In the December of 2016, even Yogi Adityanath wouldn’t have imagined the kind of power and popularity he would acquire in three months before the Bharatiya Janata Party went on to register a thumping victory in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Before he was chosen as the surprise pick by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, Adityanath was just seen as one of the many star pracharaks of the party in the state who were best seen as the Hindu fringe but provided ammo to keep the campaign going. Neither was Adityanath as popular as he is now, nor significant outside Gorakhpur, where he is the head priest of religiously significant Gorakhdham mutt. In fact, Despite being a fiveptime Member of parliament, the BJP never gave Adityanath a cabinet berth or any signifcant position in the national or state organisation.
Then why, how and when did the party realise that the saffron-clad politician with several criminal cases against him can be the asset who will not only handle the responsibility of heading Uttar Pradesh, but will also be used wherever the BJP fights elections to push its religious political agenda.
Adityanath was first experimented in Gujarat elections where he ran a relatively short campaign of three days. Adityanath’s campaign was visibly important for the BJP. So much so, that the Uttar Pradesh CM chose to campaign despite a natural calamity in his home state. For three days, Adityanath was tacticaly deployed in the state where he campaigned in areas which had a higher population of non-Gujarati speaking migrants. The saffron robed monk was seen telling people how Rahul Gandhi once sat in Namaz-like position in a temple in Varanasi and how the Congress disrespeted Gujarat’s son Sardar Patel multiple time. If Gujarat was a teaser, Karnataka was a trailer before the matinee release.
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In religiously significant Karnataka, Congress’s CM and top face Siddaramaiah spotted the challenge in advance as he took out time to attack the UP chief minister well before he could land in the state for a campaign. This was the time when BJP had embarrassing losses in UP bypolls which included Adityanath’s constituency of Gorakhpur. The Congress CM advised Adityanath to focus on his home state and spend less time in Karnataka. On the other hand, the priest turned politician figured out a beautiful link between the Gorakhdham mutt he heads, and the Lingayat mutt in Karnataka and sought votes on the same basis.
As the election results were out, it emerged that BJP didn’t lose its Lingayat vote bank despite Congress’ best efforts. The saffron party also scored well in the areas where Adityanth had campaigned in Gujarat. There may be no data available to accurately ascertain the actual impact of the Yogi Adityanath factor on the poll outcome, but the swing was positive in the areas he campaigned. If Gujarat and Karnataka were the teaser and trailer, the BJP released its complete Adityanath show in five state Assembly elections, that are being held before the big battle of Lok Sabha 2019.
The BJP knows that it is facing multiple perception threats and anti-incumbency in states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Caste and religion have always played a significant role in elections, factors that have decided poll outcomes on more occasions than one. The BJP, taking cue from Gujarat and Karnataka, has banked big on Adityanath this time, deploying him in all five states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana. Adityanath too, campaigning as the top Hindutva face of the party, is trying his best to meet the purpose by making speeches full of sensational claims enough to make frontpage headlines.
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The monk’s statements like “Hanuman was a Dalit”, “Hyderabad will be renamed as Bhagyanagar”, “Congress is the biggest hurdle in Ram Temple construction” and “Owaisi will have to leave Hyderabad” have dominated TV debates, Google search trends and ruled front and election pages of newspapers. A look at tone of the exact statements give a clearer picture, at a rally in Rajasthan’s Alwar, Adityanath had reportedly said, “Hanuman was a forest dweller, deprived and a Dalit. Bajrang Bali worked to connect all Indian communities together, from north to south and east to west”. In Telangana’s Hyderabad, Adityanath sought votes against promise to rename the city, “If you are keen to rename Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar, then vote for BJP.” In another rally in Hyderabad, he said that sitting MP Assaduddin Owaisi will have to flee the city if BJP is voted to pwer, “If BJP forms the government in Telangana, Owaisi will have to run away from Hyderabad just like the Nizam did.”
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister is undoubtedly going to continue his campaign for 2019 Lok Sabha. With a silent Modi and noisy Amit Shah, it is now clear that Ram Temple will be again made a big issue by the Bharatiya Janata Party before the 2019 elections. Modi, the prime minister, is unlikely to lead the temple campaign due to the boundaries of the position he holds. Here again, the party will need a face. Who better than Adityanath?