Yogi Adityanath draws the capital of influence from the religious structure of our society. For some, he is ‘Baba’, for others, ‘Maharaj ji’ or ‘Mahanth ji’. But most call him ‘Yogi ji’. An old uneducated poor woman in Gorakhpur village calls him ‘Gorakhnath’. She does not know his real name. Like her, for many poor villagers in this area, Yogi is ‘Gorakhnath’.
The image of Guru Gorakhnath, founder of Nath Panth in pre-medieval era, is attached to the image of Yogi Adityanath. If you travel to the hamlets of the downtrodden communities in certain parts of Uttar Pradesh, you may observe that the UP CM carries a charismatic religious image and is held in high regard. These days, his image as a leader and a chief minister of the state is also being scrutinised.
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Images and politics
The images of political leaders emerge based on the symbolic capital that they inherit and earn. In the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, images of four leaders are contesting with each other – Yogi Adityanath, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Yogi’s image is closely linked to that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During my visit to a UP village, where a discussion on centrally sponsored schemes such as the PM Awas Yojana and Ayushman Bharat was going on, an old man was giving all credit to ‘Yogi ji’. When I tried to correct him, he reacted sharply, saying “Yogi, Modi ekai(ek hi) ha (Modi, Yogi are the same)”.
Away from the media narrative that stresses on the contrast between the images of Yogi and Modi, for the common public, these two are working together. They strengthen each other by transferring their symbolic powers between them so that wherever Yogi’s image travels in the mind of the voter, it also carries the power of PM Modi, and vice versa.
Akhilesh Yadav has his own combination of symbolic capital that he received from Mulayam Singh Yadav’s image, along with his cultivation over the years in public life. He is also strengthening his image by deriving from the legacy of Ram Manohar Lohia. However, Mulayam’s image is now increasingly restricted to the backdrop and what is leading is Akhilesh’s own image of a young leader aspiring for change. His approach involves maintaining continuity while simultaneously showing change.
For Yogi, the task of projecting his image as a strong administrator is being anchored by the BJP — as someone who acted against mafias through his police and bulldozer, and also as a sensitive CM who controlled Covid and reached out to migrant labourours who were the hardest hit by a series of lockdowns. The idea is to project his Hindutva and development face together.
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Yogi: Beyond BJP
The BJP cadre in Uttar Pradesh has used a dog-whistle to target the majority voters, by referring to mafias and criminals as ‘lungi-topi wale gundas’ who were powerful under previous governments but are now being tackled sternly by Yogi. Many in the state see the UP CM as a political symbol of Hindutva who also has the capacity to deliver development.
In some pockets of the state, the soft influence of Yogi Adityanath travels independent of party presence and outreach. During our study of a village of snake charmers in Bundelkhand region, people expressed a strong desire that the UP CM inaugurate their deity’s temple that was under construction. They said they didn’t want any support from the state government for their Taksh Baba temple and the mere presence of Yogi on the auspicious occasion would suffice.
“Yogi-Modi eke hai (Yogi-Modi are one)” is the master key to understanding the influence of BJP in this election.
The author is Professor and Director at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. He tweets @poetbadri. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)