When his name was announced for the post of chief minister of Uttar Pradesh on March 19, Adityanath was seen by many as a “mini Modi”, who might one day even make it to the prime minister’s post. He was cast in the same mould: a Hindu hawk to follow Modi, the current “Hindu hridaya samrat” after Bal Thackeray – someone with a clean image, who was selling dreams and dishing out promises of change. Adityanath was also known for his tough – at times rough and ready – ways, in addition to being a sanyasi who had run a “math”. He was also someone who, without a family in tow (against the backdrop of the Yadav dynasty coming in for increasing criticism), enjoyed a mass following in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
And he was 20 years younger than Modi.
The media went to town with its projections of him, even detailing when he wakes up and how he does not have breakfast without feeding the cows, describing the “scorching” pace he set, “hitting the ground running”. He was soon in the headlines with his ban on paan and gutka in offices, constituting anti-Romeo squads ostensibly to crack down on eve-teasing (though this went awry early on, with even young couples being hauled up by the police), asking his ministers to declare their assets and devote two hours a week on cleanliness efforts, telling them not to interfere in the transfer of officials, on which he had the prime minister’s backing. What is more, he got every ministry to make detailed power point presentations on the tasks ahead, often getting other ministers to be present as the targets required inter-ministerial coordination. Adityanath gave the impression of being a chief minister raring to go.
He also announced the Rs 36,000 crore loan waiver for small and marginal farmers, and shut down illegal slaughter houses – two important promises made in the Bharatiya Janata Party manifesto for Uttar Pradesh. Both had their flip side.
The loan waiver was bound to affect the state finances and thus the development schemes, particularly for health and education, though this is not officially acknowledged. There is a virtual “sannata” in these ministries, as a party insider put it, using the Hindi word for silence.
The loss of jobs, caused by the closure of slaughterhouses, is being felt not just by the Muslims, though they do not constitute the BJP’s vote bank, but also by Dalits, who too have lost their livelihoods. And the Dalits do form a very important catchment area for the BJP if it is to return to power in 2019. The Saharanpur violence against them in May did nothing to reassure them.
Six months into office, somewhere Adityanath appears to have lost steam.
Undoubtedly, six months is a short period to deliver results in a state like Uttar Pradesh, known for its set and stagnant ways, resistant to change at the political, bureaucratic and even at the popular levels.
A telling commentary of the difficulties Adityanath has run into is the White Paper released by him on Monday, September 18, about his six months in office. It is more about the misdemeanours of the previous governments – how they left empty coffers, public sector undertakings in a “dismal” state, farmers distressed, a climbing crime graph, rampant corruption – than about what his government has done to address the problems.
The one area where there seems to have been a visible toughening of the Uttar Pradesh government’s stand in the last couple of months is in stemming a deteriorating law and order situation. The police has moved in a concerted way against alleged gangsters and killed them in encounters in the last weeks (420 encounters, 15 gangsters killed, 1106 injured).
The biggest blot on Adityanath’s first six months stint, however, is the child deaths in the BRD Hospital in Gorakhpur, which he represented in the Lok Sabha for five terms. And the irony of it all is that every year Adityanath would raise this issue in Parliament, demanding action. These are deaths that take place more in the monsoon – their number has decreased over the years – due to Japanese encephalitis, diarrhoea and pneumonia. But the underlying reasons for the children succumbing to these diseases is undoubtedly widespread malnutrition, and undernutrition amongst women.
However, this time, there was the switching off of the oxygen supply (because of unpaid bills) to children, which made the deaths controversial, particularly with Gorakhpur being the chief minister’s constituency,
It was not just the number of deaths that was shocking. Equally disappointing was the response of the government. The government appeared not to have moved swiftly, for instance, to ensure the immediate restoration of oxygen supply (interrupted because of non-payment of dues), which could have saved lives of other children – and they represent the most vulnerable and voiceless of society. Instead, what followed was a tedious blame game. As for the one of the wider causes of the deaths, child malnutrition, the government’s white paper makes a two-line reference to the panjeeri not reaching the anganwadi centres.
Like Modi, Adityanath has also sold dreams to people, which a leader has to do, laying out a vision. But Adityanath does not have the team – and the money – to deliver on the plethora of promises he has made. He made many a promise – 50,000 houses in two months, 1.55 crore toilets by October next year, and claimed to have constructed 10 lakh toilets in the last 6 months; 1.25 lakh kms of roads freed of pot-holes in two months; and 24-hour power supply to district headquarters (whereas Lucknow is already experiencing undeclared power cuts).
As a result, restlessness is growing in Uttar Pradesh, and people have begun to question the mismatch between the promise and the reality, thanks to the expectations which have been aroused, and may need to be tempered with a realistic roll out of a plan, a strategy and allocation of funds.
Like Modi, what seems to be working for Adityanath is the disarray in the Opposition camp. Though Mayawati in Meerut kicked off her plan for statewide rallies, the Opposition for the most part has been in hibernation. No concrete steps have been taken by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to come together to pose a threat to the BJP in 2019.
Unlike Modi, who won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in his name and has gone on to win successive state elections, creating an air of invincibility about him, Adityanath did not lead the poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh and was chosen as the chief minister afterwards.
Adityanath was also saddled with two deputy chief ministers, which took away from his authority. Like his two deputies, Adityanath chose to come into the state assembly through the Legislative Council route – he took oath as a member of the Legislative Council on Monday, instead of fighting a popular election, which would have added to his stature.
The unique selling proposition of Adityanath, and one of the reasons why he was installed on the Lucknow gaddi, however, remains his perceived ability to polarise public opinion on Hindu-Muslim lines, be it via cow vigilantes, anti-Romeo squads, or the promise of a change in school syllabus, or something else. It is a tried and tested method used by the BJP to garner votes, which it can be expected to do again in 2019. But when he took over, and despite his track record, the people of Uttar Pradesh expected – and still expect – Adityanath to do more than that.