Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath appears to be selectively paranoid.

Paranoid, because any time he or fellow Bharatiya Janata Party leaders make a major mistake that they are criticised for, Adityanath suddenly discovers an “international conspiracy” to malign his government.

  • That was his interpretation of recent efforts by the Opposition to draw attention to the plight of a Dalit family in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, whose 19-year-old daughter was gangraped, left paralysed, eventually succumbed to her wounds and whose body was then cremated allegedy without the family’s consent by the UP Police.
  • It was also how he saw the protests against the discriminatory Citizenship Act amendments, when thousands took to the streets to defend the Indian Constitution against the BJP’s attempts to introduce a religious test to citizenship.
  • And it was how he responded to coverage of his government’s failure to provide oxygen at a hospital in 2017 leading to the deaths of dozens of childen, by labeling Dr Kafeel Khan, who drew attention to the neglience, a national security threat.

‘Selective’ paranoia

Selective, because of where Adityanath did not spot any conspiracy when,

Following Modi’s footsteps

It is true that, in this selective paranoia, Adityanath is only following in the footsteps of his leaders at the Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, who seem to have almost made it mandatory for BJP politicians to turn any criticism into nefarious conspiracy if they are to succeed in the party. Shah is, after all, the leader who boasted about his ability to make fake news go viral.

When authorities failed to prevent violence by Hindutva organisations at a commemoration of Dalit heroes in Bhima Koregaon in 2018, the police suddenly discovered an international Maoist plot to assassinate the prime minister – and obscure the government’s failings.

When protesters identified the threat to India’s constitution from Home Minister Amit Shah’s communal talk of “chronology” and a National Register of Citizens and took to the streets in response, the police claimed there had been a secret plot to make India look bad in front of US President Donald Trump, even before anyone knew he was visiting.

And now, as Opposition leaders have sought to draw attention to the BJP’s deplorable attempts to raise questions about whether the woman in Hathras was raped at all, Adityanath has followed suit and directed police to file First Information Reports about this international plot.

“Our opponents are conspiring against us by trying to lay a foundation for caste and communal riots through international funding... We need to move forward amidst all these conspiracies,” the chief minister said.

Dangerous outcomes

Unlike the paranoia of ordinary people, Adityanath’s neuroses have potentially dangerous outcomes.

The Uttar Pradesh Police unleashed brutal violence and killed protesters in December 2019 as the chief minister promised to stamp out all dissent. Journalists who have been critical of Adityanath have been booked under police cases and subject to intimidation. An ordinary citizen who used unparliamentary language to describe the chief minister on social media was accused of sedition and “trying to disturb the peace of the country”.

Under Adityanath, the number of people booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act jumped massively. Even fellow politicians who have raised questions about the way caste is treated by Adityanath’s government have had sedition cases lodged against them.

What’s next? Those who are pointing out the excesses of the Uttar Pradesh Police are already being accused of conspiring, as is anyone who calls the BJP communal – even if that is indeed the best adjective to describe the party’s positions.

Will anyone who brings up the woeful state of the economy in India or Uttar Pradesh also be accused of conspiring against the government? Will workers who question Aditynath’s now-retracted plan to suspend all labour laws for three years be called anti-national? Will firms that bring up the difficulty of working in a state where police can be violent without repercussion be charged with plotting?

If there is one conclusion to draw from the Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s selective paranoia it is this: Wherever Adityanath and the broader leadership see a nefarious plot or a vast conspiracy, that is most likely to be exactly where the government knows it has messed up – and wants to distract you. With Bhima Koregaon and with the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, it seems to have had some success. But how long will Adityanath and the BJP’s dangerous diversionary tactics work?