Yogi Adityanath's campaign in Delhi

Calling the nationalist bluff

Print edition : February 28, 2020

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath addressing an election campaign rally at Uttam Nagar in New Delhi on February 3. Photo: PTI

THE Delhi Assembly election results are being read by many as voters’ feeling of saturation with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) increasingly caustic election templates that seek to exploit the fault lines in the political landscape. In Delhi’s case, it sought to take advantage of the animated debate surrounding the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) as it had nothing substantive to offer by way of governance and development, especially in a situation of economic distress across the country.

The voters’ sentiment was forcefully conveyed in the majority of the constituencies where Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had campaigned. Adityanath, whom a major United States newspaper recently described as a “militant monk” for his controversial statements during the anti-CAA protests, headed a polarising campaign between February 1 and 4 in at least 13 constituencies in Delhi: Patparganj, Kirari, Narela, Adarsh Nagar, Mehrauli, Uttam Nagar, Dwarka, Tughlakabad, Vikaspuri, Rohini, Karawal Nagar, Shahdara and Badarpur. The BJP won in only three of them—Rohini, where Vijender Kumar was its candidate, Karawal Nagar and Badarpur.

The mandate in these constituencies assumes significance because Uttar Pradesh has seen some of the most forceful protests against the CAA. The Chief Minister was criticised for his brutal quelling of the protests, particularly in Muslim-dominated pockets such as Muzzafarnagar and Meerut. Of the 25 people killed in violence and police action as anti-CAA protests erupted across the country, 15 were from Uttar Pradesh. Frontline’s recent report from western Uttar Pradesh (“Reign of terror”, January 17), based on eyewitness accounts and interviews with the kin of those killed, pointed to targeted attacks and the police’s complicity with Hindutva goons in carrying them out. Yogi Aditynath’s controversial remarks that the properties of anti-CAA protesters would be seized were seen as incitement to more violence.

Questions are being raised about why the BJP deemed it necessary to include a whirlwind tour by Aditynath in an already polarising campaign in Delhi, especially when the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister’s performance had been regarded as dismal by almost all neutral observers. Adityanath’s inflammatory rhetoric on the Shaheen Bagh women explains the purpose: to turn a seemingly inconquerable election into a mandate on the CAA.

In an election rally in north-west Delhi’s Rohini, Adityanath accused Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of feeding “biryani” to Shaheen Bagh protesters, mostly Muslim women. This was in tune with the BJP’s overall campaign that blamed the ruling dispensation in Delhi for nurturing Shaheen Bagh as a laboratory, the outcome of which would allegedly have dangerous ramifications for the majority community. Shaheen Bagh has been the seat of the most sustained campaign against the CAA, with hundreds of people, women and children, staging a sit-in protest since December 15.

On February 1, at Karwal Nagar, he said: “Earlier it was the Congress that used to feed biryani in Kashmir, now it is Kejriwal who is doing the same in Shaheen Bagh; everyone today has a new fetish of feeding biryani. Pakistani Ministers are also making appeals for Kejriwal; one can imagine why that is happening.”

On February 2, speaking at Saurabh Vihar, about six kilometres from Shaheen Bagh in the Badarpur Assembly constituency, and later at another rally at Tughlakabad, Yogi Adityanath made all-out attempts to keep the communal pot boiling. He claimed that the real trigger for the Shaheen Bagh protest was frustration at the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya and the scrapping of Article 370. “Kejriwal and his mandali [group] are trying to fan unrest and anarchy by tacitly supporting the Shaheen Bagh protests. These protests are nothing but a way for some section of people to show their objections against the scrapping of Article 370 and the construction of Lord Ram’s grand temple in Ayodhya,” he said, to some applause from the crowd.

He accused Kejriwal of sympathising with forces of disintegration. “Kejriwal sympathises with those who raise slogans like ‘Bharat tere tukde honge’ [India you will splinter],” Adityanath said. “Kejriwal is sympathetic towards the attackers of Pulwama. He asked the Army and the nation for proof of the surgical strike. This man is playing with the country.”

The same day he justified coercive action, dishing out his party’s oft-repeated Hindu-faith-is-in-danger rhetoric. “Delhi needs to have a government like ours that promotes all religions and allows people of all religions to celebrate.... Kanwariyas used to be assaulted by police, they didn’t get DJ licences, they couldn’t blow on conch shells. Our BJP government gave permission for everything.... We are not the ones who obstruct anyone’s festival or faith. Everyone should be able to celebrate their festival but within the law. If someone shoots a gun at followers of Siva, or indulges in rioting, and doesn’t listen to words, then he will listen to ‘goli’ [bullet],” he thundered to a charged-up crowd.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) moved the Election Commission (E.C.) to demand that Adityanath be banned from campaigning in Delhi in view of his vitriolic statements. AAP leader Sanjay Singh also demanded a first information report against him for his remarks. There was, however, no prompt response from the E.C. Sanjay Singh later told a press conference in Delhi that nothing was done even 48 hours after the AAP complained to the E.C. “If the E.C. does not give us time, we will stage a sit-in in front of the E.C. office on Monday [February 3],” he said.

It was only on February 6, the day campaigning in Delhi ended, that the E.C. sent a notice to Yogi Adityanath over his comments on the Delhi Chief Minister. Adityanath was the fourth BJP leader to be reprimanded by the election panel during the Delhi election campaign.

He was in for a rude shock when the votes were counted. The BJP lost 10 of the 13 seats where he had campaigned, despite the strong presence of people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, groups with which he is believed to have influence. The victory margins for the AAP candidates at Narela, Patparganj, Mehrauli, Uttam Nagar and Dwarka were between 15,000 and 20,000 votes. In Vikaspuri, the AAP’s Mahinder Yadav trumped the BJP’s Sanjay Singh by nearly 42,000 votes.

The statements that continued to pour in from Adityanath and others from his party indicated that notwithstanding the exit polls predicting an AAP victory, BJP leaders believed that their divisive campaign would pay dividends. Against the backdrop of the Defence Expo in Lucknow, Aditynath told mediapersons that his election meetings were successful and that his party was likely to win a majority. Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari also gave a statement asserting that his party would win 48 seats.

Adityanath was in Sultanpur to inspect the Purvanchal Expressway when journalists spoke to him after the results were out. He smiled and evaded questions on the Delhi verdict. The failure of his campaign to influence the outcome drives home the point that a raucous display of nationalism and Hindutva does not work when governments fail to deliver on development and governance.