As new chief ministers take charge in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, what comes to the fore starkly is the question of how India, as a nation, sustains the health of its democratic systems.
A chief minister is one who heads the affairs of a state, and need not necessarily fit into the overall scheme of things in the national context. S/he is expected to have the drive, ability, imagination and a sense of equanimity that should see her/him through the thick and thin for five years. He is supposed to retain his image by doing the right things at the right time, by putting the state’s and its people’s interests uppermost in mind.
Generally, people vote for a party at the state level by keeping in mind the image of the individual who would be the chief minister. The Nehru family enjoyed great reputation for long years, and that was the main advantage for the Congress to repeatedly win elections to Parliament.
It was essentially the UPA-II period that proved to be suicidal for the Congress, with its plethora of scams casting a cloud over the party’s reputation. Apart from corruption allegations, the second time installing of Manmohan Singh proved to the Congress that a nonentity propped by Sonia would not be acceptable to the average voter. The 2014 drubbing was a fatal blow for the Congress, from which recovery will not be easy.
In the case of the BJP, UP and Uttarakhand had no individuals projected as CM candidates. People voted on the promise from the Prime Minister of fast-paced development with Central help if the BJP was given a chance.
This has been the pattern in the case of BJP since Prime Minister Narendra Damodardass Modi took power in Delhi. Devendra Fadnavis put in charge of Maharashtra was a small-time leader; so with Manoharlal Khattar in Haryana, who was no more than a senior-level RSS pracharak; and now there is Trivendra Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand who is another pracharak-turned BJP functionary with little of administrative experience.
The new UP CM Yogi Adityanath, is a veteran Member of Parliament, and noted also for his involvement in a series of criminal cases and the push he gave to hard-line Hindutva slogans like Ram Mandir, cow protection and Ghar Vapsi. He was among the accused in the 2007 Gorakhpur riots, and the Madhom he heads in Gorakhpur is known to be having an aggressive edge. The Hindu Yuva Vahini he had set up in 2002 is also known to be involved in several riots and attacks. For Yogi Adityanath, there thus is an image problem.
If “Vikas” is the agenda that PM Modi set for the nation as also for Uttar Pradesh, this image is bound to hurt it unless Yogi Adityanath presents a different mindset; which is unlikely. It remains to be seen how the new chief minister will conduct himself.
The onus is on the Prime Minister and BJP chief Amit Shah to prove that they made the right choices as far as Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are concerned. More so, as feelings persist that Modi and Shah have a tendency to choose “yes men”, men who owe allegiance to them, to prime positions by ignoring merit of individuals.
The chief minister of a state is immensely powerful. His writ runs over the state. Development or non-development, justice or injustice, how these chief ministers make a mark is important. In the selection of CMs, what Prime Minister Modi and Shah have been doing could be beneficial to them individually, but selection of “yes men” could negatively impact democracy.