Inside Adityanath's Gorakhnath Temple: Everyone expects justice here
A parallel government is run from the sprawling temple, which has been politically active since 1921.
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In a corner, atop an almirah stands a statue of Lady Justice with the balance and her blindfold and the sword, which symbolises rule enforcement. The steel almirah is spray-painted in orange and a lotus sticker of the BJP breaks the monotony of vision. Bhagwati Prasad from a nearby village is sitting with his hands folded.
The temple prabandhak takes his papers and asks him to wait as he types away on an old typewriter an application regarding his land dispute. A woman has been abandoned by a lover who she alleges took advantage of her and is now marrying someone else. She is here to ask for help. I am here to see.
Three phones ring constantly and Dwarika Tiwari, the administrator of the Gorakhnath Temple is trying to type on one of the two old typewriters, complaints on letterheads that have been reprinted to accommodate Yogi Adityanath’s new designation as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It reads, Camp Karyalaya.
In the adjoining room, Yogi’s Janata Darbar is still held. He had started it when he was a local MP from Gorakhpur. After he became the CM, the number of people coming to the temple has increased. Not that it wasn't a significant number of people earlier, but the scope and geographical outreach has increased, says Tiwari.
"Now, you can call us from anywhere in the country and we will help. The Gorakhnath temple will keep its commitment," he says.
"Anywhere?" I ask.
"Yes," he says.
To the young woman, he says he would help. He says she shouldn’t be with a man who doesn’t respect her but calls the number she gives anyhow. In a few minutes, they have tracked down the man who is in Gurgaon. He is asked to report to the temple. His family is summoned. Things move fast.
“We will ensure she gets justice,” he says.
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Inside and outside in this old town where saffron is the colour for everything, including sofas at a Chinese food joint which are upholstered in orange and the new office of Hindu Yuva Vahini in Hindu Bhawan that is painted a deep shade of orange, they speak of mini-Pakistans and the minarets of mosques rising all around them and the infiltration of madrasas with Saudi money that indoctrinate the youth.
They also make a disclaimer that this "nyaya peeth" is above religious affiliations. It is a claim best understood in the context of the temple's political role.
Yogi is a smart administrator. Outside the room, a policeman stands guard, an indication of his reductive politics where the Yogi created a vigilante group in 2002 called the Hindu Yuva Vahini, the police is an aide, an accomplice. The sevaks are at the helm of every administrative function, including ration cards. But of course, they have been labelled as a cultural group.
On the ground, they are everything but cultural. They have gone after the slaughterhouses, declared war over "love jihad" and assisted the anti-Romeo squads of the police.
But to understand the nuanced social engineering of Yogi, the temple's karyalaya is the most critical. From inside the sprawling temple, which has been politically active ever since 1921, a parallel government is run. Policemen stand guard outside. They are on call. When the temple issues a notice, the fear of what might ensue is what makes the perpetrator and the state administration act.
On the first floor, Yogi’s chamber has almost 11 rooms. They say he uses only one. The head priest’s desk has Valmiki’s Ramayana and India’s Vision for Global Prosperity by Anand Shankar Pandya among other books neatly stacked. An orange towel (they colour-code it Kesariya) is spread on the chair.
In his absence, the chair remains vacant. And yet, the people keep coming in, with folded hands. A young woman, who refuses to give her name or be photographed, has come to "maharajji" for a resolution. Her husband wasn’t letting her live with him. Tiwari makes a call to the husband and asks him to show up at the temple within a few hours. Until then, the woman will be waiting.
“What if he doesn’t show up?”
“Madam, the temple is an institution, which is widely respected and feared. This is the biggest court," says Dwarika Tiwari, the administrator of Gorakhnath Temple, which is the seat of parallel government in a democracy run from a temple. He has been with the temple for the past 45 years.
"Love jihad is finished here. Our aim is not rajneeti but to protect our faith,” says Sanjay Singh, Jila Adyaksh of Hindu Yuva Vahini in Kushinagar district.
What is amusing is the absence of any acknowledgment of women and their choice. If they argue that an illiterate Muslim boy misled a post-graduate woman of the Hindu community, isn't it unfair that even after her education, the woman is unable to decide on her own. Does it reflect poorly on the education system or on the women of a particular community? I keep quiet. I have been told to be well-behaved. I play my part.
The "karyalaya" started during the time of Mahant Digvijaynath and assumed a greater role during Yogi's predecessor's time when people started coming in with their issues like pension, ration card, train ticket bookings and domestic disputes. The administrator is always in touch with Yogi over the phone. Tiwari says there is no distinction made on the basis of the religion.
In the parallel administration, there are no delays and panchayats are held in the temple to solve cases. It is the speed with which the staff processes the requests which makes it popular and there is the implementing agency in the form of Hindu Yuva Vahini, which is a “cultural force”, but the members are feared throughout the region. In fact, Yuva Vahini started with a Dalit man coming to the temple with a complaint after the local police station refused to register his case regarding the rape and eventual death of his minor sister.
