Yogi Adityanath, Chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, was seen as headed for a large victory despite the mismanagement of the second wave of the pandemic which included international coverage of dead bodies floating in the Ganga. Despite that, and some angst over what say he would have in changing his cabinet ahead of the election, things seemed back on track for Adityanath with him taking some instruction from the Sangh and Modi. The 49-year-old monk got his winner’s swagger back.
But now, all bets are off in UP, after a car owned by Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’, who is the junior Home Minister of the country, ran over farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri on Sunday. Four farmers died and another four were killed in the violence that erupted. Mishra denies that his son Ashish, who has been named for murder in the police case, was driving the car. He has also refused to quit his union minister post at a meeting on Wednesday with his boss, Amit Shah. Teni has told numerous media outlets he won’t quit. Perhaps, that’s why the media was disinvited from an official Home Ministry event in Delhi where Teni spoke yesterday – a pre-emptive strike reportedly ordered by Shah.
The Supreme Court today lashed out at the Yogi government pointing out that the treatment of those accused – at the centre of which is the minister’s son – is unique. Mishra Junior ignored summons for questioning today. Incredibly, the summons to join the probe took five days to be issued.
Yogi Adityanath who has to secure his second term is now displaying tetchiness with the central government. Sources have confirmed to me that Yogi wanted Mishra arrested on Sunday itself. Yogi has assiduously cultivated his image as a fierce law-and-order hard man. Yogi also wanted to block political leaders including Akhilesh Yadav and the Gandhis from visitng Lakhimpur Kheri. It was reportedly after a phone intervention from Amit Shah that Priyanka Gandhi was released from what she called “illegal detention”.
The trust deficit between the Modi government and Yogi is so high that Yogi got two of his trusted Gorakhnath Mutt temple aides to reach out to Rakesh Tikait who is spearheading the farmers agitation to arrive in Lakhimpur Kheri from Haryana to help calm things down. Sources confirm Yogi spoke to Tikait, who has in the past worked with the BJP. Tikait has a dodgy track.
Backgrounding all this is the only issue that often matters in UP – caste. Teni is a Brahmin who was recently made minister in the cabinet reshuffle ahead of the UP election. Brahmins are 20 percent of UP’s population but punch much above their weight in setting the agenda and the all important “mahaul” (atmosphere). They have solidly voted for Modi (who is MP from Varanasi) but now dislike Yogi with the subterranean buzz being all about Yogi’s favouring of Thakurs, his own caste.
The fact that Teni has a criminal background and is the local strongman who made violent threats to agitating farmers a week before the incident is irrelevant. With elections coming up, any step that is taken has to factor in how the Brahmin vote for the BJP will be affected.
To send a similar electoral message, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi, both MPs from UP, were dropped from the BJP’s national executive announced yesterday. This comes after Gandhi attacked the handling of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident publicly. Birendra Singh, a Congress turncoat now in the BJP, was also dropped for his vocal support to the farmers.
Yogi meanwhile is planning a series of programmes with his newbie Brahmin minister Jitin Prasada as salve. Yogi has limited patience with central interference in what he considers is his turf and is now all prepped to run a campaign his way. “Maharaj” is now in the building.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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