Yogi Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini splits amid struggle to stay significant
Yogi Adityanath founded the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) on Ram Navami in 2002 with the objective of promoting “Hindutva and nationalism”. In subsequent years, it went on to play a significant role in his political rise in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.
When Adityanath became chief minister in March 2017 after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s spectacular performance in assembly elections, HYV members exulted in the belief that their fortunes would look up, too.
A little more than a year after his ascent to power, the HYV finds itself in unprecedented churn. On Sunday, May 13, 35 Adityanath loyalists in the organisation launched a breakaway group called Hindu Yuva Vahini (Bharat), amid seething discontent over the group’s perceived sidelining by the BJP. Sunil Singh, a former aide to Adityanath and president of the HYV (B), said the group would open offices in various states to spread its ideology.
“We were sidelined in the organisation for demanding tickets during the 2017 assembly election. After Maharaj ji (Adityanath) became CM, we hoped that the founder members of HYV would be given important positions in the BJP district and division units, but our hopes were dashed soon,” he said.
“The new outfit will work on the original agenda of the HYV – construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, ban on cow slaughter, uniform civil code, abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution and uplift of the weaker sections,” Singh said.
HYV general secretary PK Mall said the rebels had been expelled from the organisation.
“The new outfit will have no impact on the working of the HYV. Adityanath, who founded the HYV in 2002, remains its patron,” he said.
Discontent had been growing among HYV leaders for months, culminating in the rebellion.
Take, for instance, Ram Laxman, a Dalit student leader in Gorakhpur University. Ram Laxman led the HYV’s ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign, aimed at reconverting Hindus who had switched to other faiths, in the districts of eastern UP in 2007. He visited Dalit-dominated villages with volunteers to urge Christians and Muslims belonging to the scheduled caste community to convert to Hinduism. His efforts paid dividends when 28 families joined the ‘shah-bhoj’ (community feast) to announce their return to the Hindu fold. He was rewarded with the post of state general secretary in the HYV.
On March 19 last year, when Adityanath was sworn in as chief minister, celebrations took place at Laxman’s home. “It was a dream come true for me; the founder of the HYV, Yogi Adityanath, became the CM of the largest state in the country,” he said.
A year on, Ram Laxman rarely visits the HYV office. He does not even wear the saffron scarf that the organisation’s cadre are identified by. “We hoped that after Maharaj ji (Yogi Adityanath) takes over as the CM, the HYV would gain ground in the state as a large number of people offered to join the organisation. But what happened was just the opposite – the HYV has been virtually dismantled and its cadre rendered listless. The leaders of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have sent us feelers to join their party,” he said.
Many members of the HYV have reason to be disappointed with the relegation to the sidelines of an organisation that played a pivotal role in strengthening Adityanath’s base in Gorakhpur and adjoining districts.
Dozens of criminal cases were slapped on brothers Chandan Vishwakarma and Saurabh Vishwakarma, who had been hardcore members of the HYV since its inception, during the 2007 Gorakhpur violence. After the BJP won power in March 2017, both were expelled from the HYV.
Although a large number of young people across the state wanted to join the organisation, the HYV froze its membership drive.
General secretary PK Mall said, “The decision to dissolve the district units was taken after we received reports that office bearers were involved in unlawful activities. There were reports in the media that people claiming to be members of HYV were indulging in vigilantism.”
Several self-styled leaders of the HYV put up hoardings and banners across the state claiming to be office bearers of the organisation. They were engaging in criminal activities for which HYV was being blamed, Mall said.
HYV versus BJP
Adityanath raised HYV in 2002 after his relationship with the BJP soured over differences on ticket distribution during assembly elections that year. He challenged the BJP leadership by fielding Radha Mohan Das Agarwal from Gorakhpur on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket against BJP candidate Shiv Pratap Shukla. Agarwal defeated Shukla, establishing Adityanath as the unchallenged BJP leader in east UP.
Soon, HYV volunteers were also entrusted with the task of spreading the Hindutva agenda promoted by Adityanath’s Gorakhnath Math. From 300 members in 2002, the strength of the HYV increased to 1.5 million in 2014. In Gorakhpur division alone, 500,000 people joined the HYV as it expanded to the villages. The HYV also launched an awareness drive on encephalitis, a scourge in the region, sanitation and development schemes, helping Adityanath in getting the ‘vikas-purush’ (development man) tag. Manoj Kumar Singh of Jan Shanskriti Manch, a social and cultural organisation says, “As the HYV spread its wing in the state, the aspirations of its leaders increased as well. Several of them wanted a BJP ticket in the 2017 assembly elections. When their claim was rejected, they rose in rebellion and filed nomination as independent candidates. The then state president of HYV Sunil Singh and several HYV leaders were expelled.”
The activities of the HYV, which has in the past been blamed for communal violence in the state, never gelled with the BJP leadership, which considered it a private unit of Adityanath, existing to only serve his interests. The UP BJP unit complained to the top leadership that a parallel organisation run by the CM would be counterproductive and could damage the prospects of the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
According to people in the party who requested anonymity, during a visit to Gorakhpur, BJP national president Amit Shah informed Adityanath about the concerns of the BJP leaders and asked that the CM curtail the activities of the HYV.
HYV leaders were not allowed to share the dais with BJP leaders at public meetings. Soon after, the dismantling of the organisation started. The estrangement of HYV leaders proved costly for the BJP; it is seen by some as one of the biggest reasons for the defeat of the BJP candidate in the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha by-poll.
According to SP Singh, a political observer, the HYV cadre were deployed at polling booths during the assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
“They played an important role in mobilising the voters. In the by-poll, the HYV volunteers were missing from the booths and the BJP workers failed to fill the vacuum,” Singh said.
Although Adityanath contested the 2014 election to the Lok Sabha from Gorakhpur as a BJP candidate, it was the HYV cadre who prepared and executed the campaign strategy, former HYV state president Sunil Singh said. They worked at the booth level and countered attacks by rival political parties. Adityanath won from his pocket borough. The Gorakhpur Lok Sabha by-poll result was testimony to the impact of the HYV’s alienation from the BJP, he claimed.
Terming the dismantling of the HYV a conspiracy hatched by local BJP leaders to weaken Adityanath, Singh said the group had played an important role in strengthening the political base of Adityanath. “Thousands of youths, who were working for 16 years, are suddenly in disarray and feel cheated. There is need to re-engage these youths as well,” he said.
HYV general secretary Mall says HYV volunteers are active and maintaining a close watch on the implementation of development and welfare programmes launched by the Adityanath government. “We have identified the officers who are slack and indulged in corrupt practices. A report has been forwarded to the state government for action. Recently, the HYV launched a plantation drive in the districts of east UP as also a mass awareness programme against Japanese encephalitis,” he said.