The return of Yogi and democracy of fear in Uttar Pradesh

What remains the possible way out against this regime is a constant democratic struggle and strong social movement against the hegemonic Hindutva state-building.

Uttar Pradesh

Yogi Adityanath, a monk turned politician is set to return as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. He has taken oath for the second consecutive chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh on March 25. BJP has comfortably managed to script a jubilant victory in the recently concluded legislative elections in Uttar Pradesh. BJP with its allies got two-thirds of the total seats and crossed the majority mark on itself. The vote percentage of the BJP increased in comparison to the last election, helping it to win the elections in Uttar Pradesh by a thumping majority.

From successfully managing the social caste groups of Hindus as a consolidated voting bloc, providing targeted welfare and making them loyal votary or women voters being a decisive factor to script BJP’s victory, all forms of explanation to the election victory is floating around.

But a question that needs an eye on is how the mandate is taken by BJP itself? What does this clinical electoral victory of BJP express about the political dynamics of Uttar Pradesh? The current analysis of this result shall be in the backdrop of Yogi Adityanath’s five-year rule. For Yogi, who held the reins of power in an authoritarian style and got re-elected with a comfortable margin, the mandate comes as legitimate support for his governance style, policies, and the specific kind of state he created in five years.

Elections in a flawed democracy

Elections are sacrosanct in democracy if it exists in reality. The occasional procession of elections allows the politically equal rights-bearing citizens to engage in choosing their representative. Particularly in the times when India is described as a partly free democracy, elections become more important as it allows people to vote against the shrinking democratic space and in support of genuine, everyday life issues. Also, since BJP has squeezed Indian democracy just to the procedural event of elections after defeating its spirits in social and economic aspects, the election becomes an important phenomenon to expand the scope of democracy. BJP has an inherent incompatibility with a democratic society consisting of an active civil society, organic social movements, empowered citizenry, independent public institutions, inclusive civic community & pluralism. This contributes to establishing a democratic political culture that is not just limited to occasional events of elections but effectively works in cultivating Ambedkar`s dream of “associated life”. BJP, since its ascendance to power, has relentlessly attacked the country’s political culture, suffocating Indian democracy. It has brought in a new and different political order which, in the words of Prof James Manor, could be described as electoral authoritarianism. It is a hybrid system that remains democratic only in appearance, having liminal actuality. It provides a disproportionate benefit to BJP in elections as the political control over institutions and erosion of social democracy provides no level playing field for opposition to challenge its electoral prominence. The election witnessed an unprecedented level of a communal political campaign by BJP. From Garmi nikal denge to 80:20, Yogi himself spoke the language of a religious fanatic, instilling fear amongst the Muslim community and bringing religious fault lines in the election. Following its track record, the Election Commission capitulated in front of BJP`s divisive electoral campaigns. Throughout the election, the language of communalism was firmly imbibed in the electoral campaign of the BJP.

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The Hindutva underpinning of Yogi win

While providing any form of analysis to the result, it is extremely necessary to acknowledge the Hindutva majoritarian underpinning of the mandate. The impressive victory of BJP under Yogi Adityanath provides legitimacy to the inflammatory communal campaign. The Majoritarian Hindutva political discourse set the tone for BJP in UP elections, giving energy to the BJP`s ambitious creation of a Hindu unity cutting across the caste class boundary. This gets reflected in the increasingly bipolar contest, the first time after the rise of subaltern politics in UP which brought multipolarity in the political contest. BJP`s social engineering of Hindu caste groups as well as the broadcast of welfare developmentalism also worked in favour of it. The victory celebration by parading bulldozers in the streets and roads throughout the state speaks volumes regarding the form of state Yogi has developed in Uttar Pradesh. Here CM is metaphorically attached to an extralegal and unconstitutional practice of bulldozing houses that undermines the Rule of Law and his constitutional position.

Decoding the counter-intuitiveness of UP Assembly Election results

The democracy of fear in Uttar Pradesh

A specific form of state has been created in Uttar Pradesh by firebrand Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath during his first tenure as CM. Adhering to the communal ideology of hardline Hindu majoritarianism, Yogi Adityanath has persistently used the mandate of 2017 to the causes of democratic erosion and political subjection of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. The state has been an experimenting laboratory for numerous forms of unaccustomed crime against Muslims.

