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Why Yogi Adityanath Is The Left Ecosystem’s Target No. 1

Author: Minhaz Merchant
Publication: Swarajyamag.com
Date: June 1, 2021
URL:   https://swarajyamag.com/politics/why-yogi-adityanath-is-the-left-ecosystems-target-no-1?s=03
A win for Yogi Adityanath in 2022 will place him at the forefront of national politics.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath feigned surprise when Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointed him CM after the BJP won a landslide victory in the 2017 UP assembly election. In fact, Adityanath had been Modi's and Home Minister Amit Shah's first choice early in the election campaign.

The mahant of the Gorakhnath mutt was, however, till then, largely unknown outside eastern Uttar Pradesh. As one Opposition leader remarked acidly after his elevation in March 2017 as a Chief Minister: "BJP doesn't need to polarise UP anymore. Just having a Hindu monk as CM provides a daily dose of polarisation".

So was Adityanath's appointment as head of India's largest state with an estimated population of 220 million—of which 40 million are Muslims— solely designed to polarise?

The outcome of the assembly poll early next year will answer that question. It will also shape the future of Indian politics for the rest of the decade.

There are two strands that need to be analysed: one, the impact of UP 2022 on the 2024 Lok Sabha election; and two, Adityanath's own political rise as a national leader in a post-Modi era—whenever that occurs.

The outcome in UP will depend on several key elements.

First, the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. Cases and deaths in UP have fallen steeply in recent weeks. Is there massive under-reporting of both? No concrete evidence of this has emerged.

Reports in the foreign media and their surrogates in the Indian media allege that both cases and fatalities are being fudged. The "worst-case scenario" estimate published by The New York Times and dutifully republished by prominent sections of the Indian media placed deaths at 4.2 million people and infected cases at 700 million. The mathematical model employed by the newspaper was not revealed. The conclusion rested on slender assumptions. This isn't journalism. It is sensationalism.

If 700 million Indians had, in fact, already been infected, we would have achieved nearly 70 per cent adult herd immunity. That clearly is nonsense. So is The New York Times' estimate.

Reports of bodies floating in the Ganga river or buried in shallow sand have been widely circulated. One senior reporter, Barkha Dutt, whose stories on under-reported deaths in UP have been published abroad, conceded last week in the Hindustan Times: "Theoretically, without exhumation and testing, we cannot unequivocally prove that all of the deaths are from Covid-19...Yes, locals have explained to us that children and young brides have always been buried and never cremated. But none of these customs explains the volume of bodes along the Ganga."

How credible are such anecdotal accounts?

Another senior reporter, Shekhar Gupta, pointed out recently in Business Standard: "Mumbai and Delhi have nearly 100 per cent registration of births and deaths. In Mumbai, total deaths in 2020 were 111,942 compared to 91,223 in 2019. The city reported 11,116 Covid deaths. You can then presume that the remaining additional deaths, around 10,000, were also from Covid and missed.

"Delhi is more intriguing. Its total deaths in 2020 under all four municipalities, 142,693, is actually less than 2019s 149,998. This despite 10,557 Covid deaths reported. I am told it is because deaths from "usual" factors in Delhi, road accidents, murders, drink driving, etc., dropped to almost zero because of the lockdowns.

"The fact is that the total death figure last year couldn't be more than twice the recorded number, if at all. In which case, check out the epidemiologists who had "modelled" 2.5 million Indians dead by September 2020. Then reflect on the wisdom of painting the new "worse" scenarios based on their projections for 2021".

Notwithstanding all this, there's no question that the coronavirus pandemic has left deep scars on the people of Uttar Pradesh. Families have lost loved ones. The poor have lost jobs.

Adityanath's administration, though, has brought daily cases down from over 30,000 a month ago to under 2,000. Fudged or not, that's an impressive achievement.

Sensing UP's recovery from Covid-19, the Opposition is banking on the farmers' protest, stirring up anger against the BJP in western Uttar Pradesh. BKU leader Rakesh Tikait is weaponising the protest to rally Jat votes against Adityanath in western UP.

Recognising the electoral threat, Adityanath has started his campaign blitz early. TV channels are being carpet-bombed with two-minute-long advertorials on UP's developmental progress over the past four years.

In the end, though, while jobs, the economy, Covid and farmers will all play a role in the 2022 UP assembly poll, it is polarisation, as Adityanath knows, that will tilt an election poised on a knife-edge.

The brutal lawlessness during the Samajwadi Party's rule hasn't been forgotten. And yet, the Yadav-Muslim vote bank provides the SP with a large catchment reservoir. For decades, this catchment area contested Mayawati's Dalit vote bank.

Both the BSP and SP won a little over 20 per cent vote share in the 2017 UP assembly poll. The BJP won just about 40 per cent vote share but captured 325 seats (along with allies) out of 403 because of vote fragmentation between the SP and BSP.

If the BJP slips by even a few percentage points in 2022 and the SP and BSP increase their vote share marginally, the outcome in 2022 could be much closer.

Adityanath is aware that the margin of error is vanishingly small. The orchestrated media campaign against UP's management of the Covid pandemic and the extension of the farmers' protest to UP is aimed at narrowing precisely those small margins.

What of Adityanath's national ambitions? If the BJP loses UP in 2022, he will return to his Gorakhnath mutt and relative obscurity. If he wins a second term in UP in 2022, he will join Home Minister Amit Shah as a leading national contender in the post-Modi era.

That era has some legs left on it. But the wise plan ahead and the BJP faithful increasingly believe that Adityanath is cut from different cloth compared to the rest of the party's second-line leadership.

If Modi hadn't become prime minister, he could have well become a monk, as he told his British biographer Andy Marino in early 2014. It would be ironic if a monk, who became a chief minister, one day takes his place.

-Minhaz Merchant is an author and publisher.

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