Three years into his tenure, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has emerged as the surprise Bharatiya Janata Party gamble that isn’t paying off. Less-than-effective as an administrator, lacklustre as the chief minister, a mediocre communicator with limited people-connect and a failure as Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s ‘star’ campaigner — Yogi Adityanath is hardly the shining star his party hoped he would be.
Adityanath’s redeeming factor in Uttar Pradesh is that the opposition continues to remain fragmented, something that may help him in the 2022 assembly polls. The message that Yogi Adityanath has sent out in the last three years is not of good governance — his party’s favourite catchword – it is of hate, intolerance and a culture of undemocratic values.
None of these is a negative for the BJP, in fact, far from it. But the party’s toxicity and brazen majoritarianism work only when combined with welfare schemes and administrative seriousness — the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo being the classic example. Yogi Adityanath’s train, however, has run largely on only one set of wheels – hate.
Dismal CM record
Yogi Adityanath as UP chief minister was a surprise pick in 2017 by the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh combine.
There is little doubt that the BJP’s massive 312 of the 403 assembly seats mandate back then was entirely thanks to Modi’s unwavering popularity and some smart caste math by the party. But for the saffron-clad, Hindutva brandishing Yogi Adityanath, it was a slick opportunity to make a mark as a serious politician and administrator.
Neither has happened.
Look at what Yogi Adityanath has achieved as CM. His big-ticket initiative so far has been the February 2018 investors summit. Two years since, the Adityanath government has nothing to show on this front — no real estimate of the extent of investment that came in and how much employment it generated. The Adityanath government recently admitted to unemployment going up in the state by about 12 lakh in the last two years, providing the opposition with the perfect fodder to question the summit.
Adityanath also has no big project, no tangible, visible infrastructure creation to show for himself. His predecessors — Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav — had made sure they left some legacy behind. From the Yamuna Expressway and the Agra-Lucknow Expressway to big parks and the Gomti riverfront. Their tenures may have had other problems — centralised corruption and inaccessibility under Mayawati and complete breakdown of law and order under Akhilesh Yadav — but they knew the importance of showing the voter their ‘work’.
BJP leaders privately admit Adityanath’s record is a major concern, and he needs to capture the imagination of the masses. No surprise then, that both Adityanath and the rest of his party are eagerly awaiting the grand Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, hopefully before the 2022 polls. There are big projects in the works — from the Jewar airport to Bundelkhand and Gorakhpur Link Expressways, but none have progressed enough to be touted as achievements.
In law and order, Yogi Adityanath seems a tad better than the previous government only because of how completely terrible and defined by goondagardi was the Samajwadi Party tenure. But rapes and crimes against women — particularly high-profile ones like the Unnao case — have been frequent and much in news.
Initiatives like the anti-Romeo squad, the police encounters and brutal action against anti-Citizenship Act protesters reek more of undemocratic moral policing than actual policing. As CM, he openly talks of “revenge” against anti-CAA protesters.
The worst blot in Yogi Adityanath’s three-year stint — the tragic death of infants due to an oxygen supply shortage in his home turf Gorakhpur.
If Yogi Adityanath has little to show as CM, he has even less to boast about as a politician. When I travelled through UP in the run-up to the 2017 polls, the huge wave of support for Modi and people eager to let him take control was clear as day. Despite Adityanath being their CM for three years now, he does not seem to have emerged out of Modi’s shadow.
Akhilesh Yadav lost the 2017 polls in an embarrassing manner and does not seem to have recovered since then, but even at the height of Modi’s popularity in UP, Yadav junior remained a much-liked leader. His personal image and goodwill were visible on the ground.
Compared to that, Adityanath has hardly been able to establish a personal rapport with voters across the spectrum. After a dismal show at the hustings in the bypolls, the BJP did exceedingly well in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. This was entirely due to a combination of Modi’s popularity and Shah’s crafty electoral strategy. Adityanath’s only contribution perhaps was to not ruin it for the BJP.
The BJP won the 2017 polls also because it managed to stitch together a clever caste patchwork arrangement — beyond its Brahmin-Baniya base to even non-Yadav OBCs and a significant extent, Dalits. In three years, Adityanath has done little to keep that together, being accused of Thakur dominance (his own caste).
When Adityanath was picked as UP CM, many thought he would turn out to be the next Narendra Modi — a hardline Hindutva face who manages to expand his appeal beyond the immediate realm. He has only achieved one of those things.
Despite his attention-seeking, noxious Hindutva comments as well as the crowds he manages to gather, Adityanath has been a failure as a BJP campaigner. From Delhi to Telangana to Karnataka, Yogi’s campaign finds little takers and negligible traction among voters.
The BJP knows the importance of appealing to the voter beyond the Hindu-Muslim binary (why else does Modi talk so much welfare, cleanliness, women and more), and are no fools to not have realised Adityanath is not managing this precarious balance.
It’s now been three years since he was catapulted into perhaps the third biggest responsibility his party can give a leader after PM-ship and party president.
The results are coming in, and the BJP should start worrying.