The knives are still out for Yogi Adityanath

Will he survive Modi–Shah’s attempts to pin the blame on him for the party’s debacle in Uttar Pradesh?

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath

Rashme Sehgal

An internal report prepared by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blames Yogi Adityanath for the party’s disastrous performance in the key state of Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP and its allies succeeded in winning only 36 out of the 80 seats despite their much-touted ‘double-engine’ sarkar.

The report cited the example of BJP candidate Raghav Lakhanpal, who was defeated by Imran Masood of the Congress in Saharanpur. In a review meeting, Lakhanpal complained about the overconfidence of local BJP leaders who believed that they did not need to work on the ground to mobilise the public — that ‘Brand Modi’ was enough to achieve their target of ‘Mission 80’ and make a clean sweep of all the seats in UP.

This lack of leadership (read: Yogi) saw persistent infighting amongst rival BJP camps.

In Saharanpur, Lakhanpal accused BJP MLA Ashish Singh from Hardoi of working behind the scenes to defeat him. The rift between the Lakhanpal and Singh groups is so marked that when UP BJP chief Bhupendra Singh Chaudhary led a fact-finding team to ascertain the reasons for his defeat, the two groups began shouting slogans against each other and had to be pacified with great difficulty.

The story is the same across several constituencies, with losing candidates blaming the ‘Jaichands’ in their own party for having plotted their defeat.

Seven out of eleven Union ministers — including Sanjeev Balyan, Kaushal Kishore, B.P.S. Verma, Ajay Mishra Teni, Mahendra Chandra Pandey, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Smriti Irani — believed ‘intrigue and jealousy’ made them bite the dust.

Two-time BJP MP Sanjeev Balyan, who lost from Muzaffarnagar, blamed former Sardhana MLA Sangeet Som for conspiring to defeat him. He alleged that Som enjoyed the tacit support of Yogi in these machinations. Balyan, who is known to have played a key role in engineering Som’s defeat in the 2022 assembly elections, told the BJP fact-finding team that this was Som’s “act of vengeance” against him.

Balyan also informed the team that the atmosphere in western UP had been vitiated by the panchayats held by the Rajput community, in which estranged Thakur members voiced their opposition to the BJP leadership. Balyan accused Sangeet Som of acting as the sutradhar for these meetings.

This had an adverse impact in several constituencies, including Kairana, he claimed.

Som retorted that “not a single BJP worker liked Balyan and they refused to work for him. They even refused to distribute voter slips on his behalf”.

BJP ex-MP Ravindra Kushwaha, who lost his seat by a narrow margin in Salempur, told Chaudhary that two state leaders, Vijay Laxmi Gautam and Sanjay Yadav (Ballia district president) had colluded against him to ensure his defeat.

Banda’s sitting MP, R.K. Singh Patel, also stated that former MPs and MLAs had worked to help the local Samajwadi Party candidate win. Their motive? Jealousy at not having been given tickets.

Despite claims of being a disciplined party, a BJP review meeting on the defeats saw workers coming to blows. Heated exchanges also took place at another review meeting over the loss suffered in the high-profile Faizabad constituency.

The story is the same across several losing constituencies.

While the findings of this report have not been placed in the public domain, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat made a five-day visit to Gorakhpur in mid-June, where he reportedly had a low-profile meeting with Yogi Adityanath (although a section of the media contests the claim that such a meeting took place at all).

There is little doubt that the RSS has always had a soft corner for Yogi Adityanath and was responsible for elevating him to the chief ministerial position.

Adityanath apparently explained to Bhagwat that he had little say in the selection of the BJP candidates in his state — they were largely chosen by the Modi–Shah duo.

Despite being removed from the apex decision-making body, the parliamentary board, Adityanath said, he had warned the home minister that the choice of candidates was flawed, and that at least 25 of them were likely to lose. But alas, his advice was not taken, and instead an overconfident party pushed ahead, giving preference to people who had little locus standi in their constituencies.

Bhagwat — who was already smouldering over BJP president J.P. Nadda’s comments about the party not needing the RSS any more — went public after the elections to state that a true sevak does not show ‘arrogance’. Everyone knew who he was referring to.

