Lucknow: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Minority Morcha president Jamal Siddiqui was in for a surprise as the party’s national executive meeting wrapped up in Hyderabad on 3 July. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath walked up and sat beside him to get a picture clicked together. The two were then seen engrossed in a conversation.
An eavesdropper said Yogi was asking Siddiqui about the Minority Morcha’s plans in UP. Hours before that, Yogi had addressed the BJP’s apex decision-making body, saying how Muslims, especially women, were voting for the party in UP.
BJP leaders are perplexed see the UP CM’s new avatar, who is interested in wooing the Muslim vote bank. For his political rivals, Yogi is anti-Muslim. They got more ammunition when he unleashed the police on anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protestors and sent bulldozers to Muslims’ houses.
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A look at bulldozers from CMO in Lok Bhawan
Visit the CM office in Lucknow’s Lok Bhawan. Those working closely with him project a different image: “Dilli media sees everything in Hindu-Muslim binary. Go to the streets and talk to people. You will see how wrong you are,” they say.
A close aide of the CM told ThePrint that Yogi was hoping to get more votes from Muslim women in the last assembly elections as welfare schemes came to their doorsteps. But for Karnataka’s hijab row, the BJP would have got “at least 10 per cent” more votes from Muslim women, Yogi was said to have told his aides.
When the video clip of a hijab-clad Mandya student, Muskan, chanting Allahu Akbar before a Jai Shri Ram-shouting crowd, went viral, the UP CM was apparently upset.
“In a private conversation, Yogi ji said, ‘She is just a child. What do you expect her to do when you wave (saffron) gamchha at her and shout (Jai Shri Ram)? It’s totally unnecessary. Don’t our Hindu women wear ghunghat when they see elderly men in their homes? These things will stop once women get educated’,” a Yogi confidant recounted. “He can’t say this in public, obviously.”
They narrated another story. Yogi, before he became CM, was sifting through marriage invitations people usually send to Gorakhnath temple. He picked one sent by a former Congress legislator, a Muslim. “He decided to attend it. The Congressman was overwhelmed to see Yogi ji there.”
These stories didn’t square with Yogi’s image. How do you explain the bulldozers demolishing Muslims’ houses?
Navneet Sehgal, additional chief secretary, Information & Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, grabbed the question. “That is because the media is distorting facts,” he said, producing details of the notices that had been sent to Javed Ahmed in Prayagraj before bulldozers were sent.
“All these demolitions are as per law. All procedures are being followed. How come Delhi media doesn’t see bulldozers razing illegal farmhouses (on the Yamuna’s flood banks) in Noida?” Sehgal told ThePrint.
He would rather talk about the $1 trillion economy goal. The UP government is examining bids from seven companies to appoint a consultant to prepare the roadmap. These include Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India, Grant Thornton India, Boston Consulting Group, Invest India, NABARAD Consultancy Services, JCL Infra Private Ltd., and Dr Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University, Pusa.
Sehgal listed a host of labour reforms and other initiatives taken by the government to attract investments. There are already some big-ticket investors — Infosys, Adani Enterprises, Reliance, Microsoft, Samsung, and you name it.
“Yogi Adityanath 2.0 is about development, employment and infrastructure. We need to make UP a $1 trillion economy. For that, UP needs to grow at 20 per cent, and that’s why law and order become so important. When industries know that UP has no law-and-order problem, they will come and invest,” said Sehgal.
The UP government’s advance estimates of GSDP for 2021-22 stand at $254 billion and it will have to grow fourfold to become a trillion-dollar economy by 2027, say experts.
Sehgal was confident though: “Why not? Many other countries have grown very fast. UP can also do it.” UP was No 2 in India’s ease of doing business rankings in 2020. “We are not No 1 because we did not have commercial courts. We are setting them up now.”
The $1 trillion economy remained a common refrain when ThePrint visited the police headquarters to meet Prashant Kumar, additional director general, Law and Order.