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"We have a mosque inside the temple property. During Bade Mahant's time, the mosque was declared as part of the temple so the representatives from the Sunni Board from Lucknow and the community from the neighborhood had asked the mahant to take a decision who decided to keep it and now the mosque has grown in size. Even in Gol Ghar, there is a Muslim shrine and a malang is there and we maintain the property," Tiwari says.
There have been thousands of panchayats over the years.
"There are too many problems and people have faith towards the temple," he says. "Over the years, I am realising that Muslim women are oppressed. We are not against the Muslims. They come to us. We are a place of justice."
The temple's role as the seat of Janata Darbar and as the karyalaya, which is a tradition ever since the temple got into politics, is now expanding as Yogi takes over as the CM.
"We have about eight people working in the karyalaya and we work round-the-clock," Tiwari says. “Another five are there to type the letters and complaints.”
After Yogi became the CM, from 5am to 3pm, the staff is expected to stay put in the karyalaya.
"He is always in touch," Tiwari says.
For the implementation of the decisions taken by the temple and the panchayat, there are the yogi sewaks who are part of the Yuva Vahini. The fear of what lies beyond the scope of law and order and the legitimacy provided to this parallel administration by the people and their faith is what lends Yogi his power.
A professor, who taught history in a local college, says the temple has always been very powerful and the people have always seen it as an effective system where there are no delays and the staff is always willing to listen.
“The temple became politically engaged and the mahants have exercised power over local agencies and when the temple sends a request, it carries weight,” he says. “People know this."
Virendar Singh, 43, calls himself a sevak in the karyalaya. He has been here since 1990. Otherwise, he is an employee of a college run by the trust. But it is here - the nyaya peeth - that he spends at least 12 hours writing down complaints and sending them to appropriate authorities.
"We don't ask the religion," he says. "We look at their pain. A crime is a crime."
That morning, he had done the train reservations for various people. Recently, they had been active in what they call the "rescue" of a Hindu girl from Jaipur. It wasn't a case of alleged "love jihad", which was one of election campaign issues by the mahant. A lot of "love jihad" cases have been resolved by the temple.
"We don't encourage such such unions," Tiwari says. "Shudhikaran is done by the Arya Samaj nearby if we have found that the girl was misled by a member from the other community."
If there are cases of domestic conflict, they resolve it on a Rs 100 stamp paper but that's the last resort.
In 1989, the current mahant's predecessor, Yogi Avaidyanath, became an MP on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket from Gorakhpur. He repeated the feat in 1991 and 1996, on a BJP ticket.
In 1994, Adityanath was declared Avaidyanath’s heir. He was only 22 years old at the time and hailed from Pauri in Uttarakhand.
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To understand Yogi's style of governance, it is not out of context to understand the temple's political positioning. On Makar Sankranti, there is a khichdi ritual, an old tradition where everyone brings an offering of rice and pulses and they are made to sit on the floor and are served. That way, the barriers of caste are diluted, dissolved.
The Nath sect is believed to have been founded by Lord Shiva and Matsyendranath, the disciple of Shiva is said to have passed knowledge to his disciple Gorakhnath. The followers of this sect suffix Nath to their names and are the devotees of Gorakhnath.
Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, a Hindi writer from Uttar Pradesh, writes that the arrival of Muslims had started in the time of Guru Gorakhnath and fissures were apparent in the Hindu community where Shaivas and Buddhists were not accepting the Brahmin religion. Gorakhnath organised the groups through yoga, which is what Yogi is attempting to do - reorganise Dalits and Brahmins and create polarisation.
Hindu-Muslim unity was what Gorakhnath aimed at. But the Yogi is a Hindutva hardliner and a prime-accused in Gorakhpur’s 2007 communal riots. His inflammatory anti-Muslim speeches based on the politics of polarisation and fear psychosis have worked for him as a politician. But his role as the mahant of the temple of the sect that has always been opposed to the varna system has made him a spiritual head.
A couple of Muslim women stood outside the karyalaya. They had come to seek help with a loan application.
"This is where everyone comes," the woman, who refused to be named, says.
The Gorakhnath Temple Trust and its affiliates have about 44 institutions under them in Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Kushinagar and other districts. The next demand is to change the name of Azamgarh, often referred to as mini-Pakistan and a terror hub.
There are 17 educational institutions listed under the Maharana Pratap Shiksha Sansthan, which is a trust operated by the temple. There are two hospitals, including an ayurvedic hospital run by the temple trust. There are also the religious institutions like the Yagyashala.
PK Mal, a leader of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, says everyone expects justice from the temple, which has a democratic way of putting pressure on the law enforcement agencies. It is all about the oppressed getting justice, he says.
To give context, he invokes the minority appeasement politics of the Congress and the SP and the BSP, and says the role of the temple as the centre for justice is more pronounced.
"We are there to give dignity to the poor," he adds.
I go back to the hotel that has fake green grass on the landing and a poster of Yogi at the entrance and look out of the window.
I remember the orange walls of the Yuva Vahini's office.
Against the blue of the sky, the orange was striking. Literally and metaphorically.