While a fragmented secular opposition in India is still groping in the dark, unable to reap the political capital from the mistakes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government, it appears that Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set for a third term in office in 2024 general elections.
But a question that is being fiercely debated and analyzed is: who will take command of the country after the next general elections? The question has become pertinent as the parent organization of Hindu nationalists Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is in no mood to allow Modi to continue for the third term.
It is unfortunate that the opposition has not been able to bring its act together to corner the Modi government on crucial issues like the pandemic, yearlong farmers’ protests on the borders of Delhi or economic sufferings of the people.
A section within the RSS is not keen on Modi’s next term and it does not get along well with his right-hand man, Home Minister Amit Shah who is hoping to step into the prime minister’s shoes.
Within the BJP, there is an intense struggle between Gujarati and Uttar Pradesh (UP) lobbies. Both Modi and Shah belonged to Gujarat. While Modi has somehow cast himself as a representative of UP by contesting elections from this state, it will not be possible for the UP to extend such largesse to Shah.
Highly placed sources within the BJP and other Hindu nationalist organizations confided to The Friday Times that the die has been cast in favour of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, provided he leads the party to victory in the state assembly election scheduled early next year.
Over the past eight years, while Modi-Shah due has successfully sidelined or downsized many top BJP leaders. Adityanath is the only one who has developed his constituency and has emerged as a public leader like Modi. Over the last one year, Modi shuffled many chief ministers and brought new faces lest they become too big but Adityanath is the only one whom he was unable to touch, despite the state’s failures on various fronts.
“The centre may dislike Yogi. But the fact is that he is the next popular face in the party after Modi. Yogi has been a star campaigner for poll rallies across the country,” said a senior BJP functionary close to Yogi.
Yogi is the only BJP leader to have his hoardings and banners all over the country from Delhi to Kerala
So much so that Yogi, who belongs to the Hindi heartland, campaigned for the BJP in non-Hindi speaking states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala and the northeast.
What is interesting is that in the current political atmosphere, the credit for every government achievement is given to the prime minister. Other ministers refrain from using their photographs on any publicity material. But Yogi has towed a unique path. As of date, he is the only BJP leader to have his hoardings and banners all over the country from Delhi to Kerala.
A senior journalist covering the BJP observes, “In the past seven years, we have never seen any leader except for the prime minister having so many hoardings across Lutyens’ Delhi.” Lutyens Bungalow zone comprises the VVIP area in Delhi, which houses all the parliamentarians, bureaucrats and even senior members of the judiciary.
Yogi And The RSS
Yogi has not been a part of the RSS cadre. But he continues to enjoy their support, for he is the most appropriate candidate to fulfil their Hindutva agenda. “He wears saffron, fulfils the divisive religious and political agendas and has the support of the saint sadhu and the maths (monk dynasty). Like the RSS, he has his own Hindu Vahini, whose cadre is spread across the state of Uttar Pradesh and beyond. He can incite a mob. And all of this suits the RSS,” explained an RSS functionary.
Yogi was not a national figure before he became the chief minister. He was just a head of Gorakhnath Math and Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur. To the surprise of everyone, including senior BJP leaders, he was picked up by the RSS-BJP to lead the state, which has 80 parliamentary seats, the highest in India.
Political trends suggest that whichever party wins the Uttar Pradesh state election forms the government at the centre. The state of Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls next year, a year ahead of the general elections.
Irrespective of whichever party comes to power, Uttar Pradesh has always had law and order crises. Every political party has its goons, who thrive when their party comes to power.
Yogi’s term has been no different. “On the outside, it appears that the law and order situation is under control. But look inside and you will find that the government and its agents have taken the law in their hands,” said a disgruntled member of the state legislative assembly. “Young boys and girls are lynched and harassed in the name of love jihad. The government itself has been engaged in several encounters. Yogi is fearless and does not care about any opinion.”
And for the RSS, Yogi is by far the best alternative to Modi.
For now, Yogi does not want to shed his hardcore saffron-clad Hindu image. But observers feel that gradually he has started picking up threads from Modi’s stint as Gujarat chief minister. He is looking for corporate support and has held investors summit in his state. He is started engaging and interacting with the student community. A close aide of Adityanath who has seen generations change in politics observes, “Modi today is very different from Modi of 2001. The way he looked, the clothes he wore and the aura he carried all have changed. Any leader with potential can be groomed and undergo an image makeover to suit both domestic and global commitments.”
Moreover, Modi, who is already 71 years old, may retire at the age of 75 and move on to the Marg Darskah Mandal (the vision committee that he created to make an exit plan for veteran leaders including LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi). This exit will come after the next elections. The murmurs in the BJP are that, if voted again, Modi might retire midterm on attaining the age of 75. There will be a need for the party to find his replacement.
Farmers’ Agitation – The Litmus Test
The biggest challenge facing Yogi is the farmers’ agitation. Along with the Punjab, the farmers of Uttar Pradesh are leading the movement. For the BJP, they stand as the biggest challenge. And as Uttar Pradesh goes to polls next year, the BJP that does not want to relent to the farmers’ demands, polarising the votes.
If the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and the polarisation of votes gives the BJP electoral success in Uttar Pradesh, not only will the farmers protest become irrelevant, but the road to the throne of Delhi will be open for Yogi.