Like most, I too was hugely surprised at Yogi Adityanath's appointment as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
I had erred on two counts: the interpretation of the massive mandate from the perspective of the BJP/RSS combine, and the extent of PM Modi's penchant for raising the stakes whilst disrupting entrenched structures which prevent India from realising its destiny – more so post the perceived political success of the demonetisation gamble after the recent elections.
Scrutinise How Adityanath Upholds Constitutional Obligations
The BJP had to choose between the two competing narratives whilst interpreting the landslide victory: the irrelevance of minority vote banks in deciding electoral outcomes in the context of Amit Shah’s ingenious social engineering initiatives VS a vote for development in India’s most backward state.
Both perfectly legitimate interpretations after the earlier hype of commentators that Muslims voted heavily for the BJP were proven to be incorrect. With Yogi's selection, BJP has unequivocally chosen the former interpretation – an undeniable, legitimate right of the political leadership.
However, what is relevant now is to scrutinise how the new CM upholds his constitutional obligations in the interest of all the citizens of Uttar Pradesh.
Obviously it starts the process with a huge handicap given the history, but that is precisely the opportunity too. No bad news will be good news!
Furthermore, given his advantage of age, it is highly unlikely that Yogi would be short-sighted enough to jettison the big personal opportunity which beckons him after a decade if he can make UP a success – a success that will come only by assimilating society, not by dividing it.
Dismantling the Policy of Appeasement of Minorities
As far as development is concerned, the Prime Minister’s oversight it is almost a given and UP will witness a slew of carefully coordinated measures to propagate the PM's ever-appealing plank of inclusive growth and opportunity creation for all.
So, why did BJP prioritise one interpretation over the other, and why Yogi?
To my mind, this was to firmly dismantle the entrenched policy of appeasement of a section of minorities by the Congress and other parties, which gathered momentum post the Lok Sabha legislation to overturn the Shah Bano judgement of the Supreme Court in 1984 to placate a particular community.
The current divisive politics of identity and sub-nationalism started from that era. Both the polity and political discourse have deteriorated manifold since then, with the advent of mobs across the spectrum putting the pressure of numbers to circumvent the rule of law and institutions.
The aggressive assertion of sub-nationalism in its various forms and derivatives –linguistic, regional, caste – has only splintered the nation further as more and more parties adapted this model to garner votes.
BJP’s Strategy to Unite the Fragmented Majority
Starting from VP Singh's imprudent, and politically opportunistic, acceptance of the Mandal Commission report in late 80s, such divisive thinking has come to rule the centrestage of political activity, espousing the cause of assertive sub-nationalism to express deep resentment at national institutions and garner votes.
The core reasons giving impetus to this in what is essentially a pluralistic, multicultural polity in India is for the political leadership and academics to ponder over.
The current BJP strategy is primarily a political response to this dangerous trend. It has used religion to unite the fragmented majority and call the bluff of all parties who have used the above devious stratagem consistently over the years.
Whilst this is identity politics too, in my opinion, the associated risks may well be worth it, provided this can be used to reverse the spiraling trend of splintering the polity through “positive leadership” and thus calling the bluff of all self-serving parties.
The operative words are “positive leadership”, which in my vocabulary implies upholding the Constitution and the principles of secularism in spirit and content. It must also include a strict, clean and fair administration to ensure that right-wing mobs do not hold sway and the minorities feel safe. Though that feeling will emerge only with the passage of time, a lá Gujarat post the Godhra riots.
Yogi Will Need to Build Harmony in Environment of Vitriolic Politics
Lingering, highly divisive issues like the Ram Temple will almost certainly be resolved now and in my view, given the current state of play, realpolitik will drive the Muslim community to seek a peaceful solution with the Government, thus sparing the SC of the need to decide on this thorny issue.
What better way to promote goodwill between the communities than this?
Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is worthwhile to reflect on the implications of the UP Waqf Board, the main petitioner representing the community in the SC, being now under the direct control of Yogi.
In this backdrop, Yogi's personality fits perfectly into the leadership matrix necessary to manage this radical transformation and the difficult political objective of building harmony in an environment vitiated by three decades of vitriolic politics.
If this Gordian Knot of Indian politics can be cut, whilst ensuring development and safety of minorities, Modi's biggest gamble would have paid off.
Given his penchant for pulling off big gambits whilst disrupting the status quo, I am choosing to view this majority verdict, and Yogi's controversial appointment, in the positive light of a reverse social reengineering experiment without majoritarianism overtones and with the hope of rebuilding the harmonious society India has traditionally been known for.
(Prabal Basu Roy is a Sloan Fellow from the London Business School and a Chartered Accountant. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)