Prob­lems are pil­ing up for the chief min­is­ter of In­dia’s most pop­u­lous state. Is he up to the task?

IN VEDIC SAN­SKRIT, yoga means to unite and a yogi is a prac­ti­tioner of such an en­deav­our. In spir­i­tual terms, the ef­fort is to merge with the di­vine and be­come the One. For Yogi Adityanath, though, af­ter he as­sumed tem­po­ral power, the chal­lenge has as­sumed as­tro­nom­i­cal pro­por­tions. Had Ut­tar Pradesh been a coun­try, with its 204-mil­lion-strong pop­u­la­tion, it would have been the fifth most pop­u­lous state in the world. Bring­ing unity to a state known for its ex­treme di­ver­sity and deep di­vides—whether of re­li­gion, caste, class or re­gion—would be a chal­lenge even for the gods.

In con­ver­sa­tion, Yogi Adityanath gives the im­pres­sion that the man­tle of chief min­is­ter of In­dia’s most pop­u­lous state was be­stowed on him by a di­vine hand. At his of­fi­cial res­i­dence in the heart of Luc­know, the CM’s cho­sen seat is clearly marked by a saf­fron cover draped on the sofa. Swathed in his trade­mark saf­fron sack­cloth, he seems to en­joy wield­ing the power the post brings him and oozes con­fi­dence de­spite the se­ri­ous set­backs he has faced in re­cent times. In the first flush of his reign, he even or­dered some gov­ern­ment build­ings and buses to be re­painted in saf­fron to her­ald the re­turn of a BJP gov­ern­ment in Ut­tar Pradesh af­ter a gap of 15 years.

When in­dia to­day asked him whether as­sum­ing

such a po­si­tion of power was the right path for a yogi to fol­low, he re­sponded with a lofty hum­ble­brag: “When the kings go astray, there are in­stances of yo­gis and sanya­sis tak­ing up the re­spon­si­bil­ity. Only a yogi and sanyasi can de­liver bet­ter re­sults.” He went on to jus­tify his new call­ing, by blam­ing “the in­ert po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of the state in the past decade” for the de­cay of Ut­tar Pradesh. “The state suf­fered be­cause of the pol­i­tics of vested in­ter­ests and weak lead­er­ship,” he said. “They ru­ined in­sti­tu­tions and pushed the state to­wards the brink. In the past one year, we have suc­ceeded in chang­ing the neg­a­tive per­cep­tions in the minds of the people that they had held for the past decade”.

When the ma­hant of the Go­rakhnath mutt emerged as the sur­prise choice for UP chief min­is­ter in March 2017, Yogi Adityanath be­came a me­dia mag­net to ri­val even Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi. In saf­fron cir­cles, there was talk of the di­vi­sive ‘fire­brand’ as a pos­si­ble Hin­dutva heir to Modi. But in the past few months, trou­bles have come by the truck­load. And the yogi has brought much of it upon him­self. The first year of his rule has truly been a trial by fire and Adityanath has come out of it badly singed. It has punc­tured his aura as the saf­fron strong­man of the Hindi heart­land and also raised se­ri­ous doubts about his abil­ity to gov­ern what is po­lit­i­cally In­dia’s most im­por­tant state.

Most ac­knowl­edge, though, that he is among the hard­est work­ing chief min­is­ters that the state has seen in re­cent years. He puts in a pun­ish­ing sched­ule that be­gins at four in the morn­ing and ends past mid­night. His per­sonal in­tegrity re­mains un­ques­tioned and he has pushed hard for trans­parency and clean deal­ings in a state that has the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing among the most cor­rupt.

