The summoning of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath to New Delhi recently in the wake of widespread anxiety being expressed in the state BJP over its Assembly poll prospects in a few months, given the CM’s disastrous Covid-19 management, naturally became a high-profile political event. The stakes were rightly deemed to be high. A slip in UP can ricochet at the Centre, and who knows how the pieces will fall.
The CM showed up when called -- but after that the story dries up. It didn’t matter that the UP leader had held really long conversations with those at the very top -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi (well over an hour), home minister Amit Shah (even longer), and BJP president J.P. Nadda. Here was rich material to be tapped for political reporting, speculation, or comment, but no one did -- as if on cue.
For comparison, look at Punjab, whose CM and MLAs were recently summoned to Delhi by the Congress leadership because there seems to be a crisis brewing. The news pages were filled with plausible and implausible stories or just plain repetitions for want of anything new to say. “Hold the dateline!” is an old newsroom mantra, and the media did not let go.
In the case of UP, however, there was nothing at all -- not even the regurgitating of background as is frequently done, or clever words extolling the power duo at the Centre about how well they had handled the UP crisis (since nothing less than gushing praise will do in their case).
It is noteworthy that there was resounding silence on this front even after the chief minister returned to Lucknow. Top-rung BJP politicians who had just days earlier bitterly complained to their high command -- and above all to the RSS bosses -- about Yogi’s general high-handedness, his arrogant mismanagement of the Covid crisis, and his many caste-slanted actions, seemed clueless about what had transpired in Delhi, or preferred to stay quiet if they knew. Busy newshounds, who had waxed eloquent about a PM-CM tussle and other such astounding things, fell silent.
Is the overall motif of silence in this important matter a part of a well thought out strategy crafted by the BJP, or indeed the RSS, since it is the RSS cadre on the ground who will be required to do the heavy lifting at election time? After all, it is the RSS -- rather than the formal shell of the BJP -- which really exercises supervision or control over the main body of legislators, and typically it is the low-key RSS organiser who plays pastor. The pastor offers counsel and keeps his superiors informed about the goings-on. He meddles, but not in full view.
Evidently, since senior BJP leaders in UP had publicly complained against the CM’s mismanagement and his autocratic style, it wouldn’t have done to keep quiet and do nothing; hence the directive to the CM to go to Delhi to explain himself to the big shots. This was a triumph of form over substance, and also careful choreography and convenient optics.
If any action -- or concession -- follows at Yogi’s end as a consequence of the Centre’s supposed advice, it is likely to be only about as cataclysmic as tinkering with his council of ministers. And look at what Yogi has got in return. His actions say it all. The man had the gumption to calmly hand his three principal interlocutors, as well as the President of India, some so-called Harvard University report commending his management of the pandemic which no one believes, but that’s hardly the point.
The point is that Yogi was summoned but was also pandered to. He was permitted to create the impression that he was on a goodwill mission to New Delhi, and not summoned as a boy to be chastised, which is usually the fate of erring CMs of the same party as the one that rules at the Centre. It is well understood that UP is Mr Modi’s first line of defence. It has already fallen in the recent panchayat elections, with BJP performing poorly. If it falls in the Assembly election too, reputations can roll in Delhi, and the fallout can be uncertain.
There are also other reasons why Yogi couldn’t have been ticked off. He is an extreme egoist, a far-right maverick, who runs his own outfit, the Hindu Vahini. He is not of RSS-BJP stock. He is a stranger to institutional or collegial functioning. If he is stung, he can fight the Assembly election on his own if only to spite the BJP and deny it the votes of the ultra-right Hindu constituency. Confident of his ability to do so, the saffron-robed monk CM did not need to bend or genuflect in Delhi.
Whatever the UP BJP, or the national BJP, may think of Adityanath and his usefulness to the party in UP, the RSS’ assessment of this matter is not known. It may or may not be exactly the same as that of the BJP. Indeed, the RSS’ assessment of the performance of the Union government under the present leader, especially on the handing of the pandemic, steep unemployment and inflation, surrendering of territory to China in Ladakh, and worsening relations even with Nepal, is also not known.
On this subject, of no little importance, we have just one clue. A few weeks ago, in a well-publicised address, the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, held the people, the administration, as well as the government, responsible for the surge in the Covid second wave numbers and the exceptionally high death figures. This forced the government to stop in its tracks in the planning of a false propaganda blitz on the handing of the pandemic.
But the Prime Minister did not fail to fire a riposte at Mr Bhagwat in his June 7 address to the nation. Without any reference to the latter, he sang his government’s praises and ran down its opponents and critics. Such an open, daring, even insolent, defiance of the RSS sarsanghchalak by a BJP or Jan Sangh leader, mounted in full public view, has not been encountered before.
It will be interesting to know how Mr Bhagwat has taken the insult, and whether the RSS organisation is behind him foursquare. The untangling of this puzzle can tell us something about how things might shape in UP, or indeed in Delhi.