Ground shifting in Uttar Pradesh as people start questioning Maharaj's record in office
Has 'Yogi' Adityanath been a better chief minister than others before him? Does he deserve a second term? Will communal polarisation, patronage of temples and mutts & Ayodhya be enough?
A 22-year-old sums up part of the popular sentiment on the ground. “I don’t think Yogi has done any work in his 4½ year tenure; nothing has improved. He has only changed names of cities, stadia and what not. A lot of public money has been wasted. We all saw the condition in government hospitals during the pandemic. For me, Akhilesh Yadav was a far better chief minister than Yogi.”
The state capital Lucknow received a facelift during the tenures of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav as chief ministers, say residents. Harassing critics, taking dips in the Ganges, spending public money on organising an over-the-top Kumbh is not development, says a senior citizen. With no improvement in public health or education, rising prices and growing unemplyment, public mood is not quite as congenial as the Yogi would like to believe.
Over the last four years, year after year, the India Today (Karvy Insights Mood of the Nation) Survey, however, declared Yogi as the best chief minister in the country. Even this survey however, based on small samples, recorded the popularity or approval rating of the Yogi plunging from 40% in 2019 to 18% in 2021. Quite clearly, over 80% of the sample no longer see Yogi as the best chief minister.
BJP won the last election in UP in 2017 because of Narendra Modi’s aura, Demonetisation, the RSS and anti-incumbency. In 2022 BJP will be contesting, despite misgivings within the party, with Yogi Adityanath as its face.
But Yogi Adityanath has squandered the brute majority and enormous central assistance he received as bonus. His record of governance has been dismal. Police under his watch have become unaccountable. Education and health facilities have not improved. Even infrastructure have not been built, the Taj Expressway and Lucknow-Agra highway built during his predecessor’s tenure. Forget women, even businessmen, students and activists are not safe. Traditional crafts have been destroyed. Unemployment has grown. Covid was mismanaged. No new institution has been built and public money has been squandered on itself, publicity and on big events.
As in the rest of the country, there is palpable fear among people. They know the whimsical ‘Sarkar’ could do anything, take the least expected step and unleash the police. But there is simmering discontent below the surface. Beyond headlines, leadership summits and shrill publicity, and the several million people who have benefitted from the government, there is a different Uttar Pradesh. Things do not look as rosy for him as they did even last month.
Have the last five years seen any major, new industry come up? Haven’t traditional crafts and industries like Varanasi silk suffered during this period? Those who get a share of the pie, namely outdoor advertisers, event managers, suppliers and contractors, RSS affiliated NGOs and mainstream media, are undoubtedly happy. But then UP still has dismal record on social indices and compares unfavourably with West Bengal, where Yogi campaigned against Mamata Banerjee. Each of Yogi’s barbs there can be repeated against him in the next election.
The nervousness of BJP and the RSS is betrayed by their total silence on Lakhimpur Kheri. They had tried to divide and discredit the farmers and were confident of winning some of them to their side in Western UP. But the violence in Lakhimpur Kheri has put them on the backfoot.
The haste with which the UP Government announced compensation of Rs 45 lakhs to each of the farmers run over by the jeep of Ajay Mishra Teni, Union Minister of State (Home), also indicated their desire for a quick closure. It could scarcely afford to have the controversy linger.
BJP won the last election on the promise of putting an end to the alleged ‘Jungle Raj’ prevailing then, to put an end to perceived Muslim appeasement and on the promise of Ram Temple. The novelty of Ram Temple at Ayodhya, construction work in Varanasi and even the relentless communal campaign—ShamshanKabristan/Diwali-Eid/ Abbajaan— have lost some of their sharpness, if not their appeal.
Not surprisingly, at every public meeting these days Yogi Adityanath resorts to outright lies. He claims before he became chief minister, the state had not been able to celebrate Janmashtami or hold Durga Puja. This is what he had accused Mamata Banerjee during the election campaign in West Bengal. And this is what he now accuses Akhilesh Yadav, his predecessor, namely of appeasing the Muslims. More on the same lines can safely be expected in the next few months before the election.
