The Thin Edge, Ruchir Joshi, TT, 20 March 2017: So here we have it. All the talk of developing the economy, of ' sabka saath', of bringing in a non-corrupt rule of law and order, was just so much cow manure. Exactly as many of us had warned it would be. With the installation of Ajay Bisht aka 'Yogi' Adityanath, as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the RSS-BJP has finally thrown off all its coy costumes. If they didn't before, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah now stand before us in all their unadorned starkness. These are two small-minded and fearful men who care first, second and third about continuing and expanding their hold on power, and fourth, fifth and sixth about spreading their poisonous Hindutva agenda. Any improvement in the quality of the ordinary Indian's life that may take place, would, at best, be a fluke, a fortunate by-product of the project of spreading the RSS's tentacles across India and shoring up their oligarch funders' profit-making. Shame, sharam, maryada, vivek, are all clearly pesky concepts that get in the way of this continuing power-grab. All pretensions to these are clearly to be jettisoned the moment they are no longer useful, like spent booster rockets.
Slotted into the chair at Lucknow we now have a man who has built his political career entirely on propagating the idea of Hindu supremacy, on developing an extra virulent strain of Toxin Hindutva, on repeatedly threatening minorities with the murder and rape Hindutva muscle can wreak. Taking oath on the Constitution which he hates and hopes to dismantle is a committed anti-national, a man whose sole aim has been to destroy all ideas of a democratic and secular Republic of India. While the ideas Bisht-Adityanath and his followers spew out are not ancient as they claim, having only a twisted connection to the ancient Hindu texts, neither are they particularly new - their stink has been around for nearly a hundred years: Bisht is the latest inheritor of the mantle of the so-called sants of Gorakhpur, supposed holy men who were primarily musclemen in orange outfits, allegedly involved in everything from the violence at Chauri Chaura in 1922 that sabotaged Gandhi's first non-violent campaign, to forming the Hindu Mahasabha a few years later, to installing the idols at the Babri Mosque in 1949. Bisht-Adityanath's 'spiritual father' was Avaidyanath, who was involved in the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
With Bisht being handed the UP chief ministership we have a moment where two parallel strands of Hindutva thuggery lock together openly. If Bisht's predecessors kept the Babri pot boiling over 40 years, it was the RSS-BJP of Vajpayee and Advani who used Babri to catapult themselves into becoming the main challengers of the disintegrating Congress. Flanking the RSS-BJP in the late 1980s and early 1990s were assorted other parivar outfits. If the Shiv Sena were the first to go up one gear by declaring open season on Bombay's Muslims in early 1993, the BJP, once they were in power, brought in their own specialist in 2001: when Narendra Modi took over as the chief minister of Gujarat he declared he wasn't there to play political test cricket, he was a votary of the limited overs format. Whatever his instructions from Delhi-Nagpur, soon after Modi took over Gujarat delivered the bloodbath of 2002. The shock in 2001, at the brazenness of Advani unleashing an extremist RSS man as the chief minister of a big state, should now acquire some perspective: if Modi is both an ODI expert and a long-term chess grand master, Bisht-Adityanath is surely a T-20 hack.
Addressing a rally, Bisht says, "If the blood flows of one Hindu, in the coming times we will not register an FIR with the administration, we make the blood flow of ten people who were involved in the murder of the Hindu." This is the man now in charge of the rule of law he holds in such contempt. Responsible for the welfare of UP's population, including 38 million Muslims (that's 38 million Indian women, men and children) is the man who repeatedly and openly states that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together, who constantly implies that all Muslims are jihadis and that Hindus should prepare for a dharma-yuddha. This is also a man who makes 180 degree flip-flops in a flicker, without even the obfuscatory manoeuvres of his U-turn guru, Narendra Modi. Speaking to a crowd Bisht can say, "No non-Muslim is allowed in Mecca [true], no non-Christian is allowed in the Vatican [a complete lie] but we let all sorts of people enter Varanasi, so who is more generous?" Yet, on another occasion this 'generosity' goes into the garbage bin and he proclaims that no non-Hindus should be allowed to enter Hardwar. This is a man who, in 2017, subscribes to the worst kind of male chauvinism, stating that if they (Muslims) take one of our (Hindu) girls then we will take a hundred of theirs. Coming from a man who sits there while his followers demand the rape of dead Muslim women, one can only imagine what this 'taking' (hum unki sau kanyaein lengey) actually means. This is the junior Vikas Purush Modi and Shah have put in place to support the progress of 95 million Indian women.
Appalling as this appointment is, it fits an analysis far better articulated in Hindi newspapers than in the English language media: having won massively in UP, Modi and Shah don't actually know what to do with their victory; theirs is a panic of a man who was hoping to win 10 lakhs in a lottery but who has won one crore. Post their state elections bonanza, Modi-Shah could have made some different decisions, but those would have meant tangling with principle and an increased likelihood of some short-term setbacks. For instance, with UP in the bag, they could have done standard MLA shopping in Manipur but let go of Goa where there was a clear anti-incumbent verdict. Instead they ripped Manohar Parrikar out of his defence ministry and sent him back to shore up a small state. Why was the greed of controlling Goa more important than the able ministering of the nation's defence? Likewise, with such a massive majority in UP, the RSS-BJP could have put in charge absolutely anyone they wanted: they could have gone for a pliant but honest and efficient man or woman, who would have had carte blanche to actually work for the vikas of India's most populous state; in the two years remaining for the 2019 elections, with the Centre and Lucknow working together, they could have shown everybody how progress is brought about. Instead they chose a regressive, reactionary, know-nothing, small-town muscleman to run one of the most important state governments in India. These decisions, examined together, suggest a couple of things that take a lot of shine off the RSS-BJP's supposedly great triumph.
First: either, after nearly three years in power, Modi & Co have nothing further in their bag as far as plans for actual economic progress are concerned, or, a small, rogue political nuclear reactor like Bisht has the capability to derail the BJP's UP victory and they would rather have him inside the tent, pointing out, rather than outside it, pointing in. Second: either Parrikar was botching up the defence portfolio, and this would reflect badly on Modi's ability to choose effective ministers, or, Parrikar was perceived as doing a good job, therefore becoming a figure who could, down the line, challenge the Modi-Shah combine for leadership of the government. Third: for all his travelling abroad and flirting with new technological concepts Modi has learned nothing, and he - and Shah - actually have no other vision, no other plan save to paint the country a brightly lethal orange; in the confusion of winning this jackpot the only thing they could do was revert to the default agenda and choose in UP the person who most resembled themselves.
In spite of their reservoirs of low cunning, Modi and Shah are, at their core, intensely blindered and unimaginative men. Exactly like Adityanath, they are basically vicious provincials, trapped waist-deep in the gutter of their ignorant world view. This ignorance, this narrow-mindedness, this mountain of lies constantly piling up is bound to cost our country dear, but it will bring about the spectacular undoing of these men. One question, of course, is how soon. And the second one: what will be the extent of the damage we'll end up surveying once they're gone?