Ever since his ascendance as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the hate crimes against Muslims rose to an unprecedented level. While BJP RSS has been working on the ground for a long time to create a communal majoritarian society based on frequent episodes of communal tensions. Various Hindu militant organisations including Hindu Yuva Vahini, founded by CM Yogi Adityanath himself, work on the ground to communalise petty issues with an aspiration to create a permanent rift amongst Hindu Muslims. But after coming to power, communal politics gets legitimate support from the state in Uttar Pradesh in many different ways. Yogi Adityanath utilised the state public institutions to further the communal political agenda and persecution of Muslims by making them function in the Hindutva political tone. A massive centralisation of power and using the repressive state apparatus such as police for the communal agenda remains core to the governance of UP under Yogi. Promoting himself as a CM who glorifies police encounters, the state Police in Uttar Pradesh did encounters that disproportionately targeted Muslims and killed them. Similar is the story of cow-related lynching where Muslims were killed and persecuted in the name of cow protection, majorly by Hindutva vigilante groups.


Vikas Dubey, a gangster was killed in an encounter shooting by UP police

Yogi Adityanath also brought controversial laws that fulfilled the needful demands of Hindutva. The government ban on animal slaughter and closing of slaughterhouses was also a well-intended communal attack on Muslim economic enterprise and falsely accused them of cow slaughtering.

The passing of the controversial Anti-conversion bill in Uttar Pradesh was also a step forward not only to criminalise any form of inter-religious affiliation but also to attack the Muslim community for captivating Hindu girls and forcefully performing religious conversions. It was in line with RSS`s bogey of Love Jihad which attempts to script a communal basis of interfaith love marriages, denying women agency and egregiously targeting Muslim men. Noteworthy to find is that the law was misused intentionally by vigilante groups, police officials often target Muslim men. A large number of false cases were registered and Muslim men were punished, beaten and falsely charged. The name changing of prominent cities, towns and railway stations in Uttar Pradesh also contributed to the socio-cultural erosion of Muslim history from the collective memory and conscience.

The form of repression Muslims faced during the anti CAA protest was unimaginable. Uttar Pradesh police not only brutally cracked down on the protestors but their bullets took the lives of more than 20 innocent Muslims. Yogi Adityanath openly supported the act of police, claiming that those who came out to get killed, how will they remain alive?

Yogi Adityanath vigorously used state police for targeted persecution of Muslims. Under the able leadership of Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh police top the list of human rights abuse, for the third year in a row. Punitive laws like UAPA and NSA are also used as state government weapons to target Muslims, political dissenters and repress the civil society movements.

Yogi govt. issued diktat to retrieve the damage during anti CAA protests from the protesting members

The state of Uttar Pradesh has taken an authoritarian administrative turn during the Yogi Adityanath regime where social, political and institutional erosion of Muslims is taking place. They remain at the receiving end of state repression as well as Hindutva vigilantism, both endorsed and supported by Yogi Adityanath. By a constant instilling of fear amongst the Muslim community, a democracy of fear has been created by Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh where Muslims are deinstitutionalized, robbed of their civil rights, culturally marginalised and turned into passive citizens. This is what Christophe Jaffrelot describes as a de facto Hindu state. All this unravels the deep down Muslim hatred Yogi Adityanath regime installed and practised in the state institutions, leading to the severe aberration of secular principles of constitution and saffronisation of the public sphere. As Hannah Arendt mentions in her seminal work. The origins of Totalitarianism, terror in a totalitarian regime must be instrumentalised to carry out a specific ideology by gaining the adherence of the majority. The minority here becomes a power losing group that doesn’t have any public influence left. The state of governance in Uttar Pradesh has taken this course since the 2017 elections where the confluence of state institutions and Hindutva vigilante groups have reduced Muslims as an ethnic group one the mercy of the majority community and the present mandate legitimise the democracy of fear created by Yogi Adityanath.

What remains the possible way out against this regime is a constant democratic struggle and strong social movement against the hegemonic Hindutva state-building. This shall be done by creating a popular front, based on coming together of the like minded secular political forces. Big movements based on genuine demands of public will also help in challanging the BJP’s politics. Even in this election, the defeat of several communal leaders of BJP who have been prime accused of the Muzaffarnagar riots showcases that it is possible to defeat by making a broad social coalition. The inter electoral social struggle against Hindutva vigilantism and deserting of the active citizenry will help change the electoral arithmetic against BJP. As optimised by Sudha Pai before the elections, a rejuvenated opposition’s success in reducing the tally of BJP can reshape the 2024 election result. SP, the principal opposition can pose a formidable challenge to BJP in UP by continuing to raise genuine issues, democratic inter-electoral political struggle against Hindutva as well as making the social coalition broader to counter BJP. The retaining of the legislative seat by Akhilesh Yadav to focus on UP state politics is a positive signal in the prospect of UP politics. The future, however, remains ambivalent.

The author is postgraduate from DU in Political Science this and currently work as a researcher for Greenpeace.


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June 2024


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