HYV took the initiative of ‘reverse love jihad’ in Kushinagar. Between 2014 and October 2016, 389 cases of underage girls missing or kidnapped were registered by the district police.
Yogi Adityanath ran his poll campaign around two issues of ‘development’. He accused Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party of Muslim appeasement and called for unity among Hindus against Muslim appeasement. While most of the BJP leaders claimed that the mandate is for development, Adityanath was the only one who said the victory of BJP symbolises the rejection of the politics of Muslim appeasement.
Make no mistake. The selection of Yogi Adityanath, a divisive political figure, is against the very idea of inclusive development. What impact the appointment of Yogi Adityanath would have on Uttar Pradesh’s politics and social fabric remains to be seen. But the BJP has sent out a loud and clear message that Hindutva remains their core agenda in the guise of ‘development’.
[Aadil Ikram is a Journalist associated with India.com where the above article is published first.]