The Bharatiya Janata Party must be applauded for appointing Yogi Adityanath as the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It has resisted the temptation of mistaking its spectacular victory in the state Assembly elections as a reflection of popular support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development agenda or even his demonetisation policy, both elements of the narrative many analysts had crafted to explain the verdict.
By anointing Adityanath as chief minister, the BJP has mocked those analysts: it has confirmed that the Uttar Pradesh verdict was largely because of the polarisation between Hindus and Muslims that it exploited.
By making such a statement, even though implicitly, the BJP presumably feels that India is past the stage where Hindutva has to be clothed in a diaphanous wrap-around – in the rhetoric of development, for instance. Through Adityanath, the BJP has chosen to display Hindutva in all its nakedness, to test whether Hindus will recoil from its sight or remain enchanted by it until 2019, which is when India will have its next Lok Sabha election.
Adityanath’s appointment offers Hindus certain choices: Will they vote the BJP despite Hindutva or because of it? Will they support Hindutva that masquerades as a sophisticated ideology but in reality bristles with anger and brims with hatred?
Let us face it: Adityanath is the exponent of a militant ideology that lacks decency, civility and sophistication.
We should be thankful to the BJP for offering the Hindus these choices earlier than expected. India’s religious minorities have already defined their position against Hindutva, silently or vociferously, and can only reconcile themselves to the grim consequences that will unfold.
Observant Hindus have been offered a choice: Do they accept the instrumental use of their religion to capture power? Do they accept political Hinduism, which is what Hindutva is, a destructive variant of political Islam? Do they wish to traverse the path that Pakistan has taken?
It is these Hindus who will need to make alliances with other ideological opponents of Hindutva to win the battle for Hinduism.
There will be voices who will urge the nation to give Adityanath a chance. They will cite familiar arguments, such as power having a moderating influence on its wielder. We will be reminded about the Union Minister Uma Bharti, who in her more exuberant days between 1989 and 1993, breathed fire, became Madhya Pradesh chief minister ten years later, was ejected from power, and is now a shadow of her fiery self.
But today’s India is not of the 1980s and 1990s, when Hindutva was slowly on the rise. Today, it is increasingly India’s dominant ideology. Adityanath is its most vituperative, bellicose articulator. He might still change but his appointment is a signal to all that his rise is a reward for the heat of hatred that has been generated by his rhetoric and actions.
Adityanath’s presence is communally polarising, which was indeed the leitmotif of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. His ascent to the post of chief minister will be seen as a reward for humiliating Muslims, who will, in turn, be convinced of their political irrelevance. Think what Hindus would feel if Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan were to ever become chief minister.
His appointment also suggests that the BJP is wary of waging the battle of 2019 on the plank of development. No doubt, statistical data will be marshalled to celebrate Modi’s success, to lavish praise on his governance. But the BJP obviously feels that it cannot ride its economic performance to victory. It must surf the tide of communal polarisation under the leadership of Adityanath to ensure it wins the largest chunk possible of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 Lok Sabha seats.
There is more symbolical significance to Adityanath’s rise. He is a Rajput, a caste perceived to be martial and celebrated in folklore and traditions as the defender of Hindu faith. He will now become its symbol of assertion, the Kshatriya ruler who has brought pride and prestige to Hindus, the avenger of the defeats that the Mughals inflicted on the Rajputs.
A segment of Rajputs have been conflicted about their past. The stories about their defeat have become their living memory, a suppurating inheritance. To cleanse the shards from their collective memory, the Rajasthan government has reportedly decided to declare that the Battle of Haldighati was won by the Rajput ruler Rana Pratap, not the Mughal emperor Akbar. This is why the Shri Rajput Karni Sena feels so offended by the shooting of the Bollywood film, Padmavati, and has repeatedly attacked the director and set the sets afire.
From this perspective, the post of chief minister is the trophy Adityanath has won for his many verbal attacks on Muslims, for popularising the myths that they have been pampered, and that they pose a danger to Hindus. On this newly-minted Rajput ruler of 2017 now rests the responsibility of keeping intact the coalition of extremes – from upper castes to non-Yadav Other Backward Castes to non-Jatav Dalits – until 2019.
Adityanath will keep these diverse castes together through his Hindutva personality, and because of the new narrative which will emerge – that Muslims detest him only because he loves Hindus more, because he stands up for the rights of the majority. This has always been the source of his popularity, as is evident from the fact that there was said to have been a scramble among BJP candidates to have him tour their constituencies during the run-up to the voting in Uttar Pradesh.
It is tempting to see in Uttar Pradesh’s political arrangement of 2017 a mirroring of the pristine Hindu social order: a Kshatriya ruler preserving and nurturing the Brahminical imagination of the society. This would undoubtedly be an exaggeration.
Yet a great many lower castes have been co-opted into the Hindutva fold, at least temporarily. Their leaders will become ardent followers of Adityanath because he wins them votes through his rhetoric of hate, which, because he has become chief minister, will be euphemistically called aggressive Hindutva.
In a 2014 article in the Indian Express, political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot tracked the relationship between the Sangh Parivar and the mahants of the Gorakhnath temple of Gorakhpur. There seems to have been a penchant for politics among the mahants, best embodied by Digvijay Nath, who joined the Congress in 1921 and was arrested for his role in the Chauri Chaura episode.
In 1937, he joined the Hindu Mahasabha and, like its many members, opposed Gandhi. Jaffrelot cited Krishna and Dhirendra K Jha’s Ayodhya: The Dark Night, to observe, “Just three days before Gandhi’s murder, he ‘exhorted Hindu militants to kill the Mahatma.’ This landed him in jail, but for nine months only.” Digvijay Nath is also said to have played a role in placing the idols of Ram and Sita in the Babri Masjid in 1949.
But he and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh kept away from each other until 1966, when the anti-cow slaughter movement brought them to work together. Digvijay Nath did not join the Sangh. However, his successor at the Gorakhnath Temple, Avadiyanath, after becoming an MP on the Hindu Mahasabha ticket in 1989, joined the BJP and became its MP from Gorakhpur twice, in 1991 and 1996.
Jaffrelot writes, “The rapprochement between the two political strands happened largely because of the Ayodhya movement, started by Digvijay Nath and taken up by the Sangh Parivar in the 1980s.” His successor, Adityanath, continued the policies of his predecessor – contesting on the Bharatiya Janata Party ticket and retaining his autonomy in Gorakhpur.
Not only did Adityanath decide which of his followers would get the tickets from Gorakpur for the Assembly elections, in 1998 he also formed his own youth outfit – the Hindu Yuva Vahini – which was distinct from the RSS and the Bajrang Dal. Jaffrelot wrote the 2014 Indian Express against the backdrop of Assembly bye-elections in Uttar Pradesh for which Adityanath was the principal campaigner.
During the campaign Adityanath “exhorted Hindus to convert 100 Muslim women for every Hindu converted by Muslims”. The BJP did not win the majority of seats then, largely because the Bahujan Samaj Party did not contest the byelections. Jaffrelot then asked the question: Will the BJP continue with aggressive Hindutva?
Quite presciently, Jaffrelot wrote, “If it does, Adityanath may assert himself even more. And in that case, the Ayodhya issue will probably stage a comeback on the BJP agenda in UP, since Adityanath’s personal beliefs will also be freighted with the legacy of Digvijay Nath and Avaidyanath.”
Adityanath, it’s clear, is the embodiment of Hindutva in most extreme version, as represented by the Hindu Mahasabha. It has shown to the Hindus what the future under Hindutva could be like – and asked them to choose.