As Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath campaigned for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recent Assembly elections, he invoked Ram everywhere. Chhattisgarh was the maika, or parental home, of Ram’s mother. Telangana was the Dandakaranya jungle that Ram crossed during his exile. Parshuram, the sage who challenged Ram before recognising his powers, meditated in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan, Ram’s lieutenant Bajrang Bali would be enough to defeat Ali, a name aimed at evoking a fear of Muslims.

Campaigning in four of the five states where Assembly elections were held, Adityanath also boasted that the BJP was the only party capable of establishing Ram Rajya, a state of peace and development where everyone received welfare benefits “without discrimination”. The only exception, he thundered, were terrorists who would be fed bullets and not biryani.

Lest there be ambiguity as to the identity of the biryani-eaters, he explained whom he meant while addressing a rally in Nagaur, Rajasthan, on November 26. Raking up a 2006 speech by Manmohan Singh in which he emphasised the development of communities identified as backward – Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and religious minorities, particularly Muslims – Adityanath said: “Dr Manmohan Singh, who was the prime minister, said Muslims have the first right to resources. If Muslims have the first right then where will Hindus go? Congress has always divided...And the result of this divisive politics is terrorists in the country, terrorists to whom they fed biryani.”

Coarsening pitch

Even before he became chief minister of India’s most populous state in 2017, the saffron-clad priest and known Hindutva rabble rouser was much in demand as a campaigner. This campaign season, though, has served to show his preeminence in the BJP. The Hindu reported last week that Adityanath is now the party’s premier campaigner, addressing 74 rallies across Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana. This is more than the 31 rallies held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 56 by BJP president Amit Shah in these four states.

Uttar Pradesh is home to over three crore Muslims, nearly a fifth of its population. But the responsibility of governing a state of diverse communities has not moderated Adityanath’s communal rhetoric. If anything, the chief minister now brags about the Hindutva successes he has delivered in Uttar Pradesh and promises to bring them to other states. Among them is the revival of India’s “Vedic and pauranic traditions” by renaming places: just as Allahabad became Prayagraaj and Faizabad district was renamed Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath said, the BJP, if voted to power in Telangana, would rename Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar and Karimnagar to Karipuram.

Muslims, though, are not the only villains in his book. In Chhattisgarh, where Hindu missionaries have competed with Christian evangelists to convert animist Adivasis, Adityanath said it was important to defeat the Congress, which allegedly supported conversion of Hindus and was trying to revive “the rakshasi [demonic] terror rule” similar to what Ram had defeated. reviewed all 19 speeches made by Adityanath in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana from November 18 to December 5 that are now available online to understand the themes which animated the BJP’s newest political star. Here are the key topics he spoke about:

Hindu symbolism: ‘There is no rest for me till I finish Ram’s work’

In his home state, Adityanath has used Hindu symbols, especially the god Ram, to the hilt. He has held expansive Diwali celebrations for the last two years and announced a 221-metre statue of the deity in Ayodhya (which would make it the tallest statue in the world).

He took this politics on the campaign trail. He ended a large number of speeches in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan with an Awadhi idiom attributed to Hanuman in the Ramcharitmanas: “Ram kaju kinhen binu mohi kahaan bishram.” There is no rest for me till I finish Ram’s work.

In Telangana, Adityanath harped on about how Hindu belief held Ram had stayed in the region during his 14-year exile. “Bhagwan Ram stayed here in Dandakaranya and at that time, he liberated priests, saints and society from the terror of demons,” he said in Karimnagar on December 5. “This is what started the movement for Ram Rajya.”

In Chhattisgarh, he referenced Ram’s mother. “I see Mata Kausalya’s maika in this state,” he said in Surajpur on November 18. “I see Bhagwan Shri Ram’s grandparents’ home.”

He ended the speech with a reference to Hanuman, considered Ram’s most ardent devotee: “Friends, November 20 is Tuesday, Hanuman’s day. Hanuman is the biggest Adivasi, the biggest forest dweller and he said one thing: Ram kaju kinhen binu mohi kahan bishram.”

There was also some space for non-Ramayana mythical imagery. In Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, on November 19, Parshuram was bought in. The sage had meditated there, claimed Adityanath. In Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, on November 28, the mythical queen Padmani’s act of self-immolation was referenced as an act of glory.

A Hindutva welfare state: ‘Ram Rajya’

Ram Rajya, a mythical age of prosperity during the Ram’s reign, was a refrain that Mohandas Gandhi used constantly during the freedom movement. Adityanath used the phrase to paint a picture of what the BJP means by development. In Mhow, he used “Ram Rajya” to describe a welfare state: “If a poor family’s house is built, if a toilet is built, if a farmer gets more than the minimum support price, if a poor person benefits from a shelter scheme, if a poor family is able to benefit from health schemes, if a light bulb shines in a poor home, if there is a cooking gas connection – this is what is Ram Rajya.”