Adityanath has tried his best to ad­dress the big is­sues that the state faces: farm­ers un­der stress, poorly im­ple­mented de­vel­op­ment works, cor­rect­ing re­gional im­bal­ances and woo­ing in­vestors back to the state (see in­ter­view, ‘En­coun­ters are not the pol­icy of this gov­ern­ment’). To his credit, he has in­tro­duced an E-ten­der­ing sys­tem for all gov­ern­ment con­tracts to end the mafia raj in the state and per­son­ally su­per­vised anti-cheat­ing mea­sures in board ex­am­i­na­tions. Adityanath is also acutely aware of the neg­a­tive fall­out of the Hin­dutva agenda he pushed hard for when he took over, in­clud­ing the eco­nomic toll be­cause of the re­stric­tions on cow slaugh­ter. He has sub­se­quently gone slow on the ban as well as the anti-Romeo squads and love ji­had scare-mon­ger­ing. How­ever, he re­mains faith­ful to his tem­ple agenda, or­gan­is­ing a grand cel­e­bra­tion last Di­wali in Ay­o­d­hya.

While he may not have yet put his per­sonal stamp on the gov­ern­ment, Adityanath has been dili­gent in im­ple­ment­ing cen­tral gov­ern­ment-spon­sored schemes in hous­ing and san­i­ta­tion and mu­nif­i­cent in as­suag­ing the de­mands of state farm­ers, in­clud­ing wip­ing out loans to­talling Rs 36,000 crore.

His in­ex­pe­ri­ence in gover­nance, though, is show­ing and has been ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that most of his cab­i­net col­leagues are also new­bies. The state’s cof­fers are in a per­ilous po­si­tion. His gov­ern­ment is yet to out­line a solid roadmap to bring down the state’s high fis­cal deficit and debt li­a­bil­ity which now stands at a stag­ger­ing 30 per cent of the GSDP, dou­ble that of the fis­cally pru­dent south­ern states.

More­over, run­ning such a large state needs a strong, ex­pe­ri­enced and de­ci­sive leader who knows how to bal­ance pol­i­tics and ad­min­is­tra­tion in an ef­fec­tive mix. But Adityanath ap­pears hemmed in by mul­ti­ple power cir­cles (see graphic) which crimp his abil­ity to take in­de­pen­dent de­ci­sions. These in­clude the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice, which closely mon­i­tors his progress given that the gov­ern­ment’s per­for­mance is vi­tal for Modi’s re-elec­tion in 2019; party pres­i­dent Amit Shah who has to bal­ance the pulls and pres­sures of the party’s state MPs and MLAs apart from al­lies; his two deputy chief min­is­ters who owe no per­sonal al­le­giance to him, nor do his nu­mer­ous cab­i­net min­is­ters; and bu­reau­crats who are adept at ma­nip­u­lat­ing the dif­fused power struc­ture in the state, lead­ing to paral­y­sis in gover­nance. Ram Govind Chaud­hary, leader of the op­po­si­tion in the Vid­han Sabha, jokes that “dur­ing the SP regime, the BJP al­ways said that there were five-and-a-half chief min­is­ters. But un­der the BJP, there are eight CMs in the state—along with CM Yogi Adityanath, the two deputy CMs, the BJP state pres­i­dent, the BJP state gen­eral sec­re­tary, the RSS, the PMO and the BJP na­tional pres­i­dent are act­ing as su­per CMs in the state.”

Yogi Adityanath’s rep­u­ta­tion took a se­vere knock­ing when the BJP lost the re­cent by­elec­tion for two cru­cial Lok Sabha seats in the state—Go­rakh­pur (Adityanath had been elected five times be­fore he va­cated it last year) and Phulpur (Deputy Chief Min­is­ter Ke­shav Prasad Mau­rya had given it up when he was in­ducted into the cab­i­net). The de­feat was not just a per­sonal hu­mil­i­a­tion for the yogi but also ex­posed his dis­con­nect with ground re­al­i­ties. It shook the rul­ing party, es­pe­cially be­cause the two arch-ri­vals, the Sa­ma­jwadi Party (SP) and the Bahu-

The Go­rakh­pur by­poll loss was a per­sonal hu­mil­i­a­tion and also ex­posed Adityanath’s dis­con­nect with ground re­al­i­ties

jan Sa­maj Party (BSP), had com­bined forces to snatch a sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory. Com­ing af­ter the BJP and its al­lies had won a brute ma­jor­ity in the assem­bly elec­tions (325 of the 403 seats) in March 2017 and a near-clean sweep of the Lok Sabha seats (73 out of 80) in 2014, the de­feat saw the party lose its sheen of in­vin­ci­bil­ity and raised doubts about its abil­ity to win a sim­i­lar num­ber of seats in the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions.

