It is astonishing that the “who after Modi” debate has been allowed to begin so soon, especially given that Modi is still in absolute control of his party and faces no challenge to his position as prime minister. Such inquiries are typically not entertained by those in the top position, particularly those like Modi who saw themselves as divinely anointed and have the support of a parliamentary majority. They believe that it undermines the mystique of their longevity in addition to diverting people’s attention. If Adityanath is Modi’s replacement, then this query can only be a preemptive statement rather than a genuine one.
The future of the country after Nehru was a topic of discussion in the middle of the 1950s and early 1960s. There was a raging debate about who would lead the liberation struggle after Nehru among a generation that had never known any leader with that status. That was a query that was posed rather nervously, but it was also somewhat true.
Perhaps Modi, who is aware of Nehru’s immense impact, is eager for a similar question to be posed about him: “After Modi who?”
Perhaps the goal is to make the electorate feel anxious, yearning, and void. If Adityanath is presented as the alternative rather than Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, or Nitin Gadkari, the emotions are amplified. The decision to elect a saffron-clad Adityanath with rough edges especially causes the elite opinion-formers great distress. They would be compelled by this discomfort to either embrace Modi more tightly or simply hang onto him for longer. This entire issue of Adityanath’s succession and projection could be a psychological ruse that benefits Modi alone tremendously.
Invoking Adityanath’s name and giving it some credibility, as Shah did in the recent interview leading up to the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, he was posed with a fairly audacious question. With an unperturbed exclamation, he had responded, “Naturally, so much good work has been done under him [in UP], after so many years,” when asked about Adityanath being referred to as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate of the future. This serves ideological purposes in addition to the psychological game. If a saffron-clad man is in command of the largest state, which has Kashi, Ayodhya, Mathura, Prayagraj, and Vrindavan, it creates a certain ideological air cover for the rest of India. These
have all been skillfully recreated in the imaginations of Hindu devotees as holy places for the purposes of political religion or Hindutva.
It has a very different impact to redesign India’s largest state as the spiritual centre of the faith rather than just a political pivot. This leads to the political conclusion that the state should be protected by a preacher rather than just a believer. As a result, Adityanath serves as a superb example of Hindu assertion rather than Modi’s political successor. In Uttar Pradesh, Modi is recognised as having paved the way for the Ayodhya temple. He is portrayed as the protector of the faith, with Adityanath serving as his appointed point person.
Although it would be extremely easy to assume that Modi will choose someone who is similar to him to succeed him because to the similarities between him and Adityanath (a Hindutva masculinity), Modi is also aware of what he leaves behind. He is concerned about how he wants to be perceived in history. Although Modi has frequently referred to himself as a “fakir” and has really enjoyed his saintly responsibilities in flowing robes between and during elections, Adityanath may be a man in saffron. Can anyone ever forget his meditation in the Kedarnath cave before the results of the 2019 general election while completely covered in saffron? Adityanath is a priest and a preacher, whereas Modi has carefully presented himself to the voters as an avatar—or, to put it another way, a part of the divine— or at the very least, its hologram. There are several saffron-clad lawmakers in the BJP who exhibit an ideological brazenness similar to that of Adityanath, but there has only been one Modi for the saffron forces to date.
The current ruling elite (Modi and Shah) understand the country well as a fragmented cocoon of the mediaeval and modern, therefore projecting Adityanath is a safer choice. When he was elected prime minister, Modi was both traditional and contemporary. He addressed the shattered Indian mind’s compartments for faith and technology. There would be an intense perception of Adityanath. He will place too much blame on the nation’s consuming habits, making him potentially unpopular with a wide range of people, especially Hindus. Amit Shah, undoubtedly the most astute political thinker, intuitively understands the situation.
Even the recent election triumph in Uttar Pradesh is expected to have more than its fair share of Modi’s welfare policies and character. When there were concerns about Adityanath’s comeback, when defections were frequently in the news, and when Mandal threatened to use the term “kamandal,” it was Modi who patronisingly put his hand around Adityanath and assured his safe passage to his second term. No one, no matter how old, could have wrapped
their arm around a saffron-clad priest like Adityanath according to protocol, but Modi did. Adityanath is now subordinate to Modi, not his opponent or his most likely successor, as a result.
Adityanath winning Uttar Pradesh in 2024 is crucial for Modi and Shah because, at this point, Modi may be playing a percentages game. He might aspire to surpass the vote totals attained in general elections by Nehru, Indira Gandhi, or Rajiv Gandhi greater than the 37.36 percent he received in 2019. The goal might be to surpass the 50% threshold, which might give the party credibility to examine some of the fundamental pillars around which this country is built.
Since Modi is still the main player in the game, discussion of Adityanath becoming the next prime minister is mostly symbolic at this time. Despite being less authentic, it would be highly intriguing to learn about the BJP’s post-2019 Lok Sabha election strategy. In addition to returning Modi to office, voters soundly disapproved of Rahul Gandhi. Making the election a presidential race against Gandhi was clearly advantageous to Modi.
There may be challenges from local politicians and regional leaders, but the BJP will continue to triumph over anti-incumbency at the national level thanks to the persona of Narendra Modi, who is only 68. Asking voters if they would prefer Rahul Gandhi over him as prime minister is all that Modi needs to do to win the elections. In 2029, Modi will turn 78. It would be interesting to know if he did by that point will hand over his chair to his successor, since it would also rely on the high command’s policy choices about the continuation of the BJP’s rule beyond Modi.