How come the UP police targets only Muslim dons — Atiq Ahmad in Prayagraj, Mukhtar Ansari in Ghazipur?
He dismissed the question: “We have to make UP crime-free. We will make UP out of bounds for criminals, be it Hindus or Muslims.” The ultimate objective, he said, is to provide an environment where investors feel totally safe.
Yogi Adityanath himself monitors day-to-day developments. Around 9.30 pm, before he retires for the day, the CM holds a review meeting with the additional chief secretary (home), Awanish Awasthi, the director general of police, Prashant Kumar, and some other senior officials. The message Yogi keeps repeating, say officials, is “zero tolerance to crime”.
The UP Police have identified 62 “mafias” involved in contract killing, extortion, liquor smuggling, et al. They are constantly “monitored” and their “economic empire destroyed”. Most of them are in jail but their associates who remain outside must face the heat.
How many of them are Muslims? As if Prashant Kumar was expecting this question, he passed on a sheaf of papers containing details of the ‘mafias’. “See for yourself. We don’t discriminate.”
ThePrint randomly picked a page. It had five names — Rizwan Zahir, Devendra Singh, Sundar Bhati, Singhraj Bhati, Ankil Gujjar and Amit Kasana. On another page, there were three names — Sanjiv Maheshwari, Akash Jat and Muneer. Maheshwari was serving a life sentence, Jat sentenced to 10 years of jail in two different cases and Muneer given death sentence in one case and 10 years’ imprisonment in another case. The worth of their seized properties under the Gangster Act was: Maheshwari-Rs 4 crore, Jat-Rs 33 lakh and Muneer-Rs 35.6 lakh.
“Our goal is clear. We won’t allow criminals to operate in Uttar Pradesh. Absolutely zero tolerance to crime,” said Prashant Kumar.
Also Read: Why ‘Bulldozer baba’ Yogi Adityanath keeps using the machine for law and order
New buzz in power corridors
While the CMO and the police headquarters make most of the headlines in UP, a sense of urgency and purpose could be felt in other government offices, too. On a hot morning in the Ganna Kisan Sansthan office in Dali Bag, five minutes’ drive from Lok Bhawan, Sanjay Bhoosreddy, additional chief secretary, Excise, was busy in a marathon meeting on developing wineries in UP. He could take some time out to explain how these wineries would help farmers get the best price for the fruits they produce.
“Our new excise policy is the best in the country,” said Bhoosreddy. The government expects to mop up Rs 41,000 crore in excise revenue in 2022-23.
Talk about high-end stores selling premium alcoholic beverages in a state run by a monk and he smiles: “Yogi ji doesn’t want any advertising or anything that would encourage drinking.”
On a personal note, aren’t you planning to return to Delhi and become a secretary? “I’ve [got] full job satisfaction here. There is so much to do. I can tell you Yogi ji is the best thing that’s happened to UP,” said Bhoosreddy as he returned to his files.
Later in the evening, getting to meet Public Works Department (PWD) minister Jitin Prasada was a challenge. His official meetings were over after 9 pm.
“How difficult it is to catch a minister in Lucknow! Kya gossip hai Lucknow mein (what’s the gossip in Lucknow)?” asked this reporter. “Yahan gossip nahin, kaam hota hai (There is work, no gossip here),” said Prasada as he started listing his ministry’s initiatives.
That wasn’t the gossip one was looking forward to. The subject needed to change. “Why doesn’t your family stay with you?” asked the reporter. “Where is the time for the family? It’s not the Manmohan Singh government (in which he was a minister). It’s the Yogi Adityanath government. Everybody has to work 24×7,” said Prasada. It was time to wind up the conversation. He had early morning engagements.
There is something different about bureaucrats and ministers in the Yogi 2.0 administration. While the country discusses UP’s bulldozers and Muslims, they have a trillion other priorities.
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