The real significance for 2022 UP results is not 2024 but 2029, for which the BJP already has a leader in Yogi Adityanath. Kejriwal, if he plays well and with patience, could become his opposition
The 2022 Assembly elections, especially the Uttar Pradesh results, are historic in more ways than one. Not just an incumbent Chief Minister in Yogi Adityanath has broken a 37-year-old jinx of the state switching governments every five years. But more importantly, it repudiated the notion that 2017 was a fluke, that UP would again go back to its old caste-based voting style.
And credit for this will go as much to Modi magic as to Yogi’s performance. Uttar Pradesh, in that way, is truly the outcome of the Modi-Yogi Jodi working in tandem with Amit Shah’s electoral masterplan.
This is truly Yogi Adityanath’s moment in the sun. He has, by this act of bringing the BJP back to power in Uttar Pradesh, joined the party’s holy trinity.
In fact, it won’t be hyperbole to say that Yogi Adityanath in many ways inspire the BJP cadre the same way Narendra Modi does, and this makes the larger narrative for Indian politics: That India has well and truly entered into the second phase of democracy: Nehruvian democracy was over in 2014; today’s results suggest that any fleeting assumption of the era gone by making a comeback is all but over.
India is truly in a ‘Modified democracy’ and the success of the BJP in UP and the rise of Yogi Adityanath reinforce the fact that this order is here to stay and dominate the 2020s, if not more.
If the 2022 mandate is to be believed, the Opposition’s 2024 fate is all but sealed. But the real significance for today’s Uttar Pradesh results is that the BJP already has a leader in Yogi Adityanath for 2029.
There’s a reason for this optimism vis-à-vis Yogi. After all, he is as much about optic as he is about substance. He is the face of Hindutva and an absolute unapologetic one. He minces no words and like Modi, turns his political incorrectness to his advantage.
He may be a regional leader, but he is already the most popular leader in the BJP after Modi. But most importantly, he is seen as a man who delivers.
When Yogi took over the reins of Uttar Pradesh, the state was an epitome of lawlessness, where women were scared to venture out after sunset. Yogi’s keen understanding of society made him realise that law and order held the key to UP’s redemption.
Once the Mafia Raj was controlled, the state’s innate creative energy was released, which when combined with several reforms initiated by the Yogi government resulted in UP becoming the second largest state in Gross State Domestic Product, ahead of industrialised states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, and also second in the Ease-of-Doing-Business ranking. UP under him doubled the per capita income of its citizens — from Rs 43,000 per year in 2015-16 when the SP was in power, to Rs 95,000 per year in 2021.
Yogi’s COVID-19 management came under scrutiny during the second wave, but critics have often been unduly critical to him. Maybe the distrust would come from the secular upbringing which made most of us see saffron with unease.
This colour gives most of us the right to judge, to go for name-calling. What these critics failed to see was that Yogi was handling the pandemic in a state that, population-wise, could have been the world’s sixth-largest country. Even then his handling of Covid-19 got him global praise, with one Australian MP publicly requesting for Adityanath to be loaned to Australia for some time to manage Covid in his country!
Yogi biographer Shantanu Gupta in his book, The Monk Who Transformed Uttar Pradesh, brings out how as an MP in the Lok Sabha, Yogi Adityanath was “super active”, participating between 2014 and 2017 in 57 debates against the national average of 50.6, besides asking 306 questions against the national average of 199.
In comparison, Rahul asked zero questions and participated in just 11 debates. “It’s ironic that Yogi Adityanath was asking more questions concerning the people in his constituency to its own BJP government than Rahul Gandhi from the Opposition,” Gupta writes. It is this sincerity and patience and reverence for the democratic process and details that make him a serious contender for 2029.
The Samajwadi Party, unlike Mayawati’s BSP which has got almost decimated, has managed to do well and become the only opposition standing up to the Modi-Yogi juggernaut in UP. But despite performing comparatively well, the results showcase the limits of SP politics: The party has performed optimally. It was with this kind of performance that it got a majority of its own in 2012.
Like then, in 2022 too, the SP could bring together its M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) vote-bank, but this was not enough to dislodge Yogi. With the limits of the M-Y politics evident to voters, especially Muslims, it would be natural for the community to look elsewhere. More so with Asaduddin Owaisi looking to fish in UP’s troubled waters. Or, will it turn the BJP way to see how it works?
As history suggests, we often get the first glimpse of our future adversary at a time when we are at its peak. The AAP’s Punjab win suggests that the Arvind Kejriwal brand of politics — sleek, smart, socialistic and opportunistic — packaged in an aam aadmi lingo may be the national challenger for the BJP.
I remember one senior BJP leader close to Amit Shah telling me how concerned the then BJP president was when the AAP first came to power in Delhi. As the BJP’s chief electoral strategist, he could see the foray Kejriwal was able to make, the buzz he would create with each of his moves.
He could connect with youth; among the poor, he looked like them; among villagers, he would turn one of them. But then Kejriwal made the mistake of being too impatient and in the process, the party lost a few years in the wilderness.
The AAP is now moving slowly, with a plan. Today it got Punjab. But it’s already active in other states. For a couple of elections, it may help the BJP by dividing the Opposition votes. But within a decade, the AAP, if it plays well and with patience, could become the real opposition to the BJP.
The 2022 results, therefore, weren’t about 2024, which in the present scenario is a given for the BJP. The real battle will be in 2029, if not 2034. And my two cents for those battles will be on Yogi Adityanath and Arvind Kejriwal.
First Published: IST