181210 Yogi Adityanath
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has helmed the Brand UP project, which is now holding roadshows to attract investment. Image Credit: Supplied

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Hindutva firebrand Yogi Adityanath, 50, has a new avatar. Yogi is turning into a development man. The full-blown makeover first reported by me for Gulf News is proceeding apace.

Brand UP is now open and ready for business, according to the Yogi government. Full-page adverts in all national newspapers proclaim: “Welcome to New India’s growth engine”. It goes on to describe the Brand UP as “express Pradesh”, boasting of six expressways and a single window portal — “Nivesh Mitra” (investment friend).

UP is holding roadshows for investment and growth in Gujarat and Karnataka, states which attract a huge slice of the investment pie. Holding the roadshow in Gujarat is not a coincidence. Yogi wants to ensure that his political career follows the trajectory of another “Vikas purush” — Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Roadshow in the US

Sources in the UP government told me that Yogi is waiting for political clearance from the Prime Minister’s Office to lead an investment roadshow to the United States of America. Yogi has already made a highly publicised visit to Mumbai, where he met top industrialists, including Mukesh Ambani, on January 5 and asked for investment and job creation in UP, showcasing a basket of goodies like subsidies and uninterrupted water and electricity for industrial setups.

Yogi wants to turn Noida, where most national news channels are located, into a second hub of Bollywood. After a meeting with boldface Bollywood actors, a beaming Yogi offered a host of concessions, including subsided land to set up studios and sets. It was at the January 6 meeting that actor Suniel Shetty pleaded with Yogi to intercede and stop the vilification of Bollywood. Yogi said he would do his best. Consider how far Yogi has come when in his earlier avatar in 2015, he attacked superstar Shah Rukh Khan as a “terrorist” when the actor called out “extreme intolerance” in India.

Then Yogi was the Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur. Now he is the second-term chief minister of UP. Yogi has realised the importance of creating jobs in a climate of rampant unemployment. UP may be the country’s most important political state with 80 Lok Sabha seats, but it remains one of India’s most backward states, especially on social indicators like health and education. The second vicious Covid-19 wave exposed the catastrophic state of healthcare in UP, with bodies floating on the Ganga.

Yogi Adityanath
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (left) at the BJP National Executive Meeting in New Delhi on January 16, 2023. Union ministers Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and others are also seen. If the BJP wins big from UP in the 2024 general elections, Yogi will be the second most important leader in the party. Image Credit: ANI

Yogi has huge political ambitions and has age on his side. His performance in UP is critical for the BJP to win a historic third term at the centre. Yogi is clear that if the BJP wins big from UP, he will be the second most important leader in the party. Already the BJP uses Yogi as a star campaigner across India.

Brand Yogi already comes freighted with the Hindutva strong man on steroids. Yogi has nothing to prove to his voters, so he is now happy to be seen as the monk who transformed UP into a developed state. A senior official who is part of the Brand UP roadshows says, “Maharaj has shown he is as comfortable in a boardroom seeking investments as he is in his Goraknath mutt leading puja. You people in the media should help us get investments for UP”.

The transformation of UP into a developed state would indeed be a historic achievement if Yogi can pull it off. And, if it incidentally accrues benefit to Brand Yogi, why not. We need more leaders competing in the development sweepstakes.