BJP’s main plank this time is again restoration of ‘Sanatan Dharma’ in Uttar Pradesh. Hindu temples and mutts, big and small, have been showered with grants and money. The bulk of the state tourism department’s budget (Rs 272 crore in 2015-16 and Rs 1,000 crore this year) have been spent on development of Sanatan Sanskriti and on ostensibly developing the Ramayana Circuit, Braj Circuit, Buddhist Circuit, a spiritual circuit and finally the heritage circuit.
Tourism Minister Neelkanth Tewari points out that since 2017, Deepotsav festival is being organised at Ayodhya during Diwali and Dev Diwali at Varanasi, Rangotsav and Krishnotsav at Mathura and so on. Seven lakh lamps lighting the river banks for a few hours and actors playing characters from the Ramayana descending in helicopters have restored Sanatan Dharma, the minister believes.
Every temple trust, mutts and ashrams in the state have benefitted from Yogi Raj. The mahants move around in fancy cars costing above one crore rupees. Acharya Narendra Giri, president of the Akhara Parishad who allegedly committed suicide last month, was believed to own a fleet of 20 or more luxury cars. Most of these trusts control commercial property and educational institutions. The chief minister’s own mutt is a mini-empire in Gorakhpur. They own large plots of land, employ a large number of people and give shelter to a large number of criminals.
While property disputes in these mutts are said to have led to the killing of 42 ‘saints’ in the last four years, few, if any, of the cases have been solved. Crime in these mutts is fairly common, concedes a retired police officer. “This is no secret that many mutts are a den of criminals, who are utilized by mahants to silence their opponents,” he adds.
There is also little doubt that Uttar Pradesh received more central funds during the last five years. Samajwadi Party spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary concedes that the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP Government had received Rs. 17,000 crore in 2012-13 and Rs. 22,000 crore in 2013-14 by way of central assistance.
But while the SP claims that central assistance dried up during the last two years of Akhilesh Yadav’s term, BJP claims there was no discrimination. Central assistance to UP rose substantially to Rs. 32,000 crore in 2014-15, it claims. Ever since the assembly election in 2017 when BJP stormed to power in the state, central assistance has ranged from Rs. 40,000 crore to Rs. 57,000 crore in 2020-21.
While other states, especially the opposition ruled states, have been complaining of a shortage of funds, UP seems to have been lucky with no dearth of funds. But whether funds have been used well is a different question altogether.
“This government does not have its own policies. It has only implemented central schemes. Uttar Pradesh bagged the top position in the implementation of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and the Ujjwala Yojana. But the Yogi government does not have any project which it can call its own,” quips Dr Manoj Sharma, an economist in Lucknow.
BJP also knows that all is not well on the ground. The party suffered a humiliating defeat in panchayat elections even in its strongholds of Varanasi, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ayodhya and Mathura. BJP-backed nominees could win only 750 of the total 3,050 Zila Panchayat seats.
The results sent shock waves through the RSS and the BJP. RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale rushed to Lucknow. BJP national general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh visited the state several times on damage control missions. Yogi, whom even bureaucrats address as ‘Maharaj’, has put off many because of his temper tantrums. Internal bickering in the ministry and within the BJP is no secret. Even BJP MLAs have accused him of being a casteist and favouring Thakurs. Some have called him anti-Brahmin and anti-Backward.
It was to hastily correct the caste balance that Ajay Mishra Teni was inducted into the Union Council of Ministers in February this year. Maharaj himself carried out a ministerial expansion by inducting a Brahmin, three Backwards and three Dalits in the ministry.
But will this be enough? Or is the bell tolling for the Maharaj?
Knives will be out for him if BJP barely manages a majority. Maharaj should be a worried man.
(With inputs from Garima Sadhwani)