In March 2017, as BJP registered an astonishing win in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, the saffron camp was immediately challenged with the daunting task of zeroing in on the choice for the CM face. While a thundering victory might have been delivered by the charismatic leadership and planning of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, there was clearly no pre-decided CM face. In the intense internal struggle that followed, fire brand Hindutva leader, MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath emerged as a surprise pick.
The surprise CM is now the undisputed “CM in command” for the crucial assembly elections early next year. Speculations about possibility of changes in the state government and party organisation have now been firmly put to rest. Reports of not all being well between the “CM and the party” have been washed away following the recent meetings of Yogi Adityanath with PM Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP President JP Nadda.
And with dust settled, the one thing that will be crucial in the coming elections is the “Yogi factor”, both for the BJP as well for the opposition. The Opposition, especially Samajwadi Party feels that Yogi being the CM face tilts the political discourse in their favour as now “Yogi vs Akhilesh” as the CM face will be a prominent electoral issue. For SP, end of ambiguity on the CM face makes Akhilesh’s projection politically more strong.
THE YOGI FACTOR
Since his very first days in office, Yogi Adityananth has gradually worked his way up to establish an image of an honest, hardworking chief minister, who all along had strongly aligned to the political ideology of Hindutva. Those in BJP and the government describe him as “no sitting and no setting” chief minister, a reference to Yogi’s transparent style of functioning where there is no scope of back door sitting or setting with the CM.
However Yogi’s this very style of governance and his attempts to give bureaucracy and police a certain degree of stability and free hand also didn’t go down well among many within his own party and elected legislators. More than often grumblings of the BJP leaders and MLAs, including the protest against their own government raised by the party MLAs in December 2019, was primarily the reflection of this annoyance.
Yogi was increasingly seen as “no compromise chief minister", to an extent that he even refused to oblige and give in to demands of his own party MLAs. The aspirations of his own people and the demands of a clean and efficient government often saw Yogi waking the tight rope. As murmurings of discontent from both within the government and the party were often heard, the chief minister was able to douse them with his strong Hindutva political outreach.
His rather tough handling of the anti-CAA protests in 2019, aggressive focus on Ayodhya and Ram Mandir, bringing in the controversial “Anti-love jihad" bill, much controversial encounter policy and chasing down big mafia like Mukhtar Ansari, gradually built his image as a staunch Hindutva chief minister, which on one hand help silent his detractors within his own party but also gave the Opposition a chance to attack him as a divisive chief minister.
DYNAMICS OF THE “YOGI AS CM FACE” IN 2022
The deadly impact of the second wave of coronavirus pandemic was probably the last occasion for Yogi detractors to hope for any significant intervention from the Centre and, thereby, redefining the power balance within the government and party in the state. Any such hopes have now fallen flat with Yogi getting full backing from the prime minister and the party’s central leadership.
No doubt then, for the BJP, assembly elections will now be in the name of Yogi Adityanath. Staunch Hindutva supporter, honest, hardworking and efficient CM will be its prominent campaign theme. However, contrary to the perception, the Opposition too is happy with Yogi’s projection as the next chief minister.
It feels BJP’s gamble with Yogi is a suitable proposition for them because it gives them a continuity around the issue of anti-incumbency and alleged failures of the Yogi government. In the biggest opposition, the Samajwadi Party leaders are already working on the campaign strategy of “Akhilesh Yadav or Yogi Adityanath” as the next CM.
SP MLC and spokesperson Sunil Singh Sajan says, “Yogi as CM has been a big disappointment. He has not only deeply divided the society on caste and religious grounds, but has also failed on the development front.”
“Tell me one development project that has been planned and executed during the Yogi rule. No doubt people want an able Chief Minister who can deliver and harmonise the social discord. Yogi ji stands in no comparison to Akhilesh ji,” SP spokesperson adds further.
Congress too feels that Yogi as the CM face suits its strategy. Party spokesperson Surendra Rajpoot says, “Four-and-half years of Yogi Rule has seen atrocities in name of castes and religion. Social unrest has only intensified. Government has cheated the unemployed youths and farmers. There is a lot of anger against the present government."
“Congress under the leadership of Priyanka Gandhi has consistently fought against the Yogi Government. In 2017, BJP cheated on the people of Uttar Pradesh by bringing in Yogi as a surprise CM, but now public is in mood to settle the scores," Rajpoot adds.
BJP, however, remains unfazed with the Opposition’s calculations. For it, Yogi symbolises a perfect CM in a politically turbulent state like Uttar Pradesh. From being a leader of unwavering ideological commitment to an honest, hardworking chief minister, Yogi signifies all that a ruler should have for BJP.
Party spokesperson Hero Bajpayee says, “Yogi ji has perfectly delivered upon the welfare schemes envisioned by Prime Minister Modi. The double engine government has fast paced the development and good governance. Despite his commitment to Hindutva, no one has been discriminated on caste and religious grounds."
“And if the Opposition wishes to play the ‘CM Face’ phenomenon, nothing better than that. Who can forget the jungle raj, corruption and caste based favouritism during Akhilesh or Mayawati’s rule?" asks the BJP spokesperson