Yogi Adityanath must have been hoping that his recent anointment as the new Mahant of Gorakshpeeth would coincide with a celebratory victory run in the UP byelection, which he spearheaded. That other relic from the Ramjnmabhoomi movement, Unnao MP, Sakshi Maharaj, was upping the ante too by putting out an alleged Muslim rate card for girls from different communities to entice them in love jihad conspiracies.

The surprise byelection result from 11 UP constituencies has now halted their Ram run. It offers a salutary lesson to the BJP: put the hardline loonies back in the closet and go back to what you campaigned in the Lok Sabha for. Good governance.
In an election where BSP’s Behenji did not contest and where the BJP held 10 of 11 assembly seats, its reverses are stunning. It is also a defeat for its experiment with denying issues like love jihad at the Centre and making it the sharp edge of the trishul at the local level in UP.

The antics of Yogi Adityanath, five time MP from Gorakhpur were well known. Those of Unnao MP Sakshi Maharaj less so. His website memorably describes him “India’s greatest sensuous acharya’, apart from his full title as Mandleshwar Dr. Swami Sachchidanand Hari Sakshi Ji Maharaj.

This venerable acharya who also loves politics – after all he is a four-time MP – no doubt tapped into his deep personal knowledge of ancient Hindu culture and tradition to claim that madrassas had rate cards for love jihad. In this great conspiracy of rate cards, for some reason, Sikh girls (11 lakh) were more prized than Jain girls (7 lakh) for conversion. Converting a poor Hindu girl will only get a would-be conspirator 10 lakh. The claims were laughable but the price grading of girls by religion perhaps offers a unique psychological hint into the self-perceptions of some militant Hindus.

The Sakshi Maharaj Group – the honourable MP is not just a person but a group, as his own website explains while listing out his 17 educational institutions and 125 centres – came to typify this UP campaign by the BJP. He reportedly claimed that Muslim MPs should be removed since they don’t allegedly respect the national anthem.
This is an advanced version of the old trope of the green flags that reportedly go up when India and Pakistan play cricket. The idea of the disloyal Muslim, the Trojan horse out to destroy the nation from within has long animated extreme right-wing discourse but when sitting MPs say such incendiary things it says something about the politics of the party they represent. Adityanath for example opened the batting for BJP in the debate on communal violence in Parliament and an FIR was also filed against him for violating the poll code.

The BJP tried to be double-faced like the Roman god Janus in this election. Its central leaders kept pretending this was not happening while local hotheads had a free hand. Now the limits of this kind of mobilisation are clear. It should strengthen the hands of moderates in the party and if there is a lesson from the election it is this: put the religious hotheads back in the closet.

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