Amit Shah is wrong. Narendra Modi’s re-election as India’s prime minister in 2024 doesn’t depend on Yogi Adityanath becoming Uttar Pradesh chief minister again in 2022.
Launching the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s membership drive in Lucknow Friday, the Union home minister said he was there to tell the people of UP that “Modi ji ko phir se ek baar ’24 mein pradhan mantri banana hai, toh ’22 mein phir ek baar Yogi ji ko mukhyamantri banana padega (For Modi to be made the prime minister in 2024, Yogi Adityanath will have to be made chief minister again in 2022).”
The party’s media-minders in Delhi and Lucknow, too, knew Shah was wrong – for, within hours after his speech, they were frantically calling up BJP beat reporters of newspapers and TV channels, asking them to ignore – or, at least, underplay – Shah’s statement.
That Uttar Pradesh with 80 Lok Sabha seats holds the key to Modi’s third term in PM Office is undeniable. It’s also a fact that UP assembly election results will generate momentum for the ruling or the opposition parties to carry up to 2024 general elections.
So, why are BJP leaders losing sleep over their former party president’s comment?
A wrong impression goes out
It’s probably because it gave an impression that PM Modi’s re-election hinges on another individual’s or the BJP’s performance in UP or elsewhere. One tends to agree with them if not perforce true.
When defence minister Rajnath Singh says Modi should be viewed more as an ‘idea’ or ‘philosophy’, rather than as an individual, it may sound like ‘Modi-nama’ to many. So may his claim that Modi is the only leader after M.K. Gandhi to have a deep understanding of Indian society and its psychology.
One may accuse the defence minister of hyperbole or ignoring Jawaharlal Nehru’s, Sardar Patel’s or other leaders’ ability to swing masses, but he has a point – unless one gets into hair-splitting. Think of what Prashant Kishor was suggesting in Goa last week when he pointed out that the Modi government keeps increasing petrol and diesel prices without “any apparent discontent against the man (Modi)”, as reported by the Hindustan Times.
He is not a fool rushing in where angels like Rahul Gandhi fear to tread (sorry, Alexander Pope). Kishor was stating facts. He is a successful election strategist because he doesn’t mince words to his clients. He doesn’t tread softly just because he is treading on someone’s (read Rahul Gandhi’s) dreams (with due apology to W.B. Yeats and Maud Gonne, too). Remember how post-demonetisation, opposition leaders and many political analysts were predicting doom for the BJP in the 2017 UP election? Modi had the last laugh. Rajnath Singh is right: Modi understands Indian society and its psychology better than most.
As for UP election results being crucial to generate momentum for 2024 polls, let’s not forget the BJP lost Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh assembly elections almost on the eve of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The rest is history.
The BJP secured almost 50 per cent votes in UP in 2019, over 10 percentage points more than what it did in the 2017 assembly election and over 7 percentage points more than it did in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. It goes without saying that the BJP secured almost 40 per cent votes in 2017 – up from 15 per cent in 2012 – thanks to Modi. Adityanath’s influence in 2017 was limited to Gorakhpur and some adjoining areas.
Adityanath won’t be flattered
The UP CM may also have reasons to grudge Amit Shah’s comment. Adityanath is not just another BJP CM who must get votes in Modi’s name. He has emerged as a leader and an administrator in his own right. He has come a long way since 2017. One may or may not agree with his style of politics or governance, but it’s a fact that he commands a pan-UP following today, albeit of a certain kind.
Adityanath has projected himself, rather successfully, as a true copy of Modi from the latter’s days as Gujarat CM: A strong leader and Hindu Hriday Samrat (no matter whether his political rivals agree or disagree with his polarising politics or the way he has dealt with the mafia or with those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act); a Vikas Purush (never mind the questions about his development claims); and, a non-corrupt politician who didn’t even go for his father’s last rites so that he could serve his people in times of the pandemic, as he wrote to his mother.
Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has adopted him as its own even though he never belonged to it. When there were voices of dissent in the BJP against his style of functioning, senior RSS functionaries descended in Lucknow to sort it out – from general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale to joint general secretary Krishna Gopal and RSS point person in BJP, B.L. Santhosh, among others.
That was when the BJP central leadership seemed to be wary of intervening in the inner-party muddle in UP. Hosabale accompanied Adityanath for a luncheon meeting with deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya to sort out their differences.
How often have we seen such senior RSS functionaries so openly doing political mediation for a CM?
There is no denying the fact that Modi remains the BJP’s USP. But he is no longer the leader who can single handedly swing results in states. The BJP used to get votes in his name in assembly elections when he occupied the national political centre stage as a symbol of hope, as someone who offered a cure for all the maladies in opposition-led administrations. So, beginning with Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh in November-December 2013, the BJP went on to dislodge a number of opposition-led governments in states. Voters then trusted Modi to deliver governance in states, no matter who he chose as CMs.
But once the five-year cycle was over, people started differentiating between Modi and his CMs – which started getting noticed more starkly from November-December 2018 assembly elections in the three states that the BJP lost. Of course, many regional leaders such as Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), K Chandrasekhar Rao (Telangana), Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) and Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi), among others, managed to swim successfully in the Modi wave, too.
Modi isn’t discouraged by his waning appeal in assembly elections though. He campaigns with the same old zeal and even dovetails, if necessary, his foreign policy initiatives with the BJP’s political imperatives. He visited a Matua temple in Bangladesh during West Bengal elections. On Saturday, he was at the Vatican embracing Pope Francis and inviting him to visit India. The BJP would hope to leverage it in poll-bound Goa and Manipur as also in Kerala. The three states have substantial Christian populations.
Yogi Adityanath is unlikely to feel flattered if his party colleagues appeal to the people to elect him again because it’s necessary for Modi’s re-election in 2024. Adityanath would rather like to get all credit for winning the second term – because that’s what will differentiate him from other BJP CMs and Union ministers and set him up for a bigger goal at the Centre in 2024 or later.
The author tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)