This is indeed a diabolically crass crossword tangle, juxtaposed within the terribly tangled twists of UP politics. The absurdity of this bad theatre unfolds the incestuous dilemmas of a typically clichéd Catch-22 spectacle, and though much of it is behind closed doors, the neon lights are out blinking green and red. With extreme Hindutva and the power play of the RSS-BJP and Sangh Parivar as backdrop, and a rising Samajwadi Party with a formidable alliance on the other side.
Anything can happen in this thriller, the end seems unpredictable, and that is why the excitement and the suspense.
For the first time since 2014, the BJP and RSS are feeling “unsafe” in Uttar Pradesh. And this is the reading on the spot, on the dot, at the epicenter of the Hindi heartland, by seasoned journalists based out there (and not in Delhi), and who have faced the brunt of the mobs since the black day of the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya. Not only the BJP, it seems both Yogi and Modi are feeling unsafe, insecure, shaky, jerky, stuck on a sticky wicket.
And herein lies the obsessive infatuations of power play; Season One of this Soap Opera is out there, free of cost, for all of us to see. Including for the politically sharp UP voter, more addicted to the underbelly of caste and power politics, then on the nuances of the political economy of development. That is why what it is and what makes UP the king-maker in Delhi, and also the worst state in terms of the Human Development Index. But no one cares a damn, neither the establishment, nor those who are toiling down there, in the invisible margins of ‘history from below’.
The first clue of this dark thriller replete with catharsis and anti-catharsis was given by Amit Shah. Call it a Freudian Slip, it indicated the prophetic fatedness of power. He said that Yogi’s victory in UP in these assembly polls will pave the way for the victory of Narendra Modi in 2024! Thus is the interwoven complexity of victories and defeats. That is, if Yogi loses now, Modi too must lose three years later. That is his fatedness. But if Yogi wins, then, what happens?
That is the clue which no one can predict. Either way, it seems a double whammy for Modi. Bad prophecy and bad faith and bad breaking news multiplied three times over.
The BJP, Yogi and Modi are unsafe in UP because they can see the rapidly shifting electoral sands, and they just can’t be sinking sinking drinking water. Yogi reportedly desperately wanted to contest from Ayodhya. He wanted a national profile and thereby become the new Hindutva Hriday Samrat. Obviously, the top brass in Delhi hated this idea. And no one knows what the top brass in Nagpur or Delhi’s Jhandewalan want or think – they being so secretive!
The clear indication is, as a hardened journalist from deep inside the Hindi heartland said, Yogi has become a bone in the throat of the Sangh Parivar, especially Modi. They can’t swallow him, nor they can throw the bone out. The RSS, which originally seems to have propped him up from nowhere, seems to be finding itself in the same dilemma – much as they tried to find another extremist Hindutva icon to replace the ‘Acche Din Messiah’ at the Centre. That is why this Catch-22 scenario.
When Yogi was first promoted during and after the last assembly elections in the state, journalists would wonder what to do with the press release he would routinely sent – he was holding no official position in the BJP. He was a BJP MP from Gorakhpur, head of the sprawling and influential Math, and much more far-right of even the BJP. He simply had no locus standi whatsoever! Nor was he a mass leader in UP or elsewhere. So why promote him?
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Yogi’s promotion was thus taken with a pinch of salt across the BJP, as well as in the secular media. His consequent actions therefore were predictable, inevitable and proved the real worth and meaning of this man. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. From the encounters, to the brutal assaults on peaceful anti-CAA protesters, to unleashing the Romeo Squads against young couples. And the burning pyre in the night of a girl violently brutalized in Hathras, barricaded from all sides by the repressive state apparatus, was seen as a sign of how a regime can turn so short, nasty and brutish.
So those who thought that Hathras depicted the final truth, had to only wait for the third surge of the killer Delta epidemic, even while the health system totally collapsed in UP, and dead bodies started floating on the holy river, with the sandy shores of Ganga full of dead bodies buried hurriedly with tattered clothes flying as miserably tragic signposts. So much so, dead bodies were being cremated in parks and public spaces, and huge fences were quickly erected outside cremation grounds in Lucknow to stop reporters and photographers to capture the mass tragedy.
And, yet, an ad campaign was soon unleashed apparently costing crores. The same tactics – turn the truth topsy-turvy, tell a lie a million times so that it appears as the truth, camouflage the bitter reality and tell the world how lovely it all is. It kind of triggered a sick taste in the mouth even as the cremations continued and so did the mass mourning, in UP and across India. That sick taste continues to remain, and will continue to haunt Yogi, Modi and the BJP in the days to come.
The Gorakhpur Math, locals say, started in as a secular monastic Shaivite mode, close to the Bhakti ethos, assimilating all currents and respecting all communities and religions, almost treading on the same path as the wisdom of Kabirpanthis. The Nath cult was universally tolerant and secular. The turn towards extremism came with Mahant Digvijay Nath participating in the sacrilege by installing idols at the Babri Masjid, joining the Hindu Mahasabha and contesting elections. He was also one of the accused in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.
His rise and fall was followed by Mahant Avaiydanath, the guru of Yogi Adityanath, both ‘Bisht and Thakur’, who turned the original Nath philosophy upside down and pushed it into hardline Hindutva, even more extreme than the softer, moderate line followed in the early days by the Jan Sangh, with leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee at the helm. The muscle-flexing and street power they hold in Gorakhpur with huge property in their grasp, with the aggressive vanguards of the Hindu Yuva Vahini calling the shots, is well known in the town. Yogi is a product of this ethos. Indeed, associated with the BJP as a winning candidate from Gorakhpur, he is not really a die-hard BJP or Sangh Parivar loyalist. That is another dilemma for the party.
The situation thereby is complex: Modi is apparently not with Yogi, and Yogi is apparently not with Modi. And not only that, even backward leaders like Keshav Chandra Maurya, the current deputy CM, and several MLAs, are apparently not with Yogi. Maurya is eyeing the CM post for long. Hence, there is a hidden rift within rift within the fragile fortress, and a possibly simmering implosion. Truly, when it comes to UP, anything can happen.
Come what may, as of now, the BJP is on a sticky wicket. And the ground below its feet seems to be slipping. Surely, as Amit Shah so prophetically predicted, perhaps, paving the way for 2024.