Yogi Adityanath made a fleeting visit to Dindori district in Madhya Pradesh in April 2017, weeks after he was sworn-in as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The 44-year-old joined his MP counterpart Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the Narmada Sewa Yatra. In a brief address, Adityanath hailed Chouhan as the “best chief minister across India”, and declared that UP officials would visit MP to study his conservation initiatives for river Narmada and replicate them in the Namami Gange campaign in UP.
Chouhan was, at the time, among the BJP’s most successful chief ministers. He had held the post for nearly 12 years since being parachuted to the top seat in November 2005, replacing Babulal Gaur. He had helped the BJP decisively win two successive assembly polls in 2008 and 2013. Though groomed in the shakhas of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—the BJP’s ideological fountain—and a prodigy of the party’s now-sidelined stalwart L.K. Advani, Chouhan carved a political identity for himself as chief minister. His five consecutive stints in the Lok Sabha from 1991 to 2005 had been unremarkable. Yet, as CM he had worked hard to distinguish himself as a rare ‘secular’ BJP leader who hosted iftars, visited mosques and had no aversion to wearing the Muslim skull cap. He proved to be an able administrator—launching schemes like Ladli Laxmi and Beti Bachao—and it endeared him to an electorate that hailed him as ‘Mamaji’ (maternal uncle) and voted for his party.