A number of factors – including a vocal Hindutva agenda and the backing of everybody from RSS and VHP members to Hindu godmen – helped Yogi Adityanath win the Uttar Pradesh crown.
Yogi had been in the reckoning for the chief minister’s post ever since the BJP won the state assembly elections by a landslide. However, as days passed, the focus shifted on others like Union home minister Rajnath Singh, minister of state for telecommunications (independent charge) Manoj Sinha, BJP national general secretary (organisation) Ram Lal, and state unit president Keshav Prasad Maurya.
After Trivendra Rawat – a member of the Rajput community – was appointed as the Uttarakhand chief minister, it was believed that a non-Rajput would head the Uttar Pradesh government. As Adityanath is also a Rajput, Sinha and Maurya seemed like frontrunners for the post.
On Friday evening, the BJP leadership dispatched a communiqué asking its 312 MLAs to attend the legislature party meeting at the Lok Bhawan auditorium. The yogi’s supporters remained on tenterhooks.
The next morning, however, saw a twist in the tale. BJP national president Amit Shah called Adityanath – who was in Gorakhpur – over the phone, asking him to leave for Delhi immediately.
By the time Adityanath boarded a charted plane bound for the national capital, the rumour mills had already begun running overtime. While many believed he had been called to discuss the appointment of ministers in the state cabinet, not even his most ardent supporters were aware of the events unfolding in Delhi.
That afternoon, there was word that Adityanath had been told to go to Lucknow after his meeting with Shah. Jubilant workers hit the streets, distributing sweets to passersby. “It’s now clear that Chotey Maharaj (as the yogi is popularly known in Gorakhpur) will be our new chief minister,” said Upendra Mishra, a BJP worker.
Adityanath, a five-time MP, had held the fort in Gorakhpur region even when the BJP faced defeats in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections. There remained no doubts about Adityanath’s influence in East Uttar Pradesh when the maximum number of BJP MLAs emerged victorious from Gorakhpur zone in the 2002, 2007 and 2012 polls.
The yogi also won the confidence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi by organising massive rallies during campaigns for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as well as the recently concluded assembly polls. His position as head of the Gorakhnath Temple Trust, which has a large following in East Uttar Pradesh as well as Bihar, further strengthened his claim for the top post. “What’s more, Chotey Maharaj’s spartan lifestyle matches that of the Prime Minister,” said a senior BJP leader.
Adityanath established himself as a firebrand Hindutva leader after Mahanth Avaidyanath – BJP MP and erstwhile head priest of the Gorakhnath temple – appointed him as his successor. Contentious issues such as the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, uniform civil code, ban on cow slaughter and the anti-conversion campaign topped his agenda.
Adityanath entered into a dispute with the BJP leadership over ticket distribution in 2002, and threatened to launch a separate outfit. His aide, Radha Mohan Das Agarwal, contested the polls on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket and defeated BJP candidate Shiv Pratap Shukla.
The yogi then launched the Hindu Yuva Vahini, which helped him establish his dominance over the region. He showed his strength by organising the Vishwa Hindu Mahasammelan in Gorakhpur, ensuring the participation of 970 Hindu organisations. The message to the BJP was loud and clear – they could not afford to ignore Adityanath.
While the BJP MP has largely focused on Hindutva, one cannot overlook his contributions to the development cause either. Adityanath’s Facebook page highlights the various projects he launched in Gorakhpur – including the restarting of a fertiliser factory and launch of an AIIMS unit. Besides this, his temple runs dozens of educational institutions, hospitals, cow sheds and orphanages.
The yogi also has a substantial following among the Dalit and backward communities. He has repeatedly spoken for the cause of marginalised communities such as the Musahars and Vantongiyas, ensuring their assimilation into mainstream society.