I was thousands of miles away from home, more concerned about Donald Trump’s radioactive visa policies than the various state elections in India. Of course, as a politically conscious person, I was keeping one ear on the results, but no amount of preparation readied me for the news that tore through my eardrums from across the seven seas.
Uttar Pradesh had elected a new chief minister. And his name was Yogi Adityanath.
Er… Yogi Whatnath? Adityanath, with the letter A, to mark the grade of Hindu nationalism he belongs to; fiery, divisive, anti-Muslim, jingoistic; basically, the kind that catapults you into the most controversial sort of limelight on the national news.
Before we go any further, it is important to know a few basic things about this man, who has never been seen before on the mainland of the political map of UP. Here are some simple facts:
- Adityanath belongs to that tradition of Hindutva, which was responsible for the capture of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1949. His political roots can be traced back to Mahant Digvijay Nath, who was one of the first leaders of this movement that eventually became a huge political issue and ultimately culminated in the demolition of the mosque in 1992.
- In 2005, he led a purification drive to convert Christians to Hinduism.He reportedly had 1,800 Christians converted in the town of Etah in UP. He also gave a statement in which he said:- “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu rashtra (Hindu state).”
- He founded the group ‘Hindu Yuva Vahini’ (Hindu Youth Force) which was charged by the police for its active involvement in the Mau communal riots in October 2005. 14 people were reported dead, amidst the loss of crores of rupees worth of public and private property. The Hindu Yuva Vahini was allegedly in the thick of things and had committed acts of arson, looting, and hate mongering. A large number of schools, hospitals, businesses, and homes belonging to Muslims were reduced to ashes. It should be noted that Mau has always been a sensitive town and is largely populated by Muslims from the weaver community.
- In a video that surfaced on YouTube in August 2014, Adityanath is seen linking religious conversions with inter-faith marriages. He is heard saying:-“if they take one Hindu girl, we will take 100 Muslims girls.”
- In March 2015, a video went viral on social media in which a supporter of Yogi Adityanath is seen giving a speech urging Hindus to dig up corpses of Muslim women and rape them. Adityanath was present on the stage while the speaker was addressing the audience.
- Adityanath has praised Donald Trump for his immigration ban on seven Muslim-majority countries and he has been known to endorse similar policies in India.
- He has a history of strained relations with the BJP, despite his very active involvement in its electoral practices. With the growth of his exclusive support base in Eastern UP, he has been clamoring for greater control and a larger role. This has caused numerous conflicts between him and the party brass in the last 10 years.
I do not support the BJP. But that is a matter of political dissent, a healthy feature of any democracy. My problems with Adityanath’s victory go far beyond the political. There is a difference between being a politician and being a sociopath. I am not sure if the line between the two is significantly clear when it comes to this man, whose appalling statements say much about his character.
I shudder to think what his leadership style would be like in a state like UP, where communal tensions have been an issue for the longest time. I was too young when the state burned under the shadow of the riots in Ayodhya, but its aftershocks followed us well into the new millennium. And while Mayawati of the BSP was not an ideal leader, she brought changes to UP that were for once, positive, progressive, and devoid of the communalism that had blighted the state’s future since 1992.
In order to understand what Adityanath’s chief ministership means, it is important to understand the political landscape of UP.
Identity politics in UP is often a function of two types of identities; the caste based, and the religious. Often, there is much overlap between the two, simply because the kind of Hindutva Adityanath propagates, is a subsidiary of the superiority complex that many members of the Hindu upper-caste suffer from.
Secondly, it is no secret that a large number of converted Christians and Muslims have ancestry in the lowest hierarchical levels (also called dalits) of Hinduism’s ancient and infamous caste system. A large number of people changed their religion generations ago, often to escape the persecution they faced due to their position in the society, which was carved in stone at birth.
Such persecution came in ugly forms like the pouring of melted glass into the ears of dalits, untouchability, violently enforced slave labor, ghettoisation, and delegation of some of the nastiest tasks one could be forced to perform (such as cleaning toilets by hand, clearing decaying carcasses of dead cattle by hand, and manually carrying basket loads of human excrement for disposal) to the dalits.
Unfortunately, the undercurrents of these tensions have remained, perhaps because back in the day, connotations of caste were not only religious but also socio-economic. And cross-generational poverty affected by an underlying social trauma would not smooth itself out without external efforts. The fact that UP continues to see clashes between religious and caste groups is proof of this analysis.
One would assume that the best way to approach the problem would be through secular leadership focused on an agenda of economic welfare, infrastructural development, and maintenance of law and order.
How does then one react to someone like Yogi Adityanath, whose track record proves that the above concerns would be entirely trivial to him, particularly in the light of the one cause he has supported for decades.
And what do you do when that cause is the very root of the problem, to begin with?
I have only questions and frustrations. The answers will come to us in five years, one way or the other.
Note: Featured Image taken from Excelsiorindia.com