Uttar Pradesh CM becoming a political liability but BJP cannot dare replace him
UP remains as poor, as backward and as lawless as it was in 2017 with a clueless Chief Minister who blames ‘international conspiracies’ to gloss over his own failures. But is the BJP embarassed?
The Prime Minister’s Office this week called one of the two Deputy Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Keshav Prasad Maurya.
Maurya had tested coronavirus positive and was in a quarantine. And the PM apparently called to wish him a speedy recovery. But observers were quick to point out that the PM had not called other ministers in UP who had tested positive. Indeed, two of the ministers have died of COVID. But the PM did not call their families to convey his condolences. The call to Maurya, therefore, was seen as politically loaded. The PM called Maurya but the messaging was meant for the chief minister Yogi Adityanath alias Ajay Singh Bisht.
Maurya himself, a contender for the chief minister’s post, lost no time in letting people know that the PM called. He quickly tweeted the following with the hashtag #ModiPoochaHaal:
“Despite being very busy, the brilliant Prime Minister, respected Narendra Modi ji, asked me over the phone today morning about my health and gave me necessary directions with regard to my health. I am proud of our supreme leader. A current of new energy flowed in my body when you asked me about my wellbeing.”
While some observers jumped to the conclusion that Yogi’s days as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh were numbered, others were less impressed with the logic. Although Yogi is not the most popular chief minister, nor the most effective—despite one media house after another ranking him the ‘Best Chief Minister’—removing him at this point—with assembly elections due in the state in 2022— would neither be easy nor desirable for the BJP, they felt.
Chetan Bhagat, the IIT-ian-turned pulp fiction writer, had famously described Yogi’s anointment as CM as the naughtiest boy in class being made the class monitor. The monk-politician’s nuisance value is immense and he can be both rude and reckless. It is known that he was not a front runner for the CM’s chair in 2017. Union Minister Manoj Sinha had in fact been told to get ready for taking the oath. But Yogi threw enough tantrums and threats to alarm the BJP ‘high command’. Although his sway may not extend much beyond Gorakhpur, ever the rabble rouser, he can create problems within the BJP if he is asked to step down.
The ambitious and young monk (he is younger than Rahul Gandhi and is 48 years old) fancies himself as a future Prime Minister; and he is not just rude, he is imperious. Unlike Narendra Modi though, who is described as a good listener, the Yogi has little patience to listen to others. His imperious conduct has alienated ministers, bureaucrats and party workers alike. His monologues and his orders are often tiresome, concede bureaucrats, but he has had his way.
“He behaves like the Mahanth—loosely translated the Baron or the Duke---of Gorakhpur. He must summon people at all hours of the day and night, he must take all decisions himself and he of course has an opinion on everything,” explains a bitter bureaucrat. Others acknowledge that as chief minister the monk, who likes people to touch his feet by way of greeting, has been disastrous.
A religious bigot and Muslim-baiter, a vindictive person who abuses power to absolve himself but frames an innocent doctor like Dr Kafeel Khan, a chief minister who puts himself above his duty to the state and the people, is fast fading as BJP’s poster boy.
In the wake of the Hathras gangrape victim’s death, the state government announced the formation of a ‘Special Security Force’ with police powers. Details are scant but officials dutifully said that this was ‘a dream project of the chief minister’.
“Besides providing security to district courts, the new force will also be deployed at the upcoming (small) airports in Uttar Pradesh (in Kushinagar, Jewar and elsewhere). Private financial institutions too can hire the force’s services against a payment,” Awanish Kumar Awasthi, the Additional Chief Secretary and the chief minister’s favourite bureaucrat told the media.
Widely believed to be a shadowy force in preparation of the assembly election in 2022, observers wondered at the need for a special force. Uttar Pradesh Police already has a Special Task Force (STF) in addition to the PAC, an armed constabulary. “An SSF officer can arrest anyone or conduct a search on any premises without a warrant. No court proceedings will be possible against SSF members without the state government’s permission,” pointed out a police officer.
Dwijendra Tripathi, a Congress leader, went on record to say that ‘Adityanath wants to intimidate all his vocal political rivals inside and outside his own party before the elections’.
The incessant posturing however has not helped improve the law and order position in the state. It remains among the most lawless states in the country. And even more ironically, the Yogi has not been able to protect even his own men, the foot soldiers of ‘Hindutva’ that he promoted before and after 2017.
Among Hindutva leaders killed in Adityanath’s watch are Sanjay Khokhar, RSS member and former BJP president for Baghpat, who was shot dead in August. Ranjeet Bachchan, Vishwa Hindu Mahasabha president, was shot by motorcycle-borne assailants in Hazratganj in February. Kamlesh Tiwari, leader of the Hindu Mahasabha and national president of the Hindu Samaj Party, was shot in his office in Lucknow in October last year. In September Sanjay Singh, a leader of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a private militia formed by the Yogi a decade and a half ago, was stabbed to death in Bareilly.
