Analysis | A ‘colourful’ political fight in U.P.

Adityanath sees red over SP’s ‘lal topi’

In 2018, soon after the BJP captured the Left bastion of Tripura, Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath told his opponents that after bringing down the “red flag” in the northeastern State, his party would also bring down the “red topi” in his State. The attack was targeted not at the Communist parties, who have negligible electoral presence in U.P., but at the Samajwadi Party (SP).

Perhaps Mr. Adityanath had taken note of the increased visibility of the ‘lal topi’ (red cap) on the heads of SP legislators.

“The red cap will not work anymore. The time for saffron is here. Saffron is the symbol of development and generosity,” Mr. Adityanath, who was wearing his signatures saffron robes, declared then on the Assembly floor.

War of words

Mr. Adityanath’s attempt to link the red flag of the Communist ideology with the ‘lal topi’ of the SP, which espouses the cause of social justice politics and socialism, and juxtaposing it with the saffron, a marker of Hindutva for the BJP, triggered a war of words between the two parties, which resurfaced again this year.

The symbolic battle between the red and the saffron has since then taken stage in the colour-coded political landscape of the State as it heads to polls next year. A lot of it had to be with the resurrection of the red cap into the daily politics of the SP ever since Akhilesh Yadav took over its reins in 2017. In the same period, the saffron also became more visible after Mr. Adityanath was made Chief Minister.

SP leaders point out that the top leadership, especially patriarch Mulayam Singh, had for long donned the ‘lal topi’, a motif of socialist politics linked with Jai Prakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia, at political events or during elections. However, ever since his son, Mr. Akhilesh Yadav, took control, the red headgear has become a part of daily politics and now even the ordinary party workers can be seen flaunting the red caps, both traditional and new styles, and not just during special events.

‘A distinct identity’

Since Mr. Akhilesh Yadav started to regularly wear the ‘lal topi’ in public in recent years, the party workers also started following him, said Rajendra Chaudhary, SP spokesperson, when asked if there was a concerted effort by the top leadership to promote the ‘topi’. The veteran socialist leader was happy that the headgear provided his party colleagues a distinct identity they much needed in a space dominated by the saffron.

But what does the red, labelled by the BJP as a sign of Left-wing politics, signify for Mr. Yadav?

In February, when Mr. Adityanath ridiculed the SP MLAs for donning the cap in the Assembly and linked the headgear to ‘goondas’, Mr. Yadav responding by saying, “Red is the colour of ‘kranti’ [revolution], of our blood.” He went on to add that the colour represented emotions. “Our faces turn red when we are happy, sad or crying,” he said, even as he joked that Mr. Adityanath was irritated at the sight of red because maybe he had eaten red chillies as a child.

Child’s ‘remark’

The retort came amid a fresh exchange of barbs over the red ‘topi’. Mr. Adityanath, while pointing to the different coloured caps worn in the House by Opposition legislators, said the Assembly resembled a “drama company” and advised Leader of the Opposition and senior SP leader Ram Govind Chaudhary to replace his cap with a traditional ‘safa’ or a ‘pagdi’ (turban). He then narrated a story about his visit to an ‘annaprasan’ ceremony of a baby where some members of the SP wearing topis reached to stage protest. A child less than three years old, standing with his mother, noticed them and said, “Mummy, mummy dekho, who gunda, gunda,” he said. This evoked a heated response from the SP legislators and Mr. Yadav later himself changed his profile pictures on social media sites, replacing them with an image of him flaunting the red ‘topi’.

The marked promotion of the red ‘topi’ by Mr. Yadav has also coincided with his shift from a development-based “kaam bolta hai” narrative to one that embraces social justice issues, evident through his eagerness to stich alliances with smaller non-Yadav OBC-based parties following the 2017 setback and failed alliance with the BSP in 2019.

BJP’s U.P. secretary Chandramohan, however, sees the red as a “colour of terror”, criminals and disruption. In contrast, U.P. has become a “riot-free” State under the rule of a “bhagwadari,” he said, referring to the saffron-clad Mr. Adityanath.

Asked if he was trying to link the SP with the Communist ideology, Mr. Chandramohan said, “People know whose symbol is red.”

‘Long been in use’

SP leaders did not explain why the red ‘topi’ was revived despite a political narrative linking the colour to Naxals and the alleged “urban naxals”. They said it had long been in use by SP leaders.

Mr. Chaudhary said the ‘lal topi’ was the identity of ideology and struggle of the SP. “The BJP gets irritated because its ideology is communal,” he alleged.

Marinder Mishra, a socialist researcher associated with the SP, said since the followers of Lohia like Janeshwar Mishra, Brij Bhushan Tiwari, Mohan Singh and others were frontline leaders of the SP when it was founded in 1992, the red ‘topi’ was adopted. The opponent of the Socialists then, the Congress, donned the white cap, he noted.

Udaiveer Singh, SP MLC, however, said the battle was between the red and the black, in a dig at the headgear of the RSS. “They need to justify why they wear black caps,” he observed.

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