During my three-week tour of the United States for my book, The Monk Who Transformed Uttar Pradesh, I travelled more than 8,000 km and attended multiple book discussion events in more than 13 cities. I met thousands of community leaders, religious leaders, doctors, entrepreneurs, politicians, professors and students from the Indian community. These are the five most frequent questions Non-Resident Indians asked me about chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
1) What extra ‘edge’ does a ‘monk’ add to the governance equation in India? Asked students at Harvard, Boston
NRIs in the US articulated this question in many different ways. Some asked — what extra ‘edge’ does a ‘monk’ add to the governance equation, while others questioned why a monk, who should renunciate material possessions, was enjoying the fruits of politics. This question was discussed at length among Harvard students in Boston.
Professor Balram Singh of Boston Center of Excellence and Surabhi Hodigere, Master in Public Policy candidate and Co-chair of India Caucus at Harvard Kennedy School, asked me a similar question about the future and the role of religious figures in a democracy. Is being a monk a liability or an asset to any democracy? To this, I replied that though there is enough scholarship and literature around policymaking, monitoring policy implementation, political campaigning etc, democracies around the world are struggling to produce honest and incorruptible political actors. Since there is no established process or ‘factory’ to produce such leaders, I said that being a saint or a monk teaches renunciation and sacrifice for the larger humanitarian cause. And that can be a solution across democracies to produce good, dedicated and selfless leaders.
2) How did Yogi Adityanath manage Covid-19 in Uttar Pradesh? Asked scholars at Stanford, California
Dr Anurag Mairal, adjunct professor of Medicine at Stanford, US, asked me about Yogi Adityanath’s drive against Covid-19 that won him many national and global praise. I replied by first pointing out how Australian parliamentarian Craig Kelly wanted Yogi Adityanath’s help to manage Covid in his country, how the Bombay High Court gave the example of Uttar Pradesh to the Maharashtra government for preparedness to tackle the third wave, how Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur’s detailed report statistically validates the UP model of Covid management, how Niti-Ayog mentioned UP’s oxygen procurement strategy as exemplary for other states and how the World Health Organization (WHO) praised UP’s massive drive to check the spread of coronavirus in rural Uttar Pradesh.
I gave a detailed overview of the massive rural and urban vigilance army deputed by the UP government, about the preventive medicine kit provided at the mass level and about the chief ministers’ ‘Team 11’ and ‘Team 9’, which constantly monitored the state’s Covid-19 action plan. I also mentioned how the ex-director of AIIMS, Dr MC Mishra, told me that Yogi Adityanath was a true public health professional and it can be observed by how he controlled Japanese Encephalitis in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
3) How do you compare Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath?
In various events across the US, community leaders from the Indian diaspora asked me a tough question — listing commonalities and differences between PM Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath. To this, I said, that there are many things in common among both leaders — they are extremely popular, live a disciplined and dedicated personal life, and have no baggage of nepotism. But in some regards, both of them are different — Narendra Modi rose in the ranks of the party and its organisational structure, whereas Yogi Adityanath rose through the community and spiritual base of the Gorakhnath Math.
4) Is Yogi coming back as chief minister of UP in 2022?
Electoral equations around UP’s 2022 assembly elections were on every NRI’s mind during my US book tour. Many NRIs felt anxious about UP’s multi-layered caste calculations and were eager to know about the chances of Yogi’s return as chief minister of UP in 2022 and asked for my predictions.
I told them that as per my field visit of more than three dozen districts of UP, during the research of my book, I saw a new caste emerging in Uttar Pradesh – a ‘beneficiary caste’. Crores of people in Uttar Pradesh subscribe to it because they profited from different welfare schemes of central or state governments in the last five years. I further added that if people vote along the same development lines, Yogi Adityanath will come back as chief minister of UP in 2022 with a thumping victory.
5) Will Yogi Adityanath be the future Prime Minister of India?
Many NRIs in US see a future prime minister in Yogi Adityanath and asked my views on the same. I replied that in BJP, you cannot predict the next party president, chief minister or prime minister candidate as political promotions are based on merit and not on your family name. I added that PM Narendra Modi has trained a series of young leaders in the last seven years and Yogi Adityanath is surely one of them.
I added that if Yogi gets his 2nd term as the chief minister of UP, by the time he completes his tenure, he would have been a parliamentarian for 19 years and chief minister of a large state like UP for 10 years. And despite holding such an experienced portfolio and being super popular among the masses, he will only be 53 years old. This makes him one of the strongest contenders for the prime minister’s post in India in the post-Modi era.
Shantanu Gupta is the author of ‘The Monk Who Transformed Uttar Pradesh’ & ‘The Monk Who Became Chief Minister’. Views are personal.