Hours after the Bharatiya Janata Party named the controversial mahant of Gorakhpur’s Gorakhnath temple and a five-time member of Parliament Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh chief minister on Saturday, a number of media reports quoted Central government sources as saying that the functioning of the new state government will be monitored directly by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Subsequent reports said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal secretary Nripendra Misra has been asked to keep in touch with the young and inexperienced Uttar Pradesh chief minister to guide him regarding the implementation of government schemes, bureaucratic appointments and overall functioning of the BJP-led state government.
The subtext of these reports is self-evident: the Adityanath government will be remote-controlled by Modi and that the new chief minister should not challenge the Centre’s authority or forget that just as the BJP owes its remarkable victory in Uttar Pradesh to the prime minister, Adityanath owes his kursi to Modi.
The prime minister has a personal stake in ensuring that the new BJP government delivers on its electoral promises since the next general election is only two years away and the 80 Lok Sabha MPs from Uttar Pradesh play a decisive role in shaping the party’s mandate.
It was also important for Modi and the BJP to send out such an unequivocal message to Adityanath since the firebrand mahant, who is some kind of a cult figure in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is known for his individualistic style of functioning. He has often taken on the BJP leadership in the past, well aware that he commands a following independent of the party and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Nevertheless, BJP president Amit Shah deployed him extensively in the party’s election campaign in the recent assembly polls because he realised that Adityanath’s brand of militant Hindutva has mass appeal across Uttar Pradesh.
Given his personal reputation and the fact that his popularity ratings in Uttar Pradesh are only a notch lower than Modi’s , the question doing the rounds in the BJP is whether the prime minister will succeed in containing Adityanath or will the new chief minister resist these attempts to dictate terms to him. Leaders from Eastern Uttar Pradesh, cutting across party lines, who are well acquainted with Adityanath’s working style insist that he is no push-over and that it will be difficult for the Centre to keep him on the straight and narrow.
Dealing with a leader like Adityanath could well prove to be a new experience for Modi and his team in the Prime Minister’s Office as the chief ministers picked so far by Modi and Amit Shah had been virtual non-entities. They defied all political logic when they picked Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin in a Maratha-dominated state like Maharashtra and chose a Punjabi – ML Khattar – in Haryana where the levers of power have always been with the dominant Jat community. Similarly, Modi decided to appoint non-tribal Raghubar Das as chief minister in Jharkhand, a state that was carved out to fulfill the aspirations of its large tribal community. Among them, Fadnavis has managed to emerge as a leader in his own right but he remains sufficiently low-key and subservient to the Central leadership.
But Adityanath is not from the same mould as these BJP chief ministers. Far from being a non-entity like the others, the new Uttar Pradesh chief minister enjoys a huge personal following in the state. He has been a five-time MP from Gorakhpur and is a powerful orator whose muscular Hindutva and minority-bashing speeches have won him fans across castes. Adityanath is said to enjoy the support of nearly 200 of the 320 newly-elected BJP legislators who are convinced that they won their seats because the Gorakhnath temple mahant campaigned for them.
“ Yogi Adityanath has been labeled as a Thakur leader but that’s not correct, “ remarked a senior BJP leader who was involved in the selection of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. “Being a yogi and the mahant of Gorakhnath temple, Adityanath is caste neutral. His appeal cuts across caste lines – in fact, large number of his followers belong to the lower castes.”
It is still early to predict whether Adityanath will be successfully boxed in by the prime minister and the BJP or whether he will play the games by his own rules but there are murmurs that a new national star has been born who has the potential to upstage Modi.