It is a risky choice, but the BJP is guaranteed high visibility in the national media all the way to 2019.
And, of course, if Adityanath delivers on some of the development and law and order agenda by rejuvenating the state administration, that will be a bonus.
The election of Yogi Adityanath as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) choice to head Uttar Pradesh may be a risky one, given his firebrand Hindutva credentials, but he ticks all the right boxes when it comes to delivering on Narendra Modi’s 2019 agenda and the development expectations of the state’s electorate.
First, Adityanath is his own man, and also has the blessings of Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Modi and Shah have deviated from the past pattern of choosing safe hands to head states. Adityanath is no M L Khattar or Raghubar Das or Devendra Fadnavis, who will kowtow to the central leadership. His choice for the chief ministership signals a realisation by Modi and Shah that UP cannot fully be run from Delhi. They want someone who is popular in his own right and also critical to furthering the Modi re-election agenda in 2019.
Second, UP is not the kind of state that can be run by namby-pamby politicians. It needs a tough cookie, someone who can bash heads together to get both politicians and bureaucrats to deliver on the development agenda. In the first half of his tenure, Akhilesh Yadav allowed the goons and toughs of the Samajwadi Party (SP) to push him around, thus losing him the high moral ground. It was only after the shock defeat of 2014 that Akhilesh came into his own, but it was too late. Adityanath is not going to be a pushover for anyone from Day One, though he will obviously be working closely with the Prime Minister’s Office to get his state started on the development race.
Third, as a Hindutva icon, Adityanath has the advantage of having his right flanks covered. He does not have to look over his shoulder to see whether his decisions have the approval of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the BJP cadre. He can pursue a development agenda since his Hindutva image insulates him from attacks from the religious and cultural right. Just as Modi’s 2002 Hindutva image made it easy for him to reimagine himself as a development icon, Adityanath will have a similar advantage.
Fourth, the UP mandate was driven by two themes: empowerment of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits. This electoral coalition was what helped the BJP come to power with an overwhelming majority. But making a non-Yadav OBC as chief minister would have been tough, for no single non-Yadav caste has the kind of numerical clout that the Yadavs or Jatavs had. A non-Yadav OBC leader would probably have been a weak chief minister. Having a Yogi Adityanath sidesteps this problem. But with two deputy chief ministers, K P Maurya and Dinesh Sharma, a Kushwaha and Brahmin respectively, all major sensitivities are taken care of.
Fifth, the BJP needs to reckon with the possibility that in 2019 there may be a mahagathbandhan ranged against it in UP. The only way it can overcome a seat-sharing combination that includes SP, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress is by keeping high levels of motivation among its current caste backers and seeking a wider Hindu consolidation, which could include some segments of the numerically strong Yadavs and Jatavs. There are few BJP leaders who can keep the adrenaline as high as Adityanath in UP.
It is a risky choice, but the BJP is guaranteed high visibility in the national media all the way to 2019. If Adityanath is painted as a Hindu villain and anti-Muslim, the BJP will be hoping for a counter-consolidation to see it through in 2019. And, of course, if Adityanath delivers on some of the development and law and order agenda by rejuvenating the state administration, that will be a bonus.