INCREDIBLE as it may sound, Yogi Adityanath is set to become the first chief minister of a national party to complete a full five-year term in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous and politically significant state. In the game of musical chairs that has marked Lucknow thus far, only Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav — leaders of regional parties — hold the distinction of completing an uninterrupted five-year term since 1951. Perhaps the Congress, which was calling the shots in Uttar Pradesh till the 1980s, was wary of powerful regional satraps — from Govind Ballabh Pant to ND Tiwari — in the decades that saw Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi serve as prime ministers.
An outright victory in February 2022 can make 49-year-old Yogi Adityanath a contender for the post of prime minister in the post-Narendra Modi era. Uttar Pradesh is a state that sends 80 Lok Sabha MPs to Parliament. During the 2019 parliamentary polls, the BJP’s tally was 62, while in the 2017 Assembly polls, it won a staggering 312 out of 403 seats.
In the race for the top post in 2024 (or 2025, when Modi will turn 75), Union Home Minister Amit Shah is seen as a ‘natural’ successor on account of his clout within the BJP.
Number twos or the contenders for the top job in Indian politics have, however, had a chequered history. The country has had seven deputy prime ministers in Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai, Chaudhary Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram, YB Chavan, Chaudhary Devi Lal and Lal Krishna Advani. Except for Morarji and Charan Singh, the others failed to make it to the top.
By the time Mayawati completed a five-year term in March 2012, she had scored over GB Pant, Kamalapati Tripathi, Sampurnanand, Sucheta Kripalani, ND Tiwari, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Kalyan Singh and other chief ministers of the state since Independence. She was the first chief minister of UP to complete an uninterrupted term.
Akhilesh equalled her record in March 2017, but Yogi Adityanath now has a chance to edge them out. There is a cliché too that the road to Delhi (read PM’s chair) goes via Lucknow. Both PV Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh had, however, belied this platitude.
Govind Ballabh Pant was a freedom fighter who, in 1937, became the chief minister of the then United Province. Pant served as UP chief minister four times — twice before Independence and twice after. But his stints were separated by the Assembly polls and his appointment as the country’s Home Minister in January 1955.
Pant was replaced by Sampurnanand, a teacher and a towering figure during the freedom struggle. Though ‘Babu jee’ (as Sampurnanand was fondly called) had the longest stretch as chief minister from December 28, 1954 to December 7, 1960, his tenure was broken by the Assembly polls in April 1957. A firm believer in jyotish (astrology), Sampurnanand’s innings from 1957 to 1962 was cut short by intra-party dispute. A political crisis initiated by Kamalapati Tripathi and Chandra Bhanu Gupta saw Sampurnanand’s shift to the Jaipur Raj Bhawan in December 1960 as state Governor.
Sampurnanand’s successor Chandra Bhanu Gupta’s uneasy ties with Indira Gandhi, one-upmanship with Kamalapati Tripathi and Hemvati Nandan Bahugana resulted in political instability and emergence of the first non-Congress regime in UP when Charan Singh became the CM in 1967. The period between 1962 and 1967 saw several chief ministers coming and going. Sucheta Kripalani led the Congress till March 1967 when another round of Assembly polls saw the party struggling. Gupta was back as chief minister in March-April 1967 but could not survive beyond 18 days.
After a bout of Charan Singh’s rule and President’s Rule, Gupta returned to power but his government lasted for another eight months before Charan Singh was back with a ragtag non-Congress regime. Throughout the 1970s, the regimes of Charan Singh, Tribhuvan Narain Singh, HN Bahuguna, ND Tiwari. Ram Naresh Yadav and Banarsi Das kept collapsing, paving the way for four spells of President’s Rule.
After the 1980 Congress victory, Sanjay Gandhi picked VP Singh, but Sanjay’s death and Indira’s insecure attitude towards Bahugana and others prompted another round of musical chairs that saw VP Singh shifting to Union Cabinet in 1982, and the emergence and exit of Sripat Mishra and ND Tiwari. Rajiv Gandhi’s personal preference was Vir Bahadur Singh. But the communal orgy of violence in Meerut and post-Bofors political exigencies forced Rajiv to draft Vir Bahadur in the Union Cabinet. UP was handed over to Tiwari who took the job for the third and last time as a Congress chief minister of undivided UP.
Enter Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mulayam worked out a pact with the Congress to hoist himself as chief minister, but June 1991 Assembly polls saw a resurgent BJP winning the UP polls. Riding high on the Ayodhya plank, Kalyan Singh became the BJP’s mascot, but the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition marked Kalyan’s dismissal and a year of President’s Rule. December 1993 saw the historic but short-lived coming together of Mulayam and Mayawati under the power-sharing formula supervised by Kanshi Ram. Mulayam served as chief minister between December 1993 and June 1995.
The masterstroke of bringing Dalits, minorities and backwards under one umbrella proved short-lived. Personality clashes, caste antipathy and jostling ambition led to ugly scenes on June 2, 1995 when halfway through the term, Mulayam sought to break the BSP ranks. Kanshi Ram and Mayawati tried to stage a counter-coup backed by the BJP.
Even as Mayawati gathered her flock in the Lucknow state guest house and waited to be called for the floor test, Mulayam’s legislators and party workers stormed the guest house, reportedly to hijack the BSP MLAs. Mayhem followed and UP witnessed another round of President’s Rule.
Mayawati subsequently teamed up with the BJP twice but on both occasions, the alliance fell even as chief ministers Mayawati, Kalyan Singh and Jagdambika Pal (who holds the dubious distinction of serving as chief minister for a day) came and went. The BJP’s own rule between 1997 and 2002 saw Kalyan Singh, Prakash Gupta and Rajnath Singh occupying the chair of chief minister.
Then Mayawati returned, mustering a majority with BJP support. But once again, the experience proved bitter. Mulayam Singh was back with the support of BSP defectors and independents. His tenure provided some degree of political stability that had been missing since the exit of Sucheta Kripalani. In May 2007, Mulayam’s arch-rival Mayawati defied her critics and even surprised supporters by getting a landslide victory.
Since 2017, the BJP has planted its saffron flag firmly in Uttar Pradesh, where its writ is being challenged in western UP by the farmers’ agitation (in spite of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing the withdrawal of farm laws) and the Brahmin heartburn over the rise of the Thakurs and OBCs. Can Yogi Adityanath defy all odds to emerge as a prime ministerial contender?
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