There is an undeniable political vacuum in the space for the Opposition in UP, but even an unrivaled political force has to stand on a structure that has strong foundational beams. The Yogi regime is beginning to disgust its own supporters. As long as the Hindutva wave was moving along smoothly, Yogi was even being spoken of as a possible successor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the emerging Hindu rashtra. But the Hathras episode has diminished him.
The Yogi Adityanath regime in Uttar Pradesh has responded hysterically and undemocratically to the criticism and protest generated by the terrible Hathras case. The state police have now filed FIRs against members of Opposition parties and threatened protesters with sedition charges, even as the chief minister has alleged a conspiracy to trigger caste and communal riots. The touchiness over this case comes from the fact that it has the potential to set back the BJP-RSS socio-political project in the nation’s most populous state. The most tangible damage comes from the fact that the Valmiki sub-caste of the Dalit community, to which the victim belonged, has been overwhelmingly voting for the BJP in recent elections in Uttar Pradesh (unlike the numerically larger Chamars/Jatavs who have traditionally been backers of the BSP led by Mayawati).
The Hindutva project in Uttar Pradesh rode on upending the state parties that became prominent in the Mandal era, by using cadre, narratives and mobilization, to reach out to non-dominant Dalit and backward caste groups. This was achieved by giving them a sense of belonging and telling them that they were included in the Hindutva project. In some instances, Valmikis were the foot soldiers of anti-Muslim mobilization.
To give an example from the ground in Moradabad in western UP, a seat with a large Muslim population, in the middle of the minority-dominated part of the town is a Valmiki settlement in an area known as Bhude ka Chauraha. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 Assembly polls, residents of this Valmiki basti were among the most determined BJP voters and foot soldiers on the ground. They were the new voters the BJP has been getting in its consolidation of power in this electorally crucial state, achieved after consistent cadre outreach by the Sangh Parivar.
But post Hathras, the manner in which the Thakur community (to which the four rape-murder accused belong) has postured with the patronage of BJP leaders as if they are the aggrieved party with the license to protest their arrests, suggests these fragile gains could be lost. Thakurs make up 7.9 per cent of the population, while Dalits account for 21 per cent. So, the question is that as a politician, why is the CM inclined to give a free pass to his own caste although the BJP got the support of both forward and backward sections of society minus Muslims? The answer lies in the fact that despite being an MP from Gorakhpur, the seat of the Gorakhnath temple that he heads, for five consecutive terms, Yogi Adityanath is not really a politician but a religious mascot who likes to talk tough and give the license to shoot to the police in the state.
Before he got the state as his stage, stormtroopers of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a so-called youth organization founded by Yogi Adityanath in Gorakhpur in 2002, went about dispensing vigilante justice and intimidating minorities. On its website, under ‘Type of Business’, the Yuva Vahini calls itself ‘far right Hindu nationalist organization.’ As long as just Muslims were at the receiving end, it did not really jar sensibilities in the now deeply communalized state. But now that it has become clear that crime against Dalits is increasing at an alarming rate, it’s an altogether different matter.
It is common knowledge in Lucknow and the district headquarters that the CM trusts only members of his own caste, as he was groomed and raised in the Thakur-run Gorakhnath monastic order. As the state will have elections in early 2022, it’s possible that Yogi intends to rely solely on the mix of Hindutva and muscle power that Thakurs supply. The community has clout way beyond its numerical strength; in spite of the abolition of the zamindari system, Thakurs are believed to still own half the agricultural land in parts of Uttar Pradesh.
But the Hathras incident has served the larger social purpose of shining the arc lights on the dark and regressive social impulses that have got a free run during the reign of Yogi Adityanath. Seeing the pushback from the Thakurs, imagine the scale of the bullying that can go unseen. The outrageous scale of injustice at Hathras also raises the larger question about whether the social gains of the Mandal era were superficial at best, dependent solely on a Dalit figure occupying high office? BSP leader and four-time CM Mayawati did leave monuments and parks; her coming to power did make many Dalits believe they need not sit on the floor if a high-caste individual came by; and once upon a time, she famously jailed all the notorious Thakur strongmen of the state.
But the palpable regression in the years of BJP rule raises the question about whether she left a lasting legacy or just a lot of statues. Has she hollowed out her own movement by selling tickets and making deals with whosoever could keep her person and assets safe? Or is Mayawati just helpless today, reduced to being a Team B of the BJP? During the Hathras episode, for instance, she made more attacks on the Congress than the BJP.
There is an undeniable vacuum in the space for the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh, but even an unrivalled political force has to stand on a structure that has strong foundational beams. The Yogi regime is beginning to disgust its own supporters and the pillars holding it up are looking rotten. As long as the Hindutva wave was moving along smoothly, Yogi was even being spoken of as a possible successor to PM Narendra Modi in the emerging Hindu rashtra. But the Hathras episode has diminished him.
Like Yogi, Modi was not an elected but a selected CM. But Modi would remain in control of whatever image or narrative he wished to project, be it the Hindu Hriday Samrat of the 2002 Gujarat riots or the friend of industrialists by 2007, the liberator of Gujarat, the undisputed leader and so on till he cast his eye on Delhi by 2013. Yogi Adityanath in contrast seems to have lost control of any narrative beyond his open desire to erase the names of Muslim historical figures and eras. From aspiring to be the next Hindu Hriday Samrat, he has been caught out to be a mere Thakur strongman in saffron robes. The ghost of that young woman of Hathras who met such a terrible end will haunt him.
(Saba Naqvi is a senior journalist)