Residents of a village ( Gangnauli) in Baghpat put up notices in September saying their houses were on sale. They were not safe, they claimed, and accused the police of harassing them. “The police have terrorised the area. Adityanath had promised us security but as chief minister, he has been torturing people on the plea of maintaining law and order,” Satveer Rathi, husband of village panchayat chief Sudeshna Rathi, told the media.
In July a 14-year-old boy in Gorakhpur, the fiefdom and home turf of the Yogi, was kidnapped and killed after a ransom of Rs 1 crore had been demanded from his father who had recently sold land. The body of Balram Gupta, who was whisked away in a car by four men when he was playing with friends in front of his house in Pipraich was found in a bush about 20km away.
Again, in July a 56 years old woman, Sophia Begum, succumbed after setting herself on fire at the gate of the chief minister’s office. She was protesting against police inaction against people who had allegedly grabbed her land in Amethi.
Under Yogi, police vehicles in the state have acquired mystical powers of over-turning almost at will, according to BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya. “The cars, they are in the habit of over-turning in this part of the world,” he wisecracked when asked to comment on lawlessness in the BJP ruled UP.
He was referring to the killing of gangster Vikas Dubey, who was being brought back to Kanpur in a convoy of three police vehicles after his arrest. The car overturned, Dubey tried to flee and was shot dead. It is widely believed that he was bumped off because he could implicate many in the ruling party
Days before Dubey was killed, his aide Kartikeya was also killed in “retaliatory” police firing. “He was being brought to Kanpur on transit remand when the police vehicle got a flat tyre, Kartikeya snatched the pistol of a policeman and tried to flee,” explained the police.
A feudal lord ruling a fiefdom is how ‘Maharaj’ Ji behaves, concede even BJP workers in the state. Neeraj Joshi and Narendra Kushwaha (names changed) are BJP workers of long standing but say they are unhappy with the CM. They also confirm reports that there are murmurs within the party of the need to ease him out.
His imperious administrative style has come under increasing scrutiny. He began his stint with a campaign against eve-teasing and against allegedly illegal abbatoirs. The anti-Romeo squads of UP Police were followed by the Maharaj asking police to eliminate criminals. His ‘Thok do” (Bump them off) policy led to indiscriminate encounters and arrests. But three years later, people are still not safe and lawlessness rules.
His mishandling of the anti-CAA protests in December, when police dispersed protestors, accused them of instigating the violence and detained people indiscriminately, arresting even women photographing the protest and a 80-years-old police officer who was at home. He topped it by ordering huge hoardings with photographs and addresses of the protestors to be put up in a bid to name and shame them and by instigating others to take law in their hands.
When the lockdown was declared, he failed to arrange for buses for the migrant workers. He promised 10,000 buses to drive the workers home from NOIDA on the outskirts of Delhi. But he failed to honour the commitment but would not allow Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to arrange for the buses. He took out his ire on the hapless DM of Gautam Buddh Nagar and accused him of failing to arrange the buses.
The selective actions of UP police in using the Epidemic Act against the opposition while overlooking assemblies of BJP supporters have come in for criticism. And some sections in the BJP admit that this has embarassed the party and dented the party’s image.
The flip-flop in the handling of the Hathras gangrape case also exposed the state government’s ineptitude. In fact the Government made a laughing stock of itself by first claiming that reports of rape were fake, then offering the family of the deceased compensation; police arrested the four men named by the victim but even before the investigation or the trial, they were declared to be innocent.
For a fortnight the woman, who had a broken spinal cord, a gash on her tongue and who was paralysed, was not referred to Delhi for better treatment. And when she was finally shifted to Safdarjung Hospital on September 28 and died the next day, UP police whisked away the body and cremated it in the dead of the night without the consent of the family.
In viral videos, the District Magistrate was heard intimidating the family of the woman, pressurizing them to change their version, telling them that the media would not always be there in the village. Police without much provocation roughed up Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi when they were on their way to Hathras, stopped them from proceeding before relenting the next day.
The police beat up Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary and his supporters when they were speaking to the media. They failed to protect Member of Parliament Sanjay Singh of AAP, who suffered an ink attack by a BJP supporter in the village. But police remained silent spectators when Thakur villagers held a caste panchayat in support of the accused.
Irony died a death when Uttar Pradesh Government told the Supreme Court that there was an international conspiracy to defame the state and the chief minister. And the Yogi, who is a Thakur and who is often accused of being partisan to his castemen, accused critics of dividing society on caste lines to thwart development.
Lenin Raghuvanshi of People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) says Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his deputy Amit Shah have installed a Frankenstein in UP, who is out to divide the society on religious and caste lines.
“Every development in the state is looked at by him through the religious prism and he acts accordingly,” said Raghuvanshi.
In the 21st Century, Uttar Pradesh deserves better leadership than a bumbling, feudal lord suffering from arrested adolescence, is the growing feeling. The largest state in India needs a capable administrator and a visionary with scientific temperament and vision, not a saffron robed Baron of Backwardness.