The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) never ceases to surprise. On March 11, it registered a landslide win in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and followed it up with the choice of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of the country’s most populous state. Mr Adityanath’s name did not figure in any of the media shortlists of chief ministerial candidates possibly because of the perception that the party wanted to maintain a safe distance from the hardline Hindutva agenda that Mr Adityanath is known to be fond of, proved by his past utterances and actions. Besides being the head of the 15-year-old Hindu Yuva Vahini, which has been involved in several incidents of violence in the past, the new chief minister has a record of minority baiting and hate speech against Muslims, all of which are well documented. The politician-priest, who has also been in charge of the Goraknath Math, has been winning the Gorakhpur seat since 1998, but has zero administrative experience. This shows up in the fact that Gorakhpur remains one of the most backward areas in the state. As such, there is a growing impression that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had a key role in his anointment as it felt that the brute majority in the Assembly would help Mr Adityanath push through its majoritarian agenda. The cynical view also is that the BJP has decided to surf the tide of communal polarisation so that it wins the largest chunk possible of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 elections.
To be sure, the choice of Mr Adityanath was not an easy one. Despite its rousing mandate, the BJP could not zero in on the final candidate for one whole week. There was a lot of going back and forth and the fact that it finally settled on a chief minister and two deputies — one each from the other backward classes (Keshav Prasad Maurya, the state party president) and Brahmin (Dinesh Sharma, Lucknow’s mayor) — shows that the final choices were a result of an attempted careful balancing of caste and religious equations. Mr Adityanath, in particular, has not had a smooth relationship with the BJP. Being devoted to a hard Hindutva stance has meant that he has rebelled against the party in the past.
Now that he is in power, can Mr Adityanath make sure that the past does not catch up with his new role in a state in which the Muslims account for 19.3 per cent of the population? For, a strident anti-minority narrative will be at odds with the inclusive “development” plank on which Prime Minister Narendra Modi based the bulk of his campaign. In fact, the BJP’s thumping win in Uttar Pradesh gave Mr Modi greater political capital to push economic reforms. In his limited interaction with the media, Mr Adityanath has reiterated the prime minister’s slogan of “Sabka saath, sabka vikas” and has indicated that he will do all that it takes to make Uttar Pradesh an “Uttam Pradesh” through good governance. The problem, however, is that many will take this only as empty talk from a man who owes his meteoric rise to communally divisive rhetoric. Mr Modi said at the BJP headquarters shortly after the victory in Uttar Pradesh that governments were formed by majority but ruled for everyone. There must now be a question about whether that was just talk, like minimum government.