Yogi Adityanath has begun his sprint right from the word go after taking over as the 21st chief minister of Uttar Pradesh on March 19. In less than 10 days after taking charge, the spiritual guru has taken several decisions that have put him in the headlines.
CM Yogi might have hit the path with all guns blazing but he still has some work left to do for extending his power play, and that is to win a bypoll in the state to become a member of the Legislative Assembly or Council. Going by the proactive leadership that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have displayed so far, it will be a fitting conclusion if Adityanath contests an Assembly election and confirms his position as the chief minister with a direct mandate of the people, unlike his predecessor, Akhilesh Yadav.
So the Opposition parties that were routed in the recently-held Assembly elections in the state can still fancy a chance to stop Adityanath from becoming the CM by winning the bypolls.
Will the Congress and Samajwadi Party (SP) consider accommodating the Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) elephant, something that Akhilesh had made fun of prior to the elections, to stop Adityanath's juggernaut? After the drubbing, are these parties convinced that only a Bihar-like grand alliance could have enabled them to put up some fight against Modi's in-form BJP?
More than arithmetic, chemistry is vital in winning polls
It is nevertheless much easier said than done. For those who believe in simple arithmetic to chalk out election-winning formulae, putting up a consensus candidate either from the Brahmin or Nishad community could check Adityanath, who is a Thakur. But the BJP has proved that chemistry is more important than arithmetic in winning elections and it has pursued the path of penetrating deep into the voters' minds to convince them that stability accompanied by development is what the party stands for.
The Modi government's strategy of reaching out to people by means of welfare promises has left the Opposition, which has remained engrossed in stitching up social coalitions to win the polls, clueless.
The fact that the BJP won 69 out of 85 reserved seats in UP in this year's election shows the extent to which it has eclipsed the powerhouses that traditionally excelled on the Scheduled Caste votes. In 2012, its tally in the same seats was just three. The massive groundwork laid by the saffron party turned the table beyond belief within five years.
BJP has opened too many fronts for the Opposition to manage
In these circumstances, when the BJP has opened too many fronts for its Opposition to manage and the battle is not restricted to the polling day alone, even a grand alliance may not be enough to see Adityanath lose.
The biggest reason is the lack of a face that can make the alliance look robust, like a Nitish Kumar or Lalu Prasad in neighbouring Bihar. After the recent poll results, Akhilesh and Mulayam Singh Yadav or Mayawati have found themselves alienated in their own dens. As for the Congress, nobody knows what can really bring a change of luck for Rahul Gandhi.
Brahmins, Nishads... does the Opposition have any answer for Thakur Yogi?
Amarmani Tripathi, the convicted former SP minister, was a popular Brahmin face in the Gorakhpur region who could have been a bet against Adityanath. But his chequered history now makes him a non-starter. Even his son Amanmani Tripathi, who won the election from Nutanwa this year as an Independent candidate, went to seek Adityanath's blessings after the results came out and said he would like to learn the art of politics from the man.
The Nishads could also be a good bet though one would hold the Opposition itself responsible for ruining that prospect. The Nishad politics in eastern UP is still in a nascent stage, though it did see a rise of a leader like Jamuna Prasad Nishad, who had shown a lot of potential to emerge as a big figure from the BSP. But his fallout with Mayawati and his subsequent death in a road accident put an end to all the prospects. Phoolan Devi was another Nishad face who was fielded by the SP in the past but she too is no more.
Compare this with the BJP's game plan. In May last year, the BJP sent Shiv Pratap Shukla, also a Brahmin face from Gorakhpur and a rival to Adityanath, to the Rajya Sabha.
A section of the media saw it as a move to clip Adityanath's wings by making relevant Shukla, who had remained away from electoral politics for 14 years (he was defeated by Adityanath's aide Radha Mohan Das Agrawal in the 2002 Assembly elections). But Modi and his team had other plans. It is noticeable that the saffron party did not alienate the veteran Shukla but compensated him with an Upper House position so that he did not desert the party and join the Opposition ranks to act as a Brahmin threat to the Thakurs' dominance led by Yogi.
Adityanath is a strong force now
Adityanath had his moments of worry, like when he failed to lead the BJP to success in the bypolls in UP just after the Lok Sabha election 2014 in which the party had swept the state. His hardline Hindutva image was also seen as being detrimental to the BJP's prospects.
But now with the BJP having its numbers and Adityanath emerging as the second big name from eastern UP after Modi himself (he won the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi in the same region), the BJP's mission of sewing up a perfect combination of class, development, Hindutva and stability in a backward region has been accomplished magnificently.
For the Opposition, finding a readymade answer to this challenge ahead of the bypoll featuring Adityanath will be quite a tough ask.