24 March 2017 15:47:51 IST

A long-time ‘deskie’, Baskar has spent much of his journalism career on the editorial desk. A keen follower of economic and political matters, he likes to view economic issues from a political economy lens as he believes the economic structure of a society is deeply embedded in its political and social ethos. Apart from writing the PolitEco column for BLoC, Baskar writes book reviews and articles on politics, economics and sports for the BL web edition. Reading and watching films are his other interests, though the choice of books and films are rather eclectic.  A keen follower of sports, especially his beloved Tottenham Hotspur FC, Baskar is an avid long-distance runner.  He hopes to learn music some day!

The Yogi as Chief Minister

By making Adityanath CM, the BJP signals that its political ideology and development agenda can be aligned

Yogi Adityanath’s anointment as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh last week took most political commentators by surprise. Though his name was always on the shortlist, most of us had predicted that the Modi-Shah duo would go for a moderate candidate, preferably from the backward class, to deliver on the ‘Sab Ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas’ pledge. But by pulling the Yogi out of the hat, this duo had even the pundits stumped.

Given his controversial past as a Hindutva rabble-rouser, Adityanath’s ascension drew howls of protest from across the political spectrum, not just from the much derided Left-Liberals. For them this was another nail in coffin of the ‘Idea of India’. And their fears are not unfounded. In a long drawn out, seven-phase UP election, in which the BJP skilfully seasoned the development rhetoric with a dollop of Hindutva ideology, choosing an uncompromising Hindutva leader as Chief Minister sends a loud and clear message — that the BJP finds no contradiction between its core political ideology and its development agenda.

Endorsement of policies

There are some other interesting reasons why the Yogi was chosen, as speculated by some commentators. In the thumping victory in UP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sees a loud and ringing endorsement of his controversial demonetisation exercise. The UP victory has not only given Modi ample ammunition to go after critics of the note ban, it has also established him as the biggest crusader against corruption and black money in the political spectrum.

It also provides a ‘native’ twist to the demonetisation debate, given that its critics largely belonged to the ‘technocratic elite’; there was hardly any economist, with the exception of Jagdish Bhagwati, who supported this move. Modi’s ‘Harvard vs hardwork’ jibe during the election campaign begins to make sense when looked at through this lens. It is an instance of the ‘humble native’ cocking a snook at the western-educated ‘expert’.

It is here that the Yogi’s anointment fits into the narrative. Given that Adityanath is a monk from a well-known Shaivite order in Gorakhpur, his personal probity is beyond doubt and his asceticism will be seen as a shield against corruption and money power. And in the context of demonetisation, this will only further burnish Modi’s image as a cleanser of the political morass. No other BJP politician from UP would have been able to provide this kind of narrative to the Modi-Shah duo as well as the nation. Of course, that Adityanath is a five-time Member of Parliament with a mass following in eastern UP would not have hurt his chances.

Incendiary past

His lack of administrative experience need not be a disadvantage, as noted by some commentators. There are several politicians who came without administrative experience and learnt on the job — Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee are just two who come to mind.

But, as social scientist Shiv Vishwanathan notes in his recent column, given Adityanath’s incendiary past — his comments have, on occasion, even embarrassed the BJP — his pledge to improve law and order in UP has an ironic ring to it. No one is questioning the State’s objective of making public spaces safe for women and ending their harassment, but there are already murmurs about ‘anti-Romeo’ brigades descending into moral policing.

It is on the economic front, however, that the Yogi will have his hands full.

Development model

Uttar Pradesh is a deeply divided State with the Western part being more prosperous and developed than the eastern regions. Western UP is more fertile and the agriculturists there took advantage of the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, improved their economic well-being and also emerged as an important political bloc. Industrially too, western UP is miles ahead of the eastern part with clusters of small-scale industries. Noida and Ghaziabad have always benefited from being part of the National Capital Region.

Adityanath’s political base is eastern UP though he was not born there. The Yogi’s real challenge on the economic front will be to bridge the gap between the eastern and western parts of the State. A bigger challenge will be to improve UP’s abysmal social indices. Will the Yogi be able to successfully implement the ‘Gujarat model’ of development, as hoped by the Modi-Shah duo? It will be interesting to see how he goes about it.