The party’s con­cerns deep­ened when the state ad­min­is­tra­tion failed to gauge the ex­tent of the dis­quiet among the Dal­its, who con­sti­tute 20.5 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, over the re­cent Supreme Court judg­ment that re­laxed stiff pro­vi­sions in some sec­tions of the Sched­uled Castes and Sched­uled Tribes (Preven­tion of Atroc­i­ties) Act, 1989. Of late, the BJP had prided it­self on shed­ding its im­age as a party of for­ward castes by suc­cess­fully win­ning over sub­stan­tial sec­tions of the Dalit vote, in both the Lok Sabha and assem­bly polls. But its cred­i­bil­ity among the Dalit pop­u­la­tion has clearly plum­meted. Ch­hote Lal Khar­war, one of its Dalit MPs from the state, has writ­ten to Modi and BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah al­leg­ing caste dis­crim­i­na­tion by the state gov­ern­ment and local party unit. Three other prom­i­nent Dalit MPs also ac­cused the state gov­ern­ment of ha­rass­ing the com­mu­nity and even claimed that the BJP was in­tent on end­ing reser­va­tions. To counter such charges, the state BJP unit reels off names of Dalit of­fi­cers who oc­cupy 25 top po­si­tions in the gov­ern­ment and spokesper­son Dr Chan­dra Mo­han says, “The past gov­ern­ments had ig­nored Dal­its while un­der the Yogi gov­ern­ment, they have been duly recog­nised.”

Mean­while, Adityanath’s self-im­age as a tough chief min­is­ter will­ing to wipe out UP’s no­to­ri­ous crim­i­nal class has be­gun to back­fire. The BJP had made the de­cline of law and or­der un­der the SP regime a ma­jor poll plank dur­ing the assem­bly elec­tion, promis­ing to rid the state of crim­i­nals. Find­ing that there was an up­surge in crime soon af­ter he took charge, Adityanath em­pow­ered the state po­lice to go af­ter crim­i­nals and take them down by any means nec­es­sary. The crack­down saw the po­lice en­gage in 1,322 en­coun­ters with al­leged crim­i­nals in one year—al­most four a day—gun­ning down 44 of them. Yet, ac­cu­sa­tions are now be­ing lev­elled that many of these en­coun­ters are fake. And rather than ap­pre­hend­ing the big fish, the po­lice pre­fer to go af­ter petty crim­i­nals to meet the tar­gets set for them.

A re­cent ex­am­ple of such an en­counter is that of 25-year-old gym owner and in­struc­tor Ji­ten­dra Ya­dav in Parthala vil­lage of Noida. On Fe­bru­ary 3, he was re­turn­ing home from a wed­ding re­cep­tion at around 10 pm. Ya­dav had stopped at a pizza out­let when a po­lice posse headed by sub-in­spec­tor Vi­jay Dar­shan, act­ing on a com­plaint, told him to turn down the mu­sic sys­tem play­ing in his car. When he re­fused to do so, they started thrash­ing him and in the al­ter­ca­tion that en­sued, Dar­shan took out his re­volver and shot Ya­dav dead. He then told his se­niors that he had killed a crim­i­nal in an en­counter killing. When Ya­dav’s fam­ily lodged a com­plaint, the ini­tial in­quiry showed oth­er­wise. Dar­shan was ar­rested and sent to jail while the other three po­lice­men were sus­pended. O.P. Singh, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of Po­lice, says, “We are mon­i­tor­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of po­lice per­son­nel. Any per­son­nel en­gaged in crime will be pun­ished.” But the im­pres­sion per­sists that the po­lice have be­come trig­ger-happy.

