NEW DELHI: At one level, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah’s acceptance of Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister (CM) is curious. Adityanath, given his history of anti-Muslim rants and perception as generally untameable and reckless, isn’t exactly the most convincing vikas mascot and could end up disappointing a section of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) support base within and outside UP.

Plus, he is not low key like the other CMs the Modi-Shah duo have settled for in recent times. Devendra Fadnavis (Maharashtra), Manohar Lal (Haryana), Raghubar Das (Jharkhand) and Trivendra Singh Rawat (Uttarakhand) are probably as invested in the Hindu Rashtra idea as Adityanath and may even have made imprudent public remarks but none matches Adityanath’s profile or unapologetically rough edges.

Since vikas considerations don’t seem to have been paramount in picking the UP CM and Modi and Shah are too canny to drive their leadership choice in the country’s politically most important state on the basis of liberal-spiting potential alone, we need to reflect on what special circumstances may have led them to make a seemingly muddle-headed choice.

A look at the BJP’s election manifesto (Lok Kalyan Sankalp Patra) for UP 2017 offers a clue. For among the promises of improved infrastructure, more jobs and reduced corruption and goondaism which Adityanath may or may not be the ideal person to deliver is the reiteration of a promise which Adityanath and his predecessors from the Gorakhpur Mutt are known to be passionate about: the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. Could Adityanath have been chosen to give a determined push to the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya then?

There is a theory that it benefits the BJP to not move in earnest on the Ram temple so that the issue festers and remains amenable to election time encashment. That could have been the case earlier but perhaps not so with the Modi-Shah duo. The duo have a keen if questionable sense of destiny and history and would be conscious that a Ram temple will not only to shut up baiters who have doubted the Hindutva Brigade’s sincerity and commitment to the project but will also allow them to emerge as unquestioned Hindutva champions – with all its attendant electoral dividends. Worries about exhausting a potent election issue are unlikely to play on the minds of M/s Modi and Shah. Their track record will give them confidence of discovering other ‘causes’ in time.

Moreover, there clearly hasn’t been a better time for the BJP to push ahead with the Ram temple agenda. It has a majority in the Lok Sabha, the prime minister and his government continue to enjoy high approval ratings, UP has just delivered a massive mandate favoring the party, the opposition is in tatters – and now the Supreme Court (SC) has suggested exploring an out-of-court settlement.

Amidst this constellation of ‘favorable’ factors, the choice of Adityanath as UP CM is a no-brainer. There are few others who could be relied upon to unflinchingly stretch existing constitutional and legal frameworks and the SC’s out-of-court settlement advice in pursuit of the Ram temple.

Adityanath is a clever choice for another reason, ironically the same reason why he is being viewed as a poor choice by some: his hitherto fringe element status. Not only does it prepare everyone for an aggressive, uncompromising thrust towards the Ram temple but it also makes it easy for Modi and Shah to wash their hands off Adityanath if he goes completely overboard. Essentially, in propping Adityanath, PM Modi and Shah hope to receive the credit for the mandir project’s success – and ensure that the taint of failure or the improprieties Adityanath commits in pursuit of the project stay largely with him.

The risk that PM Modi and Shah run is in having unleashed a force that, if it succeeds in the Ram temple venture, could threaten them politically. The Gujarat strongmen, given their control over the party apparatus and coffers, are entitled to think that the Adityanath threat, if at all it materializes, will not be insurmountable but a glance at L K Advani, Modi’s one time mentor, would tell them how political ambitions and winds can end up consuming the very forces that accommodate and fan them.