With the inauguration of Rs 970-crore Central Vista in the middle of a pandemic, and a struggling economy that recorded a -23.9 per cent GDP growth in the first quarter of FY21, India has officially entered the twilight zone — where lines are blurring between reality and a nightmarish lucid dream. And within this blurring, India’s power circle is seeing a new development, which was spoken of in 2017. Albeit not enough. Twin power centers are legendary in politics. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani were the famous ‘jugalbandi’ once, with the latter always being the PM-in-waiting. Now, Narendra Modi-Amit Shah are the reigning duopoly. But soon, another may emerge. Indian politics may be getting ready for a new powerplay — Modi vs Yogi.
Last week, images were flooded on social media of India’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) sitting with the Prime Monk of India — Yogi Adityanath. CDS General Bipin Rawat chose to be the chief guest at the annual day of Maharana Pratap Inter College in Gorakhpur, instead of being with his colleagues for the Navy Day celebrations, which he himself has attended nine times before as the Chief of Army Staff. General Rawat chose to attend the function of an institution run by a quasi-political and religious organisation — the Gorakhnath Math — over the Navy Day. As a matter of principle, such a move will be a big ‘no no’ for anyone from the forces. But we are in the twilight zone, remember?
General Rawat’s presence at the Gorakhpur event can be passed off as completely harmless. But let’s juxtapose it with how our Prime Minister goes out of his way to make the armed forces his priority.
Modi is aware that Hindutva and the armed forces are his lucky talismans. The 2019 Lok Sabha election was won by Narendra Modi primarily because he rode on the wave of ‘nationalism’ created by the Indian Air Force after the Balakot airstrikes in Pakistan. Which is why, on 7 December, just three days after the conspicuous absence of CDS Rawat from the Navy Day event, our mask-less Prime Minister promptly turned up on the Armed Forces Flag Day to honour our soldiers. All of this still seems harmless, but only till you try connecting the dots. And the dots circle two places. Delhi and Lucknow.
The Lucknow pull
It seems as if an equally powerful political clique is developing in Uttar Pradesh where many important people flock to these days. And you wonder if a parallel power centre is running in Lucknow. The corollary to that will be — is there a parallel power centre emerging in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? Think about it, if you’re hearing the echoes of ‘Modi hai toh mumkin hai’, the cries of ‘Yogi hai toh yakeen hai’ are not far behind.
Consider this in the realm of conjecture but a Modi vs Yogi is clearly emerging in the political horizon of India.
During the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, not many people expected Yogi to be chosen as the chief minister, because neither was he used as a “star campaigner” in the state nor was he projected as the CM face. In fact, most had expected then Union Minister of State for telecom Manoj Sinha, who was also rumoured to be Modi’s first choice, to take the CM’s chair. Political commentators are also of the opinion that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was instrumental in propping Yogi against Modi to make it clear that no one was indispensable or above the organisation. Not even Modi. And that is proving to be true.
Yogi Adityanath is the only leader from the BJP who can stand on his own, without having to be under the shadow of Narendra Modi or Amit Shah. If Akshay Kumar tried to get cosy with the Prime Minister by taking his interview, he also sought Yogi’s blessings and permission to shoot in Ayodhya for his upcoming film Ram Setu. And it doesn’t stop here. If Bollywood shared a selfie with PM Modi, Yogi Adityanath is also well on his way to gather tinsel town stars by his side. It’s all an exercise to make a personality cult, much like Modi who has aced this game. Big Bollywood producers and directors like Subhash Ghai, Boney Kapoor, Rajkumar Santoshi, Sudhir Mishra, Ramesh Sippy, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Madhur Bhandarkar, Bhushan Kumar and Siddharth Roy Kapur, along with actors Arjun Rampal and Ravi Kishan, recently met Yogi in Mumbai to discuss the film city that is upcoming up Uttar Pradesh.
Modi creating space
In his second term, PM Modi has tried to distance himself as the hardliner majoritarian leader. Instead of the tilak-donning leader, Modi is now seen feeding peacocks and parrots, wearing pastels and trying too hard to turn himself into an iconoclast who is whimsical and philosophical. Yogi, however, is the cookie-cutter Hindutva propagating icon. His presence alongside Modi during the Ram Temple bhumi pujan was telling. Besides Modi, the only two significant political entities present there were the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and the UP chief minister himself. Even Amit Shah was conspicuously absent from this historic moment that would be etched forever in the minds of a ‘devout’ Hindu — an emotive moment that would fetch many votes in decades to come.
Yogi is never staying too far behind to fill the gaping holes in his personality that may make him seem lesser than Modi.
Just like Modi, Yogi too is building the no-strings-attached version of himself. A brahmachari, the UP chief minister went as far as not to attend the funeral of his father who he in a letter called his “purvashram ke janmadata” or father of the ‘former world’ before Yogi had taken sanyas. Yogi carried on with his official duty of the chief minister on the day his father died as he was duty bound by his ‘Rajdharma’ and did not want to violate the Covid-19 lockdown.
A fan base of his own
It’s also quite alarming that some BJP members refer to Yogi Adityanath as “Maharaj ji” as can be seen in a blog posted by BJP’s former Rajya Sabha MP Tarun Vijay who believes that Yogi has set an “impossible standard of idealism by a public leader”. In fact, he was upset that his greatness was not shown enough by the media.
Yogi Adityanath also has a fan following in the government. Ajit Doval didn’t shy away from heaping praise on him for keeping law and order in Uttar Pradesh top notch after the Ayodhya verdict of the Supreme Court. That’s another thing that it was PM Modi who had appealed for calm after the verdict.
It’s only poetic to think of Modi vs Yogi as The Fakeer vs The Yogi. 2021 to 2024 will be the interlude where these two power centres will either emerge more obviously or a peaceful middle-ground will be negotiated. What will be interesting to see is if Amit Shah will be the collateral damage in this game of thrones.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal. Views are personal.