Hindutva politics

With Yogi Adityanath as CM of India's largest state, the BJP has launched Project Polarisation 2.0

The Gorakhpur strongman and Hindu hardliner's selection shows that communal concerns trump development.

The Modi-Shah duo’s decision to install five-term Gorakhpur MP Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh blows a hole through the argument that it was vikas or development and not communal concerns that won the Bharatiya Janata Party the state.

Even for those who were willing to take the party at face value when it claimed that its decision to not field a single Muslim candidate in the state polls was not linked to inclusive governance, the elevation of Adityanath, a Hindutva hardliner and known rabble-rouser, is galling.

Every jibe that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah took at Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav or Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati during the Uttar Pradesh election campaign applies equally, if not more, to Adityanath.

When Akhilesh Yadav, fighting to come to power for the second time as chief minister, coined the slogan “kaam bolta hai”, Modi’s counterpunch was: “kaam nahi, kaarnaama bolta hai” – it’s not the work but your misdeeds that speak. But Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister can match all his predecessors karnaama for kaarnama.

The evidence of Adityanath’s unvarnished hatred towards Muslims is far too copious to be linked here. But here’s a sample where he exhorts his supporters to kill a 100 Muslims if one Hindu is killed by the other side.

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Adityanath was also present on stage at an event organised by his private militia, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, where a speaker at said that dead Muslim women should be dug out of their graves and raped.

Adityanath is no garden-variety Hindutva rabble rouser. What makes him potent is the ability to deliver what he says. The Gorakphur strongman’s Hindu Yuva Vahini is one more in the long list of so-called Indian cultural organisations that contribute to our rich tapestry through alleged rioting, burning of trains and intimidation. Adityanath himself faces several cases of rioting, attempt to murder and intimidation. His assets include a rifle and a revolver. His website describes him as the hero of Hindu re-awakening, the symbol of cultural nationalism, and a Hindutva and development visionary.

Winning at all costs

Barring the setbacks in the Bihar and Delhi Assembly elections in 2015, the combination of Modi’s mass appeal and Shah’s organisational genius is believed to have turned the BJP into an election-winning machine. Jubilant party supporters claim that electoral victory is all that matters in a democracy. That kind of cynicism may have a place in the world of tribal sporting affinities, but should it apply to the more serious affairs of a wider world? Football managers like Jose Mourinho of Manchester United famously encourage “anti-football” which entails playing an ugly brand of the sport and constantly testing the limits of law in the quest for trophies. Such coaches are usually regarded as having the winning mentality.

Even after a thumping electoral win in Uttar Pradesh that gave the BJP 312 of 403 seats, near four-fifths majority, Adityanath’s anointment is a signal that the party is putting a premium on winning future elections in the state based on cynical arithmetic rather than performance in office.

Irrespective of performance, Adityanath can be used as the mascot for consolidating the united spectrum of Hindu votes or USHV – a term that has caught the fancy of BJP supporting amateur psephologists on Twitter – especially in the face of complete opposition unity. Since we live in the golden age of alphabet soups, USHV is good old religious polarisation in a fancy new acronym.

It is undeniable that Modi enjoys such spectacular personal credibility that even a high-risk gamble such demonetisation with tawdry execution paid off handsomely. Several surveys show that people are willing to undergo minor inconveniences because of the faith in Modi’s intent to root out corruption. Despite such approval, dizzying for any politician, why do Modi and Shah need an Adityanath-shaped insurance cover for which there the perceptional premium could end being greater than the electoral sum assured?

The extremely ambitious and driven Adityanath is not a shrinking violet who would quietly take orders from the high command and run the state government under the godhead of Modi. On multiple occasions, the popular “Yogi”, as he is termed, has threatened to rebel against the BJP.

The veneer of vikas

A Thakur with roots in Garhwal, Ajay Singh Bisht took the name Adityanath upon entering the monastic fold. He and his guru Avedyanath have lorded Gorakhpur and the adjoining areas since Independence. The Gorakshnath peeth, whose temporal head Adityanath is, has been a driving force in the Ramjanmabhoomi movement for the construction of a temple dedicated to Lord Rama at his purported birthplace in Ayodhya.

In the the lands where Adityanath’s writ runs large, a popular slogan goes: “Gorakhpur mean rehna hai too Yogi Yogi kahna hai.” If you want to stay in Gorakhpur, you have to chant “yogi, yogi”. Now, Gorakhpur can be replaced by the whole of Uttar Pradesh.

Ironically, the Nath sect (also known as the kanphatas for the earring worn by its adherents) of Shaivite tradition that Adityanath claims to head is a pillar of Yogic philosophy, the cornerstone of which is universal empathy. The sect, founded by 10th-century mystic Matsyendranath, counts even the Sai Baba of Shirdi as a member. The school has produced The Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā, one of the three Sanskrit classics on Yoga. Adityanath, of course, is known for proudly keeping the maala (rosary beads) in one hand and bhaala (spear) in other.

In 2016, Praveen Patil a pollster who runs 5forty3 and is a vocal supporter of Modi, analysed the electoral prospects in Uttar Pradesh and tipped Adityanath to be the BJP’s face in the state. In his SWOT analysis of Adityanath, Patil noted:

“Adityanath enthuses the base like no other among the current crop of leaders in UP, there is no doubt about it. Furthermore, Yogi’s ascendancy will create similar political conditions as that of Modi’s ascendancy of 2013 vis-à-vis BJP’s reverse osmotic relationship with the intelligentsia. The fact is that whenever the intelligentsia, especially of the Lutyens variety, gets angry at BJP and starts a campaign of vilification against its leaders, it creates a much stronger opposite reaction from the party workers and supporters. Yogi Adityanath is bound to create some very angry editorial and TV studio creatures in Delhi which in turn would bring the best out of BJP-Sangh karyakarta brigade.”  

Patil further said that in Uttar Pradesh’s electoral landscape a deep reverse Hindu vote polarisation was the only effective counter measure to overcome the tactically antagonistic Muslim vote-bank. “With the Mahant of Goraknath Math at the helm of affairs in the BJP and his Hindu Yuva Vahini working parallel with the BJP and the Sangh, it is indeed the best possible recipe for reverse polarisation,” he said.

The heat and dust of elections in Uttar Pradesh has settled down, but Project Polarisation 2.0 mounted on the scaffolding of development, with Adityanath steering the rath may have just begun.

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It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.