Modi-Yogi rift real or blown up?
Nobody can say for certain if reports of rift between Modi and Yogi have any substance. But even BJP insiders seem to be worried at reports of differences
There are rumblings in BJP over differences between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of UP Yogi Adityanath. They reportedly differed on handling the situation after MOS Home’s son was accused of ploughing through protesting farmers deliberately, killing four of them. While Yogi wanted the union minister to be dropped and arrest his son, he was apparently advised against taking any precipitate action.
Insiders claim Yogi has been smarting because he was at the receiving end of barbs and ridicule. He was trolled for his inability to arrest the minister’s son. He was asked when he was sending bulldozers—in a reference to the bulldozers sent to Kanpur to demolish the house of a gangster who happened to be Brahmin. By forcing him to soft-pedal the issue, he feels, Modi has ensured that his image is dented before the UP Assembly elections barely four months away.
Ashish Mishra, son of Ajay Mishra Teni, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, video evidence alleged, had hit farmers from behind at Tikunia, about 100 kms from state headquarter Lakhimpur. In the ensuing scuffle, enraged farmers beat three BJP workers and the SUV driver, to death.
All four farmers were Sikhs while BJP workers and the driver were all Brahmins. The Chief Minister was already facing Brahmins’ ire for having allegedly slighted, neglected and persecuted them during the past four and a half years. The chief minister wanted to make an example of Ashish Mishra out of this incident, to cement his image of a tough administrator who does not compromise on law and order. He wanted to arrest the accused but senior BJP leadership including Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah persuaded him against taking the move lest the Brahmins rise up against the party in the assembly election.
Brahmins are a powerful bloc of voters in the state. Although their number is not high, they have traditionally punched much above their weight. Out of the 14 chief ministers the state had till 1989, seven were Brahmins. But the rise of the OBCs and Dalits denied them a shot at the CM’s chair for the past 32 years. Yogi, being a Thakur, was accused by them of slighting Brahmins and favouring his fellow caste men.
Several Brahmin leaders and strongmen are alleged to have been killed in police encounters during the past five years or they have been cooling their heels behind bars. This was the reason why Modi inducted Teni in his cabinet, to assuage Brahmins and give representation to the Brahmin community.
Teni was not an influential Brahmin leader. He was hardly known outside his own constituency. Yet, Modi, in his trademark style, picked him up from oblivion to be thrust in the important position of MoS Home, in-charge of police and paramilitary forces including the NIA.
Yogi Adityanath was not consulted by Modi while inducting Teni in the union ministry. Yogi in turn refused to induct Modi’s nominee, the former principal secretary in the PMO, Arvind Sharma, in his cabinet.
Following the Lakhimpur Kheri episode, Yogi wanted to arrest Ashish Mishra and argued for dropping Mishra Sr from the Union Cabinet. As soon as he got wind of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s plan to visit Lakhimpur Kheri, he planted himself in the control room and ensured that not no opposition leader reached the village till a truce was reached with the agitating farmers through Rakesh Tikait.
But for Modi and Amit Shah, managing Brahmin votes and not seen to be buckling under opposition pressure was more important. That’s why BJP IT cell trolls went on an overdrive to portray it as a clash between farmers and locals. They also suggested that farmers had attacked Ashish’s car first, damaging its windscreen and while fleeing, some villagers came under wheels of his car.
Yogi on the other hand approached Tikait through his principal secretary Avanish Awasthi. Awasthi, who was district magistrate of Muzaffarnagar early in his career, is said to have had excellent rapport with the Tikait family. Tikait managed to convince the aggrieved farmers’ families to accept state government’s compensation package - Rs 45 lakh, a government job to the next of kin and an investigation supervised by a retired High Court judge. Tikait also announced calling off the agitation at Kheri.
BJP insiders are bracing for more differences on issues like who will be the party’s face in the elections - Modi, Yogi, a joint campaign or no face like in Assam, besides of course on candidates’ selection.
Ashish brazened it out by avoiding police summons for a week. He produced himself only after the Supreme Court pulled up UP Police for handling him with kid gloves. “Would you have served such notices if the murder accused was a common man and not a minister’s son”, asked CJI Ramana, after taking suo motu cognizance of the case.
But despite clamour for his removal, Modi hasn’t taken any action against the minister who gave a clean chit to his son. “Ashish was not present on the spot. I have evidence to prove that”, he had said publicly. The minister - himself facing a murder charge - seems to have lied with fresh evidence emerging to call his bluff.
One of the several interesting explanations doing the rounds is that Modi wants to be seen as having protected Brahmins in the state while isolating Yogi and ensuring he becomes even more unpopular among Brahmins. Yogi, who has often been projected as Modi’s successor, will be edged out after the next election if Modi has his ways.
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