Author: Sunanda Vashisht
Date: April 11, 2017
In a shock announcement that followed shock electoral verdict of India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh, monk of Gorakhpur shrine and five times MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath was declared the Chief Minister. Needless to say, no one on the left or right of political spectrum in India had expected Narendra Modi to make such an ‘out of box’ choice. Confusion followed, delirious opinion pieces were written, and news anchors lapsed into hallucinations. Prophecies of apocalypse that were initially predicted to gobble India in 2014 were revived. Doomsday was here. India as we knew was lost to evil men from the ‘saffron right wing party’.
Almost three weeks have now passed. Yogi Adityanath has quickly consolidated his position as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. He has hit the ground not just running but trapezing and torpedoing his way through laws that were not implemented previously, bureaucracy that was severely compromised and over all attacking the sloth that had afflicted the polity of the state. It is impossible to judge his five-year tenure just yet but if well begun is half done then he is surely in a good shape.
However, what we can attempt to answer now is if Yogi Adityanath’s appointment is Modi’s way of propagating Hindutva? Liberal commentators have concluded this with the imminent doom certain for India. Death of Secularism they proclaim and condemn rise of Majoritarianism. The summary of most commentary post Yogi Adityanath’s ascent has been that Modi has shown his true colors finally. This is India’s first true right wing government born in the womb of RSS. Nehruvian secularism has been put to rest.
Let me break the news first, and this is news for both right and left who are both in denial for different reasons. Yes, Modi is indeed propagating Hindutva and no Modi has not changed his course midway nor has he sprung any surprise. Those who were paying attention to the real voices on the ground knew how to interpret the 2014 verdict correctly. 2014 landslide verdict was clearly a mandate for efficient and corruption free government and also a mandate for break up from Indian version of Secularism.
Right and Left both have trouble believing this. Right feels Modi has traded Hindu causes for vikas (development) and Left believes Modi has traded Inclusive secular fabric for shrill version of Hindutva which they interpret as majoritarianism. Right says as long as Hindu places of worship are subservient to government institutions and Hindus are penalized for running their educational institutions, there is no hope. Modi is slave of Vikas which brings nothing to us. Left on the other hand points at sporadic violent incidents related to cow vigilantes and says this is what you get when you vote for a RSS man. Inclusiveness is dead according to this bunch. Economic Right has its own grievances. Why is Air India not being sold and why is privatization an anathema to this government, they ask? And now why do we have a controversial monk in saffron robes heading the largest state of India.
So, has Yogi Adityanath damaged Modi’s development credentials? Why was Yogi chosen? Let’s first examine the state of Uttar Pradesh and its polity for last few decades. Uttar Pradesh was a poster child of Nehruvian Secularism. What began as ‘Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb’ deteriorated into worst form of vote pandering politics also known as Mandal politics. As existing fault lines in the Hindu Society were chosen to be exacerbated and new fault lines manufactured, Uttar Pradesh became playground of casteism, minority appeasement and governance deficit. Yogi Adityanath was known as fringe and extremist Hindutva leader and indeed his past record does testify to him being extremist but it will be useful to look at extremists that came before him.
Mulayam Singh Yadav who carefully crafted Yadav and Muslim vote bank to come to power, brought nothing but lawlessness to UP. With Yadavs recruited disproportionately in Police force he ensured that the bed rock of civilized society, Police force, is compromised forever. Governance was never a priority as long as ‘samajwaad’ could be touted. One by one, magnificent erstwhile UP cities- Allahabad, Lucknow, Kanpur and many more fell to ruins. Yogi Adityanath is accused of having private militia in Gorakhpur. Much before him, Mulayam raised an army of Bahubalis (strong men) who would bully people around and make sure people vote for him. This was never considered ‘extremist’. Destroying Police force as a Chief Minister never earned him the tag of ‘extremist’ . Repealing anti copying law within hours of becoming CM never earned him a tag of ‘extremist’. Breakdown in law and order and UP officially becoming ‘bad lands’ was never an issue. Only because he raised the flag of ‘secularism’ and claimed Muslims voted for him. Voting for SP never changed the fortune of thousands of Muslims but what did Mulayam care. He was the secular, socialist messiah and the liberal media feted him as such.
Another pole of UP politics is Mayawati. BSP’s slogans like ‘tilak tarazu aur talwar, inko maro joote chaar’ was never considered fringe, extremist or repulsive. Mayawati’s open appeals to Muslims to vote for her in this election did not anger anyone. Mayawati’s constant emotional black mail of Dalits while she got embroiled in one corruption scam after another did not get country’s best intellectuals to write columns about her corruption. Diamond laden Mayawati may have had aspirational value for Dalits once but when they saw that improvements were only happening to her diamonds and not to their bank balances , they rejected her, but the liberal intelligentsia never called her fringe or extremist.
Into this cauldron is a Yogi Adityanath born, unabashed Hindutva Mascot, who stands up for hindu causes and often finds himself on the wrong side of the law. He is a reaction to Mulayam’s loot and Mayawati’s brazenness. However, only Adityanath is seen as extremist, fringe and even dangerous. Adityanath before donning this avatar was no party loyalist. He is also not an RSS man. Many times he has stood for Hindu causes even going against BJP’s stand. Why would Modi, who values loyalty more than anything else choose Yogi? Perhaps because what has become of Uttar Pradesh needs an unabashed Hindutvawadi like Yogi. Perhaps to weed out poison of casteism, and communalism Yogi is a perfect antidote. If Nehruvian secularism bore fruit in Uttar Pradesh, then perhaps its antidote should also be tested in Uttar Pradesh.
Is Hindutva then what happens when Indian Secularism is rejected? Hindutva is what happens when Indian Secularism has destroyed the original fabric of Indian society. Hindutva is also what happens when vote bank politics has annihilated basic dignity of every voter in this country and corruption, mis governance, lawlessness gets a pass in the name of secularism.
Is Hindutva akin to creating a theocratic State then? Does Hindutva make India a Hindu Pakistan where minorities have no rights? Leftists and Liberals have been threatening this for a long time. Let’s look at what hard liner Hindutva Mascot Yogi Adityanath did in his first three weeks of taking office? Did he pass any law that threatens minorities? Did he sign any regulation that says minorities have any less access to resources than majority? Did he do anything that is unconstitutional? The mascot of Hindutva speaks of working for all, threatens his own followers not to create ruckus during swearing in celebrations, liberates Police force from undue political interference, gets bureaucracy to start working again, and time and again commits to personal liberty and freedom for all. Going by actions of this Hindutva mascot, Hindutva can then be translated as guarantee of liberty and personal freedom to all, freedom to worship, freedom to make choices and freedom to aspire. Narendra Modi with his emphasis on development transformed Hindutva of 90’s into a movement where aspirations belong to all and opportunities also belong to all. This will not happen overnight but steps towards real inclusiveness have already started to take shape.
Modi is not ashamed to take Japanese President, Shinzo Abe to Varanasi to witness Ganga Aarti nor does he think traveling in Delhi Metro to Akshardham with Australian Prime Minister is anything ‘un-Prime Minister like’. To those who have seen Indian secularism closely will know what a tectonic shift these seemingly ordinary events mean in Indian polity. Nehruvian secularism would have scoffed at the idea of photoshoots with visiting foreign dignitary on the footsteps of Hindu temple which reflects magnificence of Indic civilization.
Nehruvian Secularism is an illiberal and an unfair concept. It is time to think of Hindutva for all as an alternative.