A few decades ago, the great chronicler of ideology and science, the late Arthur Koestler wrote a collection of essays entitled The Yogi and the Commissar. Simply put, the Yogi was a man who believed in internal change and, in matters of the spirit, while the commissar swore on change from without, on revolution or in governance.
The Yogi and Commissar are a class of opposites, and as metaphors contrast, Koestler’s essay, especially the title, acquired a life of its own, apart from his argument.
Koestler’s essay became doubly evocative when Narendra Modi appointed Swami Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. One immediately senses Modi was the Commissar, the technocrat of development, the manager of Make in India. Adityanath is the Yogi, the ascetic, the head of a math, the fundamentalist as populist hero, a man who turned Hindutva into a law and order problem.
The irony of him becoming CM is obvious but the greater message is the BJP’s construction of its self, not as a theocracy but as a hyphenated regime, where the ideas of inquisition mix with the latest gimmicks of the management revolution. The Adityanath Modi mix, in fact, gives a set of four variants between Hindutva and Development. Adityanath is the Yogi and Uma Bharati is already creating a mix of spiritualism and development. Her idea of the cleaning of the Ganga connected with the technocratic interlinking of rivers gives one an understanding of the dangers of such a mind.
When the tactical and technical ideas of management merge with theocratic idea of governance, we create a Modi or an Amit Shah. The quartet of names gives you an idea of the potency and dangers of the BJP government. Modi might claim that it is a new lightning strike combining the power of the Shakha with the potential of the math. He might even feel he is inaugurating a new reign of Vivekananda where the ascetic gives out and domesticates everyday life. What we have here is a synthesis of Technocratic-Fundamentalism, where an unquestioned belief in technology, combines with a deep commitment to communalism. It is a wrapper for a majoritarian regime where democracy as plurality is the first casualty.
Swami Adityanath already speaks of Muslims as non-citizens threatening the current polity. As Shakha and the math combine with Niti Aayog, Hindutva and a warped idea of development go hand in hand. Let us remember there is nothing Hindu about Hindutva. Hindutva in its attitudes and organisation is Semitic, proselytising, aggressive and lacking the pluralist confidence of Hinduism.
Adityanath’s career is a blatant example of Hindutva advocacy. He is the organiser of the Love Jihadi, a policing operation where Muslims consorting with Hindu women were harassed and beaten up. His ghar wapasi programme was an attempt to persuade minorities who had drifted from the Hindu fold to return home. It was a homecoming of a bizarre sort where history was being forcibly, reversed. Adityanath insisted that for every Hindu converted, his followers should convert a hundred Muslims. This is religion in the sense of a demographic war.
His violence and his strong-arm tactics during cow slaughter agitations reveal his bullyboy tactics. By portraying himself as a maverick inside the Hindutva fold, he keeps his sense of purity alive conveying to his followers that he is setting the tone for Hindu aggression. For all his ashramic asceticism, our new guru cannot do without goggles indicating a media savvy and a totalitarian cool that makes their body language sinister. Adityanath understands that the underside of the community lies in its unemployed.
His original cadres came from unemployed who could enact a simulacrum of future power by enacting a game of rewriting history by renaming historic neighbourhoods threatening the stability of the social. When Miya Bazar becomes Maya Bazar the paranoid dreams of Hindutva acquire a fairytale quality. Adityanath’s style is a bullyboy style where physical and symbolic threat combine to destabilise situations. His sense of Hindi Hindu India creates a sense of purificatory rituals where the Muslim is both demonised and offered up as a scape goat.
People like Adityanath should not be seen as merely symbolic. He has to be taken literally because his intentions are literal. When Adityanath says that Uttar Pradesh is the next Gujarat, his plan for India is clear. Adiyanath’s appointment as chief minister completes the surreal logic of Hindutva as scripted by Modi and the RSS. Even his alleged show of vulnerability becomes a toxic weapon in his hands, as he plays to the sentiments of his followers. When the local government repealed his security clearance, he shed crocodile tears complaining that his holy crusade was being reduced to an act of Naxalism. In fact, the very notion of reformism becomes a cloak for reactionary politics. Adityanath was head of a math where original followers were both Hindu and Muslim emphasising a tradition that emphasised the Bhakti tradition of Kabir. In a way, the lumpenisation and Hinduisation of the math is revealing. In a microcosm, its change reflects the deeper change Modi and Adiyanath are promising for Uttar Pradesh.
The logic of Adityanath, his tactics have been blatant and transparent from the beginning. His antics as threat have to change the civic discourse. One witnesses it in the handling of the actor Shah Rukh Khan. When Khan commented about the growing intolerance in the country, Adityanath immediately reacted by saying that he was welcome to go to Pakistan. Such a comment was not very different from his fellow traveller Giriraj Kishore’s reaction to the late author U.R. Ananthamurthy. When the Kannada writer said he could not live in a Modi-led India, Kishore sentenced him to a train to Pakistan. The train to Pakistan is a metaphor of the attitude of Giriraj Kishore and Adityanath. Where one cannot quell difference or dissent by threat and violence, then exile is the only option open to the dissenter. Adityanath’s sense of citizenship is clear. Citizenship is not an entitlement but a privilege awarded by the majority and it is a status that can be withdrawn easily. A democracy without minorities becomes the great utopia of the BJP. Saffronisation then is not a mere advocacy, it is a totalitarian populist attempt to create a uniform world where for Adityanath like a totalitarian Alice, words must mean what he says.
When a Savonarola becomes chief minister, the inquisition comes a full circle. The real question then is how does the democratic imagination respond to such events. One has to first understand the irony of electoral democracy where detritus often becomes the charismatic force. All too often media plays to such characters by treating graffiti as epic events. Adityanath’s antics, his threats became strategy. The BJP realised that Swami was a crowd pleaser, a rabble rouser. When crowd and the mob takes over the nuances of a community, democracy wilts. When media gives a comic book Savarnarola a charismatic status, the man becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.