The new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh

Huge blunder? Useless provocation? Strategic masterstroke?

There were different assessments of the new political situation after the BJP announcement yesterday that the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh would be Yogi Adityanath, a Hindutva hardliner known for his egregious comments on Muslim women and communal relations in general. Yogi Adityanath is known – among other things – for his call to install Ganesh idols in all mosques, an offense to Muslims. His appointment raises fears of renewed communal tensions, particularly in areas where Muslims represent a large section of the population. Adityanath hails from Gorakhpur, in the eastern part of the state, and has been elected several times at the Lok Sabha from that constituency. Adityanath is not just a BJP leader, and a member of the RSS – the paramilitary group that propagates the Hindutva agenda — he’s an unabashedly religious leader.

The delayed appointment of the CM – it took one week for the BJP leadership to make the decision – suggests that the party leadership (basically Amit Shah and Narendra Modi) were forced to negotiate with the state party leaders, and more likely, with the RSS itself, though these negotiations would probably never be revealed to the public. In all likelihood, Adityanath was not the favorite candidate of either Modi or Shah and reports that he especially flown in from Gorakhpur to Delhi to meet with Shah suggests that the party leadership had to bow down to the base. This could help explain why the party leadership did not choose a more moderate face – and there were many, including Manoj Sinha and Rajnath Singh – and yet at the same time, was able to make sure to include the appointment of two Deputy CMs, Dinesh Sharma, a former mayor of Lucknow, who is widely respected as competent, and Keshav Prasad Maurya, the state party president, more of a controversial figure, but perhaps more acceptable to the mainstream. Both Yogi Adityanath and Maurya have criminal cases pending against them, though whether they will be pursued in the future is anyone’s guess.

By appointing a very radical figure, by many accounts, one of the most controversial, the BJP may be shooting itself in the foot and could alienate many mainstream voters who were and are attracted to Modi’s development rhetoric. The BJP central leadership has its eyes set on 2019 and may only want to ensure relatively smooth governance in the state until then. Adityanath represents a very real challenge to these prospects, not to mention communal peace across the state.

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