When Yogi Adityanath’s father died last week, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister was in a meeting with officials over Covid-19. The next day’s newspapers were full of vivid details about how he, with moist eyes, continued the meeting, and how he wore the mask the entire day, ostensibly to hide his tears.
He later wrote a letter to his grieving mother, informing her that he had wanted to see his father in his “last moments” but couldn’t because of his “kartavyabodh”, or sense of duty, to the 23 crore people of Uttar Pradesh. It’s not known when the letter reached the mother, but Lucknow media got to see it in no time.
In the letter, the CM said he wouldn’t be able to attend the funeral of his “purvashram ke janmadata”, or father of the ‘former world’ – before he took sanyas — for the success of the lockdown.
The past week has seen reels of paper being written on his transformation from Ajay Singh Bisht, who left home in 1992 at the age of 20, into Yogi Adityanath, the ‘saint’ who forsook his family to work for the people. A TV channel interviewed his elder sister who sells flowers and runs a dhaba to earn her livelihood in a nondescript Uttarakhand village.
Yogi administration: Three years vs one month
The chief minister’s sacrifice and his asceticism have captured popular imagination, especially when panic-stricken people are clutching at every straw of hope in their fight against the coronavirus. The common refrain in UP now is that CM Adityanath kept the people above his family, their interests above his personal loss. Even his critics are guarded now. “There was nothing to talk about his first three years in office, except how he tried to polarise the people along communal lines. But his Covid-19 management and then this decision to not attend his father’s funeral have gone down well with the people,” a friend, a keen political observer, told me over the phone.
My colleague in Lucknow, Prashant Srivastava, concurred: “The last one month has changed his entire three years’ record in office. People are calling me to say, which CM would ignore such a tragedy to do his duty.”
So now, no more questions are being raised about low testing — 61,799 in a population of 23 crore, as on Sunday. It was much worse a week before that. Nobody is even asking how the so-called Agra model of containment failed so soon.
Yogi Adityanath skipping his father’s funeral has suddenly become the biggest testimony to his dedication to work and administrative efficiency.
How Yogi models himself on Modi
Yogi Adityanath’s duty-before-the-family decision has propelled him into the league of leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi who left their families behind to devote their lives to the uplift of the people. From Day 1 in office, in fact, the UP chief minister has been modelling himself on Modi. As I wrote in Hindustan Times in March 2017, right after Yogi took oath, he started emulating Modi’s initiatives at the Centre in Lucknow: Biometric attendance in office; ministers to declare their assets; administration of swachhata (sanitation) oath to his officials; PowerPoint presentations; and, a 100-day agenda.
The CM made his ministers sit through hours of departmental presentations every day. When a minister wanted to know why he should attend all presentations, the chief minister reportedly quipped: “The departments can change, too.” In subsequent months and years, the ministers learnt to stay in the background–much like those at the Centre–as Yogi took the role of a Super CM with centralised command and control system.
The UP CM got his officials to look at the schemes and programmes implemented in Gujarat under former chief minister Narendra Modi. On the lines of Vibrant Gujarat summits, UP also organised an investor summit in 2018, although there are many questions about its achievements. If Modi wants to make India a $5 trillion economy, Yogi set the target of $1 trillion for UP. To this end, a Global Investors’ Summit was planned in February 2020, which has now been deferred to October-November.
In 2013, a media report claiming that the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi had visited flood-hit Uttarakhand and rescued 15,000 Gujaratis had created a buzz across India, first because of the tall claim in the report and then because of its rebuttal.
Seven years later, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister sent 300 buses to Kota in Rajasthan to evacuate thousands of stranded students from the state. A vernacular paper has called the CM “Hanuman” for this rescue act.
Yogi is following Modi’s model even in Covid-19 management. The Modi government set up 11 empowered committees comprising bureaucrats and two groups of ministers. Yogi has set up a ‘Team-11’, comprising senior bureaucrats, and 11 committees headed by ministers. Like Modi, the UP CM is also being projected as a tough administrator. In a leaked video, he was seen shouting at Gautam Budhha Nagar DM — “ye bakwas band karo (stop this nonsense)”— before he shunted him out for his alleged failure to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Potential successor to Modi?
When Modi picked him up as chief minister, it was clear he had the backing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Yogi Adityanath ticked all the boxes. He was a seer of the influential Nath tradition, who was known for making incendiary speeches. The role of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, founded by him, often came into question in connection with communal clashes in and around Gorakhpur. He was a firebrand Hindutva proponent who allegedly said in a video clip (from his 2007 Azamgarh speech) that if one Hindu girl was converted, “we will also…100 Muslim girls” and “if they kill one Hindu, we will also…100….” Adityanath had then termed it a cut-and-paste job.
Thanks to his rabble-rousing speeches, he was soon to become one of the national campaigners of the BJP, who was drafted in to address public meetings across the country. After becoming the chief minister, he set up an anti-Romeo Squad against alleged love jihad, went after slaughter houses, defended police encounters and action against anti-CAA protesters.
He is well on his way to becoming another Hindu Hriday Samrat, who didn’t shy away from attending the ceremony to shift the Ram Lalla idol from the Ayodhya temple site despite social distancing norms being in place.
Trust Yogi to build on his newly crafted image of an honest, committed and no-nonsense administrator whose only family are the 23 crore people of Uttar Pradesh — much like Modi is to the entire country. The CM’s image as a Hindu Hriday Samrat is likely to get a boost ahead of the 2022 UP assembly elections when a grand temple is inaugurated in Ayodhya.
With an effete opposition that is content with Twitter politics, he may well be on his way to a second term in office in 2022. If that happens, he would have the best credentials in the BJP to aspire for the top job in the country whenever Modi decides to hang up his boots.
Views are personal.