Modi May Be Up Against a Yogi Challenge

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Modi May Be Up Against a Yogi Challenge

Decoding the UP story for the BJP reveals annoyance with price rise and joblessness, but also fatigue with a one-leader ‘sarkar’ and bottled up suspicions about a ‘Yogi versus centre’ theme, leading to voter apathy and uninterested voters. A major and dominant ‘upper’ caste group pulling back support has had an impact on political enthusiasm for the BJP, overall.

Ghaziabad, Noida, Aligarh, Lucknow, Barabanki, Unnao, Rae Bareli, Unchahar, Amethi, Allahabad, Pratapgarh, Mirzapur, Varanasi, Chandauli, Jaunpur (UP): Inflation, anti-incumbency and disillusioned, also uninterested voters – Thakurs, plus others – have suddenly come into the play as factors plaguing the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitions for a re-election largely premised on BJP improving upon its 2019 tally.

The dissenters to the prospect of a third term of the ‘Modi sarkar [Modi government]’ make a long list, no doubt, ranging from senior leaders like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi all the way to other elements in the Sangh Parivar. But the most compelling factor, but discussed only quietly, is the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Adityanath.

With 80 parliamentary seats in the state, UP voters have enough power to make or break the possibility of Modi 3.0. From 1996 onwards, the oversized UP has always been instrumental to BJP playing a dominant national role. In 2014, with 72 seats, and then in 2019 with 62, its contribution towards ensuring Modi’s political hegemony has been irreplaceable.

‘Yogi vs Modi-Shah’ 

After Adityanath – who calls himself ‘Yogi Adityanath’ – become chief minister, his tenure as chief minister is seen as having been met with road blocks from the Union government. For starters, two deputy chief ministers were appointed, analysts say, to keep Adityanath on a tight leash. It is believed that even small, everyday decisions like appointments of officers to the Chief Minister’s Office, etc. were controlled directly by Modi.

It was the talk in Lucknow circles that Modi loyalists were running a parallel government in UP. They, allegedly, have been holding back Adityanath from any manoeuvres in the CMO. A good example of this was the appointment of the Director General of Police of the state. Adityanath apparently had to fight tooth and nail just to get his preferred candidate during his first tenure.

Once the officer’s tenure was over, none of Adityanath’s preferred bureaucrats were elevated again. UP has had four acting DGPs and none of them were given a formal permanent charge, or, seemingly, allowed to function efficiently. They were only ad-hoc DGPs, the incumbent included, adding fuel to the fire of the ‘Centre’ keeping the UP chief minister in check.

The same pattern afflicts the chief secretary’s position. Many blame this for the fact that the UP state bureaucracy has not been in optimal shape. Many Adityanath supporters take this as a personal affront to Adityanath and themselves.

Adityanath’s rival Shiv Pratap Shukla’s appointment to the UP state cabinet is also seen as Modi-Shah’s attempts to create more trouble for him. Meanwhile, Adityanath allies like Surya Pratap Shahi were removed from the cabinet and also stripped of posts in the BJP.

All this has been done, it is believed by Adityanath supporters, to tighten the reins around him, so that he is unable to emerge as a challenger to the Modi-Shah team. But to UP voters this was also seen from a caste perspective, adding to tensions between the Brahmin-Thakur community.

After winning the state elections a second time as CM in 2022, Adityanath solidified his position and popular appeal. Popular opinion across communities in UP offers the view that ‘law and order’ has drastically improved under Adityanath.

Yet, going against Adityanath’s strong opposition, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) chief Om Prakash Rajbhar and former Ghosi MLA Dara Singh Chauhan were inducted into the cabinet, despite one of them – Chauhan – losing in the by-elections held after he defected from the Samajwadi Party.

Losing the election did not deter deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya from losing his influence, due to the alleged backing he has from Modi and Shah.

Amidst the co-operative wars between states, while much was made about Amul (from Gujarat) being pushed into Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Amul milking the UP state-run milk co-operatives created considerable anger. But it did not make national news. Congress claimed a significant lobby of companies from Gujarat were bagging UP government contracts. The party was neither challenged nor sued for this allegation. Visibly, from the Lucknow Airport to roads to oil supply, all contracts seem to have an out-of-state imprint.

Adityanath is a BJP chief minister, but his network remains distinct from the Sangh’s and under his control. As head of the Gorakhnath Math he has significant resources at his disposal.

The Adityanath backlash

Adityanath government has been on the spot and subject to many corruption allegations by the opposition. But Adityanath has not been accused personally, in any scam, so far.

Among his voters, his integrity appears intact.

And ironically, what seems to also work in Adityanath’s favour is the constant pressure on Adityanath from Modi.

Many voters are not shying away from BJP but definitely express disquiet over the prospect of a third term for Modi. The first phase saw a drop from about 62.76% voter turnout in 2019 to about 54.85% in western UP in 2024, which local analysts believe could be linked to this unease.

RSS-Modi divide 

It is not only Adityanath supporters that feel relegated to the sidelines, but a section of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadres have been feeling the pressure of the Modi-Shah control too. Over the years, the RSS has expressed its discomfort with the deeply centralising character of the Modi government, often making the RSS secondary. Those concerns were never really addressed.

Also RSS’s say in national policies to election tickets have been reduced to nothing. This has deeply demoralised their cadre in UP  and all over the country.

The Modi-Shah duo, by prioritising the absorption of opposition leaders and removing the old guard of the BJP like Advani, Joshi, etc., have created distinct disharmony within its ranks. Today, the BJP is all about one leader, with all other leaders knowing they are expendable even if cabinet or chief ministers.

Adityanath supporters say they are well aware that if Modi gets a third term, Adityanath may be sacrificed for Shah’s gains. The lacklustre response to Modi’s exhortations, from the people, BJP workers and the Sangh in this large state could be signs of supporters pulling back from giving their all to secure a ‘Modi sarkar.’

To sum up, Maharashtra (48 MPs) and Uttar Pradesh (80) are both important states, but neither can be controlled only by now-tired slogans of Modi and minus a committed strong local leadership, or without Adityanath and the RSS.

Ab ki baar may be a bridge too far, if current trends prevail.

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