In an equally damning statement, Bhagwat subsequently told the RSS cadre as he travelled across eastern UP, “We are back where we were in 2014. The government was in a position to do anything it wanted for 10 years but involved itself in promoting an individual at the cost of RSS resources, without honestly following its ideology.”

Varanasi-based intellectual Aflatoon, who heads the Samajwadi Jana Parishad Party, pointed out, “It is well known that after Modi became prime minister, he and Shah wanted to install the present J&K lieutenant governor, Manoj Sinha, as [Uttar Pradesh] chief minister.

"But there were pictures circulating in Varanasi of Sinha having gone to meet the well-known mafia don Brajesh Singh, when he was being treated in a hospital in BHU (Banaras Hindu University).

“These pictures were shown to Mohan Bhagwat by some very senior RSS functionaries, and Sinha’s candidature was shot down and he was replaced by Yogi.”

Yogi Adityanath draws the press — and has the RSS' implicit support
Yogi Adityanath draws the press — and has the RSS' implicit support
AFP Contributor

Yogi’s growing popularity in UP did not go down well with New Delhi, and in no time at all, they began creating roadblocks for him.

Two deputy chief ministers were appointed to ensure that even his most innocuous decisions could be vetoed.

In order to rein in his power, Modi loyalists created a parallel government. To cite one example, bureaucrat Durga Prasad Mishra, loyal to the prime minister, was brought in on 29 December 2021 — just two days before he was due to retire! — and given a second extension to continue till the end of December 2023.

Adityanath could not even appoint a DGP (director general of police), and the state was known to have four acting DGPs, with none of them being allowed to function efficiently.

The entire administrative machinery was kept on tenterhooks.

All these facts had been brought to the notice of Bhagwat, as also the manner in which SBSP (Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party) chief Om Prakash Rajbhar and former Ghosi MLA Dara Singh Chauhan were inducted merely to act as impediments in the smooth functioning of his government.

Bhagwat was also made aware of how most large contracts — be it for the construction of the Lucknow airport or the reconstruction of Ayodhya at a sum of Rs 35,000 crore — had been given to contractors from Gujarat. “The Gujarat lobby has looted the state of Uttar Pradesh of the massive monies allotted to it for construction of temples and other projects,” pointed out a political analyst.

The RSS is only too aware that Yogi continues to enjoy the support of the middle class because of the successful narrative he has created on establishing and maintaining law and order by clamping down on the Muslim mafia.

At heart, Yogi remains a divisive and controversial figure. His rule has been distinguished by lynchings and hate speech routinely levelled against Muslims.

His hardline Hindutva politics has endeared him to the RSS, but both Modi and Shah are suspicious of him because of the general perception that Yogi was prime ministerial material, being 20 years younger than Narendra Modi.

Whatever plans Modi–Shah may have, the fact that Yogi was able to install (on 2 July) his appointee Manoj Kumar Singh, a Rajput, as chief secretary of UP means that this round has been won by the RSS.

It is also an indicator that this is a reprieve for Yogi.

Much as New Delhi would like to see the last of this saffron-clad monk, the truth is that after the massive jolt in the general election, the ruling party is under tremendous pressure to regain its hold on this key state in the coming Assembly election.

Chances are that Yogi will be given a breather, and these by-elections will be fought under his leadership.

Which also means that, if the BJP fails to do well again, it could well mean the beginning of the end for Yogi.

UP IGP (retd) S.R. Darapure, a human rights activist, reads the picture differently, however:

If Yogi is retained, the situation will only get worse for the BJP. The Rajputs, Dalits and OBCs are already alienated, as are the Muslims.
It is a myth that law and order has improved.
Under Yogi, terror has spread across the state, and the police are seen as very aggressive and exploitative. The number of encounters and demolitions under him have also increased exponentially.

"It has to be seen how successful the BJP will be in countering the RSS narrative," he adds.

While the internal blame game and mudslinging continues, there is little doubt that the leadership in Delhi has adopted a wait-and-watch attitude.

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