Adityanath: Modi pulls a fast one on his “moderate” supporters and now they have nowhere to hide

Quartz india
Quartz india

Narendra Modi’s “moderate” supporters may well be looking for dark holes to disappear into now.

The prime minister, a long-time member of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh before he dived into electoral politics, has, in recent years, garnered quite a following among those who neither believe in such nationalism or religiosity. They rooted for his modern, tech-savvy, and development-oriented image.

Essentially, Modi’s fan-following can be divided into:

  • those whose one-point agenda is Hindu dominance; the hardcore extremists or Hindutva proponents;
  • the purely development-oriented, who, perhaps, even find identity politics distasteful;
  • those seeking material progress as well as Hindu dominance;
  • the pseudo-moderates—development and modernity are merely masks for their religious nationalism.

Last weekend, Modi left the moderates red-faced and pseudo-moderates bereft of their fig-leaf. He chose Adityanath as chief minister (CM) of the key Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

By choosing the Gorakhpur parliamentarian over any of the more than 300 newly-elected state legislators, Modi’s messaging seems clear. After all, Adityanath, the head priest of a Hindu religious institute, is well-known for his vitriol against non-Hindus, particularly Muslims, and his misogyny.

The new CM has already begun implementing his agenda for UP, India’s most populous and politically sensitive province. The signs are ominous.

Two days into his taking charge, the police announced the formation of the tackily-named Anti-Romeo Squads, ostensibly to check the harassment and stalking of women. This fulfillment of one of BJP’s poll promises dovetails with its long-standing attempts to ratchet up paranoia over “Love Jihad.” A largely imagined phenomenon, Love Jihad refers to organised rackets by Muslim men to entice Hindu women into conjugal relationships and convert them into Islam.

Over the past two days alone, the police have rounded up some 1,000 men across the state. And the squads’ shenanigans are quickly morphing into moral policing.

Meanwhile, the administration’s enthusiastic implementation of another poll promise—a war on slaughter houses—has even provoked mob attacks on the state’s meat traders. UP’s butchers, often Muslim, are an anxious lot now.

And it’s still the first week under Adityanath.

While such missionary zeal was expected from him, it is his appointment itself that has left everyone panting in anxiety. None’s worse off than the Modi-backers vehemently opposed to the “Adityanath kinds.” The latter were to be brushed under the rug lest their toxic dust rubs off on the former’s veneer of moderation.

Till now, that is.

Take, for instance, Bollywood actor Anupam Kher. A long time supporter of the BJP and a voluble proponent of its brand of nationalism—Modi critics are anti-nationals restricted scope of freedom of speech, Hindu identity.

Just a year ago, the veteran thespian was publicly demanding Adityanath’s arrest for his vitriolic speeches. This was, after all, ruining the progressive agenda of the BJP under Modi.

Adityanath, in turn, hissed back at Kher, calling him a real-life villain.

Over the past week, however, the de-fanged actor has mostly been silent. On being prodded to comment on the turn of events since last year’s public fracas, Kher told IndiaToday.in: “Did I? But that’s okay. Ten years ago, I had a fight with my cousin brother also. He’s (Adityanath) there because he has been elected. That’s all.”

Touche. Besides, Kher is given to painting himself into uncomfortable corners.

However, there were other class acts. Like activist and born-again Modi fan Madhu Purnima Kishwar.

In an April 15, 2015, post on Facebook, the professor at the New Delhi-based Indian Council of Social Science Research, had asked, “How can a venom spewing man like Adityanath be called a ‘Yogi’?”

Yogi refers to a person who practices yoga, the ancient Indian discipline of mental and physical health, and is said to be generally calm and detached from worldly affairs.

However, since Adityanath’s rise to grace last weekend, here she is, singing paeans to him.

Kishwar even lampooned Adityanath’s critics.

In fact, Adityanath’s party itself seems to have learnt a lesson. Not wishing to come across as a hub of the loonie right-wing, the BJP had earlier refused to give him much play overtly in UP. For long, they had relegated the Yogis, Sadhvis, and Maharajs to the “fringe.” But that was then.

When the BJP lost crucial local elections in 2014, it was blamed on Adityanath not being fielded to even campaign. The priest himself lamented this.

So, to the discomfiture of legions of non-celebrity, “moderate,” Modi backers, who were probably winding down over the last weekend, the prime minister shifted the poles: The fringe was suddenly the centre.

Not surprisingly, “let’s give him a chance,” became the new leitmotif.

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