Yogi Adityanath
Yogi Adityanath greets as he arrives at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) National President JP Nadda's residence, in New Delhi Image Credit: ANI

Yogi Adityanath is being sworn in as the Chief Minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh (UP) on Friday, March 25. This will be his second stint in the all-powerful position. This is his moment of glory as no other CM in the state has been able to return to power consecutively for a second term in more than 30 years.

Of course, the overarching image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi played a big role in Yogi’s victory, still, one can’t take away Yogi’s achievement of regaining power amid adversities.

The victory of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been a vote for Modi’s image and central government’s welfare programmes in UP but the vote was, also, for Yogi’s ruthless handling of law-and-order situation for which he got a lot of public support, particularly, of women voters. He has tamed UP’s bureaucracy as well.

 

Election arithmetic

 

His swearing-in ceremony has been turned into a grand show by the BJP, but it will not overshadow the serious challenges before his government.

In 2017, BJP bagged 312 seats in the state. Yogi wasn’t elected chief minister by people then — he was a nominated CM. His saffron dress was enough for BJP’s politics to play through symbolism.

After ruling the state for five years, the BJP’s presence in the assembly has shrunk by 57 seats.

Yogi’s first challenge is to understand the shrinking of seats, even though the party’s vote share has increased slightly by 1.6%.

Under Yogi’s rule, Samajwadi Party (SP) has been able to increase its vote share to record levels. It is mainly because of the dissatisfaction against the Yogi government on account of inflation and unemployment and due to a feeling of insecurity within the minority community, who got polarised in favour of SP.

During election time, a survey done by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) showed that 77% voters had considered unemployment as major issue and 80% felt prices are rising rapidly, affecting their lives.

Despite his win, economic challenge remains a serious one for Yogi. None of the big projects, including One District, One product, have been picked up in a serious way.

Sociopolitical challenges

Yogi’s sociopolitical challenges are also likely to increase. For the last two years, Yogi has been accused of Thakurwad. He was unable to maintain the delicate weaving of different castes — OBCs, Jats, Brahmin-Baniyas and Dalits — in the BJP belt.

The withdrawal of farm bills by PM Modi was a failure of the state BJP network, which was not vocal enough on ground in Western UP.

BJP’s election in-charge Dharmendra Pradhan had to do some last minute patch-up work with the caste leaders to save the day. Amit Shah kept an eye on ticket distribution to ensure that smaller castes get their share, too.

In his second innings, Yogi will have to ensure that Dalits, OBCs and extremely backward castes in UP don’t get threatened by the upper class’s dominance inside the BJP.

BJP vs SP

Yogi’s another challenge is that UP politics is getting bipolar between BJP and SP. This is disadvantage BJP.

Between 2017 and 2022 around 15% votes that did not belong to BJP or SP shifted from different parties, meaning some 15% votes were up for grabs.

Out of that 12% votes were received by SP and BJP. But it is a 80:20 divide. The SP has been successful in getting a large chunk of BSP votes and other non-BJP votes.

In spite of Yogi’s “bulldozer appeal”, SP was able to sweep key districts of Ambedkarnagar, Kaushambi, Ghazipur, Shamli and Azamgadh completely.

BJP won in 23 districts, which is a commendable feat, but in 47 out of 75 districts in UP, BJP faced a multi-corner contest and had to sweat it out for every vote.

In the last phase of election, PM Modi’s presence saved Varanasi, where BJP won all seats but the region saw a 8% increase in SP’s vote share, BJP vote share increased by just 1%.

An image problem?

Of all the challenges, Yogi’s most complex one is political — within the party. Then there is an image problem too. The CM’s reputation suffers when friends and foes alike say, “now, Yogi is number two in BJP.”

The truth is that Yogi has a long way to go before he shares a national space within the BJP. It’s a rare phenomenon in BJP’s long history that the party has got overwhelmed by PM Modi’s strong persona. Even the few leaders within party, who are critical of Modi’s massive presence, accept that there is none close to the PM’s stature at present.

Whoever wants to be number two to Modi knows that Modi style of leadership is not a rule but an exception in the Sangh pariwar politics.

He built his space within national BJP with meticulous planning. Modi wasn’t number one or two until LK Advani lost his bid for prime ministership.

Around 2013, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) nationwide survey found Modi was the most popular leader among the saffron crowd. The PM had built his all-India campaign around the Gujarat model.

Yogi is also most popular leader after Modi in UP. He has to build his national space, brick by brick, as Modi did.

But, to do so many forces need to come in play.

Modi’s playbook

Modi had to build bridges with non-BJP leaders, maintain a network with industrialists, particularly with those who were fed-up of Congress system of governance. Vibrant Gujarat was a platform offered to them.

When any analyst says that Yogi is number two to Modi, it’s not only superficial but laughable. Yogi may be powerful leader but it is still an uphill task for him.

BJP’s constitution gives overwhelming power to its Parliamentary Board. That decides almost everything which matters. BJP’s all powerful club includes PM Modi, Amit Shah, JP Nadda, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and BL Santosh.

True, Yogi has caught the voters imagination in UP but who will play which role, where, when and how (in the centre and in the states) is ratified by the Parliamentary Board, where no one comes close to Modi’s stature.

In 2014, Modi could afford to gate-crash into New Delhi as he had lobbied within the Board while sitting in Gandhinagar. Yogi hasn’t even gotten started within the party forum to become a national leader.

May be one day he could be the most powerful BJP leader but to get there, the walk is a very long one.