Worse, for the chief min­is­ter, he was seen as not act­ing swiftly and im­par­tially against his own party mem­bers in­dulging in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties. On April 8, a 17-year-old girl ac­cused state BJP MLA Kuldeep Sen­gar of rap­ing her and tried to im­mo­late her­self in front of the chief min­is­ter’s res­i­dence over po­lice in­ac­tion. The next day, the girl’s fa­ther died in cus­tody in Un­nao jail al­legedly be­cause of in­juries sus­tained when he was as­saulted by the MLA’s sup­port­ers a week ago. Though

The Dalit un­rest in UP has un­done the BJP’s re­cent ef­fort to shed its im­age of be­ing a party of for­ward castes


SP chief Akhilesh Ya­dav; BSP supremo Mayawati; the April-May 2017 Dal­itThakur clashes in Sa­ha­ran­pur

four per­sons were ar­rested in the case, the MLA in ques­tion is yet to be booked.

Nor has the ad­min­is­tra­tion been seen as im­par­tial in Kas­ganj when clashes broke out on Repub­lic Day in a Mus­lim-dom­i­nated lo­cal­ity af­ter Hindu sup­port­ers car­ried out a tiranga ya­tra and shouted anti-Pak­istan slo­gans. When Bareilly district mag­is­trate R.V. Singh, in a Face­book post, com­mented on the trend of tak­ing out “processions by force in Mus­lim ar­eas to trig­ger vi­o­lence”, he was promptly trans­ferred. And his gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to with­draw some of the crim­i­nal cases con­cern­ing the 2013 Muzaf­far­na­gar and Shamli ri­ots fur­ther alien­ated the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion.

Not sur­pris­ingly, op­po­si­tion par­ties are dis­mis­sive of Adityanath’s per­for­mance so far. Former chief min­is­ter and BSP na­tional pres­i­dent Mayawati called it “Ek Saal, Buri Misaal”. Her suc­ces­sor and SP chief Akhilesh Ya­dav added, “In one year of its rule, the BJP gov­ern­ment does not have a sin­gle work of its own to show­case and on top of it, the chief min­is­ter is in­au­gu­rat­ing projects that I had com­pleted.”

But things aren’t as dis­mal as his crit­ics some­times sug­gest. All is not lost for the monk-turned-chief min­is­ter and he can re­gain the ini­tia­tive if he strives to do so. With the SP and BSP get­ting to­gether, the BJP lead­er­ship still re­gards Adityanath as the best bet to cham­pion a uni­fied Hindu front if push comes to shove in the state. He will also be per­fectly placed to push the tem­ple agenda de­pend­ing on the ver­dict in the Ay­o­d­hya case.

Mean­while, Adityanath has also toured the state ex­ten­sively and de­vel­oped his own grass­roots net­work of con­tacts to give him feed­back. Over the year, he has also be­gun to un­der­stand what needs to be done. (Akhilesh too was a slow starter and fum­bled through his first year in of­fice.) What the chief min­is­ter needs to do is to stop be­liev­ing in of­fi­cial claims of “progress” in var­i­ous schemes and mon­i­tor them him­self, en­sur­ing that these are im­ple­mented ef­fec­tively. In Luc­know, for in­stance, people scoff at his rhetoric of en­sur­ing 24x7 power in ur­ban ar­eas, when the city still ex­pe­ri­ences fre­quent power cuts. Sim­i­larly, his other claim of fix­ing all pot­holes on the state’s high­ways within 90 days of tak­ing over is eas­ily punc­tured; only 50 per cent of the pot­holes have been re­paired. He is also yet to live down the death of 30 chil­dren in Go­rakh­pur’s BRD Med­i­cal Col­lege last Septem­ber, the in­ci­dent a grim re­minder that all is not well with the state’s pub­lic health­care sys­tem.

Equally im­por­tant for Adityanath is to de­velop a core team of min­is­ters and of­fi­cials he can trust and who are will­ing to ex­e­cute big-ticket de­vel­op­ment plans with speed and qual­ity. Asked whether he en­joys be­ing chief min­is­ter, Adityanath says, “It is quite clear in my mind that this chair is not for en­joy­ment. I re­gard it as a ser­vice for the state and the nation. I don’t have any per­sonal life.” In the com­ing months, he needs to rise above re­li­gious and par­ti­san con­sid­er­a­tions and prove his claim that a sanyasi can run a state bet­ter than any­one else.




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