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Hindutva's new poster boy: Yogi could turn out to be a challenger to Modi

Atul Chandra | Updated on: 21 March 2017, 8:34 IST

Yogi Adityanath has taken over as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. But many, including those who voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's development agenda, are still scratching their heads as to why a Hindutva hardliner has been chosen for the job.

Speculation is now rife that this choice was made by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP's ideological fount.

But the question remains, why choose a rabble-rouser like Adityanath? Were Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah on board with this decision, or was Yogi hoisted on them by the RSS? 

First theory

Sources say the RSS felt that Modi was going soft on the Hindutva agenda, and focusing too much on his image as a man of development. This went against the Sangh's wish for a Hindu Rashtra, which includes officially renaming the country as 'Bharat', as it occurs in Hindu mythology.

Among his other achievements, five-time Lok Sabha MP Adityanath is credited with a resolution seeking a change in the Constitution – 'India that is Bharat' must become 'Bharat that is Hindustan'. His stand on cow slaughter is also well known.

Given the polarisation that brought the BJP over 40% of the votes polled in the recent UP elections, and given the brute majority the party enjoys in the new Assembly – 312 seats out of 403 on its own, and 325 with allies – the RSS saw this as the perfect time to return to a strong Hindutva-based agenda.

Yogi's appointment, therefore, is being viewed as a move to keep Modi in check. Given his following among a large section of Hindus as the 'saviour' of the religion, Yogi would suit the RSS more than Modi.

Second theory

The other school of thought states that the Modi-Shah high command is now too powerful to be overpowered by the RSS's choice. This means that Modi and Shah have given their consent to Adityanath's anointment as CM.

Political analysts say this could be part of a strategy to consolidate Hindu votes and make Muslims redundant as a vote bank.

It's clear that with UP won, the BJP has now set its sights on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. With Modi handling the development end of operations, the BJP needed someone to keep the Hindutva flag flying, so that this bit of its vote bank did not get disillusioned. By installing someone like Adityanath, these voters will stay within the BJP fold, and help bolster Modi's dream of a second term as PM.

The Advani parallel

It is unclear at this stage which of the above theories is true. However, what is clear is that the RSS wanted a strong Hindutva face as CM, since that would be crucial to keeping the new caste coalition the BJP has created intact. This caste-balancing is also why Keshav Prasad Maurya, a leader belonging to the Most Backward Classes, and Dinesh Sharma, a Brahmin, have been named deputies to Adityanath, a Thakur/Rajput.

However, this decision may one day boomerang on Modi. After all, the Yogi is known to be his own man, who doesn't toe the party line.

A political analyst who did not want to be quoted compared Yogi's appointment to LK Advani backing Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002. Eventually, Modi proved to be Advani's undoing at the Central level.

Only time will tell whether Yogi Adityanath turns out to be Modi's man in Lucknow, or the RSS-backed challenger to Modi's throne in 2019 and beyond.

First published: 20 March 2017, 21:53 IST