Ram Rajya was a system where “benefits reach everyone without discrimination”, Adityanath said in Sehore, Madhya Pradesh, on November 21. “Ram and roti will unite to complete the tasks of the nation,” he said. Adityanath was more specific in Jamdoli, Rajasthan, on December 1. Health insurance for the poor, he said, referring to the central government’s Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, was was an example of how the BJP was moving towards Ram Rajya.

But Ram Rajya was also about identity, which translated to renaming cities. So, in Sehore, Adityanath reminded people he had renamed Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad to Ayodhya since “it is our Vedic and pauranic identity”.

Adityanath addresses a campaign rally in Rajasthan. Photo credit: IANS
Adityanath addresses a campaign rally in Rajasthan. Photo credit: IANS

Vision of a muscular India: ‘BJP is feeding terrorists bullets not biryani’

Besides offering extensive welfare services, Hindutva India as defined by Adityanath would adopt a muscular policy on national security, as opposed to the Congress party’s supposed pusillanimity. “Congress used to ask for the right to rule from the public but then they fed terrorists biryani,” he said in Thana Gazi, Rajasthan, on November 27. “This is the difference between BJP and Congress. The Bharatiya Janata Party government is feeding bullets to terrorists. But Congress treated terrorists like guests and served them biryani, a whole feast. If there is a government working on a zero tolerance policy, it is the BJP.”

Seamlessly, Adityanth segued from terrorists to communal violence while using the bullet-biryani imagery. “In Uttar Pradesh, every second day there would be a riot,” he claimed in Alwar, Rajasthan, on November 27. “Before every festival there was a terror-like atmosphere. But for a year and a half now, not even one riot has taken place. Because rioters know that the BJP government has come which will feed them something else and not biryani.”

In Makrana, Rajasthan, on November 26, Adityanath claimed that the BJP had gone on the offensive against terrorists and, unlike during the Congress’s rule, the Indian Army under Modi did not wait for terrorists to shoot since their “place should not be on this earth it should be in Yamraj’s home”. Yamraj is the Hindu god of death.

Opposition’s alleged minority appeasement: ‘Congress is like Duryodhan, demons’

In Alwar, Adityanath compared the Congress to the Mahabharata’s main villain, Duryodhan. “It’s not that I do not know what good and evil are,” he said, quoting Duryodhan’s character in Sanskrit. “But I could never leave the path of evil or get on the path of good.” The “evil” in this analogy was the Congress’s tendency to appease Muslims, Adityanath pronounced.

In Udaipur on November 28, Adityanath again attacked the Congress’s supposed wooing of Muslim voters. “They can have their Ali, we have Bajrang Bali,” he said, referring to Hanuman. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister was so pleased with this pun he repeated it in Amer.

Adityanath rarely touched on the BJP’s pet issue of the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya – except to pillory the Congress. In Itarsi, Madhya Pradesh, on November 21, he accused the Congress of partitioning India in 1947 and, as part of its minority appeasement programme, opposing a “solution to the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute” by saying the Supreme Court “should not take a decision before 2019”.

In Telangana, Adityanath pulled out the memory of the Nizam, ruler of the kingdom of Hyderabad till 1948. “An independent India gained freedom from Nizam Shahi but whether it is the Congress, TDP or TRS, they are all still under the slavery of Nizam Shahi,” he declared in Karimnagar on December 5, referring to the Telugu Desam Party and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.

It wasn’t only Muslims in Adityanath’s cross hairs. In Chhattisgarh on November 18, he compared the Congress rule to that of “rakshasi terror” given that they provided “encouragement to nationwide conversion tactics”.

Attacking Congress for not being Hindu enoughRahul Gandhi has to resort to his gotra now’

As the Congress turned a pale shade of saffron with Rahul Gandhi’s well-publicised temple visits, Adityanath called it an “ideological victory” for the BJP. On November 26, in Pokhran, Rajasthan, he mocked Gandhi for having to resort to mentioning his gotra, or clan. “His great grandfather used to say he was ‘accidentally Hindu’ and today his fourth generation is saying he has a gotra,” he said, referring to Jawaharlal Nehru. “Our politics has not only seen an ideological victory but it also reflects the eternal truth in Hindus.”

In Badnawar, Madhya Pradesh, on November 19, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister even attacked Gandhi for his “Muslim posture”. “When we go to a temple, we sit cross-legged,” Adityanath said. “When Rahul Gandhi went to Somnath Temple to pray he sat on this knees [referring to the namaz posture] so the priest had to tell him that this is a temple, not a mosque.”