Days before the Karnataka assembly passed the controversial anti-cattle slaughter bill last week, Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa had sent his animal husbandry minister Prabhu Chavan to Lucknow. Chavan called on Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath to learn how the latter had made the anti-cow slaughter law of 1955 more stringent.
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance, 2020, commonly known as ‘love jihad’ law, came into effect on 28 November. Nine days later, on December 7, Madhya Pradesh assembly protem speaker Rameshwar Sharma was in Lucknow to meet Adityanath to learn about UP’s law against inter-faith marriage. “I am impressed, the way Uttar Pradesh government under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath cleared the ordinance against love jihad and even acted swiftly to register its first case. I am leaving for Lucknow…to discuss the law,” Sharma told The Times of India in Bhopal before leaving.
On 1 November, a day after the UP CM had declared his intent to bring a ‘love jihad’ law, his Haryana counterpart, Manohar Lal Khattar, declared his government was also contemplating ‘legal provisions’ against it. He later formed a three-member committee to study the law implemented in UP and other states.
It’s not the first time that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministers are taking cues from Yogi Adityanath. Earlier this year, Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani instructed police officials to look into the possibility of recovering damages to public and private properties from anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protesters.
A new churn
So, what’s happening in the BJP? What has made Yogi Adityanath such an inspirational figure for his party colleagues—and a role model for BJP chief ministers? So much so that even Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Madhya Pradesh CM, who used to wear a skull cap and hold iftar parties at his residence, is trying to model himself on Adityanath.
Chouhan, a four-term CM, was known for his governance model. Why should he try to emulate a first-term CM, his UP counterpart, and send an emissary to him, Rameshwar Sharma, to get tips about legislation-making?
There are multiple reasons for this. First of all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not tire of talking about the kamaal (wonders) Adityanath has done, be it the pace of development, the Covid-19 management or improved law and order situation.
Remember the Onida TV tagline of the 1980s? ‘Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’. But it’s not envy that’s prompting BJP CMs to emulate Adityanath. For them, he is a role model who knows how to become the owner’s pride. His counterparts can’t ignore the accolades the UP CM keeps getting from the PM.
In fact, the UP CM has started setting the agenda for his counterparts. On November 24, when Modi held a virtual meeting with chief ministers over Covid-19 management after a long gap, the Adityanath cabinet cleared the draft ordinance on inter-faith marriage, stealing the thunder (read headlines) out of the Covid meet. It’s an unwritten code in the BJP and the government that when there is a big PM programme, let that dominate the political discourse on news outlets. Besides, when Modi has gone live telling the CMs not to let their guards down and maintain greater alacrity in Covid management, one wouldn’t usually expect a state administration, especially one led by the BJP, to make ‘love jihad’ its priority.
But the big question was: Did Yogi Adityanath do it without taking Modi’s consent? Could he? Other BJP CMs were obviously convinced he had the PM’s backing and so rushed to emulate it. It was not the first time though. In April, when the Centre’s lockdown guidelines prohibited movement of people within or outside a state, the Adityanath government decided to send hundreds of buses to bring back migrant labourers from other states. In fact, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar lost a lot of his political capital in an election year for refusing to bring Bihari students back from Kota in violation of the Centre’s guidelines when UP could do it. The guidelines were issued by Amit Shah-led Union home ministry but who would bell the cat? Adityanath, the UP CM, was not a political lightweight or pushover any longer; he could hold his own.
Modi No. 2
Left and liberals may cry foul over ‘police raj’, trampling of civil rights and liberties and communal politics in UP, but Yogi Adityanath has become the second most sought-after BJP campaigner after Modi— from Maharashtra to Hyderabad, West Bengal, Kerala, everywhere. He is much in demand even in Modi’s home state, Gujarat, during elections. The party’s ideological patron, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is equally happy to have discovered and developed another powerful Hindutva mascot after Modi. The PM is credited for taking the BJP to unprecedented heights in Uttar Pradesh, but within four years after becoming the CM, Adityanath has become a mass leader in his own right. He is assiduously trying to build his image as Modi No. 2, a Hindu Hriday Samrat and Vikas Purush.
He wants to make UP a trillion dollar economy so as to enable Modi to make India a $5 trillion economy. Modi doesn’t talk about it much nowadays but Yogi must prove he can. Listen to his top officials showcasing UP’s success as No. 1 investment destination.
It was in this context that Adityanath was in Mumbai recently to woo Bollywood and business big-wigs to invest in UP. There are always sceptics and political detractors who play spoilsport, asking uncomfortable questions about how much of the MoUs, signed in investors’ summit in 2018, has really fructified on the ground.
But these questions are irrelevant in a world made of perceptions and image management. Spin doctors of the Adityanath administration in Lucknow would have us believe that Modi and Yogi are becoming synonymous in UP—and outside, too, to some extent. That may or may not be the case but BJP CMs are obviously not taking any chances.
Views are personal.