During the three-week book tour of two bestselling titles on Yogi Adityanath, author Shantanu Gupta had an interesting chat with Harvard students in Harvard Square. Students from Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School and Harvard Education School joined the discussion. Scholars and students from other Boston-area institutes also joined in the discussion.
The discussion largely revolved around two main topics – the nuances of the transformation of Uttar Pradesh under UP CM Yogi Adityanath and the value that a religious monk can add to any state’s governance quotient.
Professor Balram from the Boston Center of Excellence asked about the future of democracies and the role of religious figures in a democracy. Is being a monk a handicap or an asset for any democracy, he asked. To this, Shantanu replied that although there is enough scholarship and literature on policymaking, monitoring policy implementation, political campaigning, etc., democracies around the world have struggling to produce honest and uncorrupted political actors. There is no scholarship or literature on how to produce honest leaders. Shantanu added that nations around the world need uncorrupted political actors and leaders, but there is no established process or factory to produce such leaders.
Shantanu further added that in India, ‘Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’ (RSS) and ‘Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh’ (HSS) work on ‘Development of a Socially Aware Human Being’, which focuses on the concept of selfless service to humanity. Being a saint or monk also teaches renunciation and sacrifice for the larger humanitarian cause. And this can be a solution in all democracies to produce good, dedicated and selfless leaders.
Yogi Adityanath took sanyas (aconite) at the age of 22 and later became a Member of Parliament and then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Two BJP Prime Ministers of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, came from the RSS’ rigorous training in sacrifice and renunciation and it is no coincidence that all three are known for their non-corruptibility and convenience.
When Surabhi Hodigere, MP Candidate and India Caucus Co-Chairman at Harvard Kennedy School, asked Shantanu about Yogi Adityanath’s main leadership quality that stands out, Shantanu replied that when he interviewed Yogi’s father Adityanath, late Anand Singh Bisht in 2017 when writing his first book on Yogi Adityanath, Anand Ji said that as a forest officer he was only able to build a small house in Panchur village and that this is the only asset he gained during his lifetime. But Anand ji proudly added that the biggest income in his life, the greatest asset in his life is – his honest chief minister son. And the honesty and non-corruptibility of Yogi Adityanath has become the hallmark of his governance over the past 5 years.
Abhishek Singh of the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) asked Shantanu to cite some examples of how the personal non-corruptibility of a leader like Yogi Adityanath affects the culture of governance in the state. On this, Shantanu cited some examples from his latest book – The Monk Who Transferred Uttar Pradesh for Harvard Students:
Akhilesh & Mayawati ordered luxury cars with tax dollars, Yogi used an old car
Shantanu shared with the audience in Harvard Square that the first dossier that reached Yogi Adityanath as he took office as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh was about the purchase of a new luxury vehicle for his movement. His officers explained to him that it is the precedent set by previous chief ministers to start their term with a new luxury car bought with taxpayers’ money.
Two of his predecessors, SP chairman Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati, had given the go-ahead for new luxury cars as soon as they took office. The government had acquired a Land Cruiser for Rs 1 crore (the cost at the time) for Mayawati during his tenure from 2007 to 2012, while Akhilesh ordered two Mercedes Benzes for himself worth Rs 6, 9 crore of taxpayers money.
Yogi Adityanath had categorically rejected the real estate department’s proposal to buy two Mercedes Benz SUVs for him and his fleet. Yogi canceled the case on the first try and asked his officers to use the five-year-old vehicle used by his predecessor. He just asked for a small addition to the old vehicle to add a rudder cover to his seat. For him, saffron denotes renunciation or disinterestedness, which represents his idea of politics – being indifferent to material gains and devoting oneself entirely to one’s work.
In contrast, Akhilesh Yadav, Yogi’s predecessor in Uttar Pradesh tried to do lifetime personal wealth planning while being the CM of the state. In 2016, Akhilesh Yadav passed an act in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly to provide lifetime housing for former chief ministers. Fortunately, in 2018, the Supreme Court (SC) struck down the law brought by Akhilesh Yadav and he had to leave the government residence. Even leaving the government residence, Akhilesh Yadav put the post of former chief minister to shame by leaving his assigned government house in a mess – with a damaged swimming pool and missing taps.
How Yogi Instigated UP Ministers To Pay Their Income Tax Like Any Citizen
Shantanu further told the rally that in 1981 Vice President Singh, when he was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, enacted a law in UP, which ensures that the Chief Minister and Ministers state do not pay any income tax themselves. According to the 1981 law, the income tax of all UP ministers was paid by the UP government, as a benefit of being a minister.
When Yogi took office at UP, this 40-year-old practice of not paying taxes continued. It should be noted that ex-CM of BSP, Mayawati, is worth Rs 111 crore according to his affidavit for Rajya Sabha polls in 2012 and ex-CM of SP Akhilesh Yadav, owns assets worth more than Rs 37 crore with his wife Dimple, according to the affidavit filed for the recent Lok Sabha polls. But neither Akhilesh nor Mayawati cared about the UP public treasury. Yogi Adityanath believed that when the common man pays income tax and contributes to national development, why not the Chief Minister and UP Ministers? The Yogi government has decided that ministers will start paying their own income tax, ending a four-decade-old practice of the Treasury disbursing UP ministers’ income tax each year .
Shantanu concluded that the presence of a saint in the highest office of Uttar Pradesh has brought vast changes in the way Uttar Pradesh has been governed for decades.