The elevation of mahant Adityanath, head of the Gorakhnath temple, as Uttar Pradesh chief minister shows exactly how far we have come on the road to Hindutva since May 2014. It is also the strongest indicator that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the arbiter of India’s future, at least for the present. UP was the one state the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party wanted above all others and its electoral tour de force has obviously emboldened the leadership to make its intentions crystal clear. Adityanath’s advent makes the Ram Mandir project in Ayodhya almost inevitable despite Modi’s assurances of good faith.
The mahant’s appointment is obviously a result of careful deliberation. For one thing, BJP fought the election without a chief minister in the frame. This was Modi’s election from start to finish in UP and the result puts him unequivocally front and centre of the BJP. He is not only the face of the party but also the heart of its electoral drive. No other politician comes even close. Against this background Adityanath’s appointment becomes all the more intriguing. He could have named anyone to the post and there wouldn’t have been a murmur.
Instead, he chose a man whose malign anti-Muslim diatribes have done nothing but raise communal tension. His government has already begun the process of closing the abattoirs, in his words “katlkhana” (murder house), of western UP on the pretext of forensic checks for cow meat. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but permanent closure would be a body blow to the region’s economy that would hurt Muslims most of all. Apart from the thousands of jobs lost it would hit the Muslim magnates whose support is crucial for both Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party of his predecessor, Akhilesh Yadav. But Adityanath is probably being primed for a far larger role that might ensure a durable and permanent majority in the state for the BJP.
As head of the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur and of the nath panthi sect Adityanath is a most influential Hindu leader in his own right. If the party is serious about Ayodhya, they are unlikely to find a better rallying point. Not only is he a strident advocate of Hindu Raj, his position as head of a sect gives him special sanctity. His qualities as an administrator are unknown but his abilities as a rabble rouser have been tested extensively in the last four years. As a five-term Member of Parliament he also has the respectability of office. Moreover, it is quite possible that the more secular part of the new chief minister’s duties will be handled by someone more experienced, perhaps even by remote control from the Prime Minister’s office in Delhi. That leaves the mahant free to play his role as unifier in the Hindutva and Ram Mandir project.
In this context the Supreme Court’s recently expressed preference for a mediated approach on Ayodhya through “a cordial meeting” of all parties is significant. Chief Justice J. S. Khehar even offered his personal touch in the matter, an extraordinary development. The august court’s uncharacteristic eagerness to play a direct role in a dispute that has meandered through the justice system for decades neatly coincides with the UP verdict. But it is talking about “religion and sentiments” rather than the breach of law that led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid or equal constitutional protection for all religions and places of worship. In its willingness to participate the court seems to have overlooked its role as an umpire and the possible conflicts of interest that may arise if someone challenges any future mediated settlement. How much confidence would a litigant have of an impartial ruling on a settlement to which the court was a party? Shouldn’t rule of law and the administration of justice take precedence over mediating in what is plainly a partisan dispute?
An amicable settlement, by whatever means achieved, will make a BJP majority in UP and maybe the rest of India all but inevitable for the foreseeable future. It will also reduce a severely fraught opposition to irrelevance. In any case, if the BJP can engineer a settlement and break ground for the Ram temple it will be electorally unapproachable. This is also the stuff of nightmares about fascism. Such a process leaves only one ultra-nationalist centre of power. Nothing, of course, is settled as yet and the new UP government is still in its infancy, but the choice of Adityanath and his importance to the BJP’s plans for the future need to be seen in this context.
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