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The rise of the yogi: Review of Yogi Adityanath and The Hindu Yuva Vahini

Dhirendra K Jha’s book shows the insecurities of the most powerful man in Uttar Pradesh

books Updated: Apr 02, 2017 09:50 IST
Snigdha Poonam
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath arriving at the Lok Bhavan for his first meeting after assuming office in Lucknow on Monday, March 20, 2017
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath arriving at the Lok Bhavan for his first meeting after assuming office in Lucknow on Monday, March 20, 2017(Ashok Dutta/HT Photo)

From everything we have heard about Yogi Adityanath’s way with votes, it would seem the man has never felt a tinge of electoral insecurity in his 19-year-old political career. But it turns out Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister had to work his way to “electoral invincibility.” Senior journalist Dhirender K Jha’s 35-page book, which reads like a meticulous magazine profile, details the lowest point in the five-time MP’s electoral journey to show why he may never fear losing an election again.

It was between 1998 when 26-year-old Adityanath, would-be mahant at the Gorakhpur temple, first won the eastern UP Lok Sabha seat by a margin of 26,000 votes, and 1999, when he fought the election again and found his vote margin down to 7339. The plunge in winning margin was especially hurtful because shortly after winning the Gorakhpur seat the first time, Adityanath had launched his first “apolitical” organization, Gau Raksha Manch, to consolidate the Hindu vote. The cow card was apparently not enough to polarize the voters in Gorakhpur. The young MP realized he needed to “develop a wider base among Hindus” to play the power game in UP.

His moment came in 2002. Drawing on the nationwide split between Hindus and Muslims after the riots in Gujarat, Yogi Adityanath decided to hit the ground anew. He began by changing the name of Gau Raksha Manch to Hindu Yuva Vahini and expanded its jurisdiction beyond cows to anything and everything “that could project minorities as the enemies of Hindus”, from their meat-eating habits to their appeal among Hindu women. To give this new outfit a structure and mission, its presence was divided into multi-level committees — state, district, block and panchayat — and young and restless Hindu men in villages in and around Gorakhpur recruited in large numbers.

Right from the first day, writes Jha, HYV ran a toxic campaign of religious politics, turning the smallest of incidents to sectarian wars. “There were at least six major riots in the region within the first year of HYV’s formation” and “at least 22 major riots in Gorakhpur and the neighbouring districts till 2007.”

Yogi Adityanath sworn in as Uttar Pradesh chief minister at Smriti Upvan, in Lucknow, India, on March 19, 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah and others were present on the occasion. (Ashok Dutta/HT Photo)

The plan paid off pretty soon. In 2004, Adityanath won the Gorakhpur seat by a margin of 142,000 votes; five years later, he claimed victory by 300,000 votes. Gau Raksha Peethadhiswar Parampujya Yogi Adityanath Ji Maharaj, as his disciples call him, has been unstoppable since. But as Jha painstakingly outlines, the saint-politician’s “political fortune doesn’t depend on the BJP or the RSS but is fueled by a communal polarization of an extreme kind.”

But that’s not all Jha’s book does. Its biggest achievement is putting the story of Yogi Adityanath in a context that reveals the man as more than a radical Hindu leader. Jha tells Adityanath’s story from being a young Thakur from an Uttarakhand village who takes the Gorakhpur Temple’s cultural influence-in 1949, its Mahant presided over the installation of Ram Lalla’s statue at the Babri Masjid-- his predecessors’ political penchant—the Mahants have been fighting elections since 1967—and adds his personal talent for 21-st century minority hatemongering to become one of the most powerful men in India’s most populous state.

But as Jha has already shows us once, the man is not above insecurities. It came back to haunt him in 2007, when after an egregious act of sectarian provocation, the Samajwadi government in UP put him in jail. When the then three-time MP attended the parliament after 11 days in jail, he broke into sobs while narrating to the Speaker how the SP was out to “malign and torment” him. Adityanath’s image as a firebrand leader took a serious hit among his followers. “The sight of Adityanath shedding tears shocked his Thakur supporters…a weakness unbecoming of a male belonging to a martial caste.”

Read more: Bringing Gorakhpur to Lucknow

The arrest led to another turn in Yogi Adityanath’s politics. He continued to set Hindus against Muslims as core strategy, but he now prefers to make speeches rather than lead mobs to this effect. It hasn’t made him less popular. Two days after Yogi Adityanath became the chief minister of UP, I spoke to a young gau rakshak in Meerut about how he was feeling. He put it simple and straight: “Mother India is now in safe hands.”

Yogi Adityanath And The Hindu Yuva Vahini that was released on the Juggernaut app will be included in the forthcoming book entitled Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva by Dhirendra K Jha