Yogi Adityanath is likely to keep the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi hot ahead of the 2019 general election given his mutt’s long association with it, says Dhirendra K Jha, author of Shadow Armies: Fringe Organisations and Foot Soldliers of Hindutva. Jha, whose book chronicles the rise of Hindu Yuva Vahini, Yogi Adityanath’s organisation, says he never considered that Adityanath would be made chief minister of Uttar Pradesh while he was researching his book in 2015-16.
In an interview, he explains why he sees some similarities between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and how “Adityanath is much ahead of Modi in securing his base independent of the RSS’’:
Q. Do you see parallels between Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi, in that they built support bases independent of the RSS? Also in the shedding of strategic tears? And in the reinvention that is currently underway for Yogi and happened earlier with Modi — of being a no nonsense administrator?
A. It is true that both Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath have built support bases independent of the RSS. But while Modi achieved this after securing electoral success with the help of the RSS, Adityanath did this as part of the legacy that can be traced back to Digvijaynath, who was the Mahant of Gorakhnath temple from 1935 till his death in 1969, and a senior leader of Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindutva party outside the Sangh Parivar.
A shift from Goraksha Manch to Hindu Yuva Vahini did lead to remarkable expansion in the base of Yogi’s militia. Photo: India Today
Avaidyanath, the successor of Digvijaynath and the guru of Adityanath, also embodied the saffron tradition distinct from that of the RSS. The tradition grew further under Adityanath, who, despite contesting elections on the BJP ticket, formed his own Hindu militia group, Hindu Yuva Vahini, which is independent of the RSS.
In a way, therefore, Adityanath is much ahead of Modi in securing his base independent of the RSS. The two are similar also in the sense that they are not merely aware of their reputation as no-nonsense administrators; they actively promote it.
Q. What explains the policy of appeasement of the government of Akhilesh Yadav towards Yogi?
A. Akhilesh Yadav, like his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, has consistently tried to woo Thakur voters — apart from OBCs and Muslims — for the Samajwadi Party. As the Mahant of Gorakhnath temple, which has become a Thakur Math since the days of Digvijayanath, Adityanath is seen as a prominent face of the caste in the region.
Even in the Hindu Yuva Vahini, almost all key positions are occupied by the members of his caste. This electoral consideration is said to have led Akhilesh Yadav to pursue the policy of appeasement towards Yogi.
Q. At the time you were researching the Hindu Yuva Vahini, did you consider the possibility that Yogi would become chief minister? Did his supporters ever give you that impression that it was his ultimate ambition?
A.Yogi’s chief-ministerial ambition seems to have started growing after the Lok Sabha election of 2014. During 2015-16, when I was researching the book, it had occupied the minds of Hindu Yuva Vahini activists.
They had now started raising slogan: "Desh mein Modi, Pradesh mein Yogi (Modi in centre and Yogi in state)". But since Yogi is highly individualistic and unpredictable in his attitude, a trait that PM Modi generally did not appear to favour while identifying chief ministers in BJP-ruled states, I never considered the possibility that the Gorakhpur MP would be made the CM of UP.
Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva, by Dhirendra K Jha; Juggernaut; Rs 499
Q. It is interesting you say that Hindu Yuva Vahini had to change its original intent from the narrow ambition of Goraksha. Would it work now? And what has changed now you think?
A. A shift from Goraksha Manch to Hindu Yuva Vahini did lead to remarkable expansion in the base of Yogi’s militia. In one and half decades, the outfit succeeded in carving out its own area of influence in Gorakhpur and neighbouring districts. But now, as the chief minister of the state, Adityanath can run his militia only at the cost of the state’s law and order and the government’s image.
Running militia while outside the government is one thing, but continuing to do so while heading the state government, fulfilling all the constitutional obligations, is quite another. It is, afterall, not in the interest of any government to be seen as incapable of fixing things.
Q. It is an unprecedented case of a spiritual head also being a temporal head. How will it work for the Math?
A. Politics has been an important source of strength for Gorakhnath temple since the time of Digvijaynath. The mixing of spiritual and temporal affairs is, therefore, not new to the temple. What is new this time is the fact that the spiritual head of the temple has also become temporal head of the state. Given the manner in which this Math has grown under the last three mahants, the chief ministership of Adityanath may further strengthen its resource base and widen its area of influence.
Q. How do you see the evolution of these senas, the BJP and the RSS?
A. The BJP’s electoral fortunes and the consequent expansion in the RSS’s area of influence have remained largely dependent on the communal propaganda and campaign fuelled by these senas. Even for future elections, religious symbolism and sustained power of communal antagonism are important for the Sangh Parivar.
Yet, as senas grow in strength, the BJP, which is now in power, finds itself in an awkward situation as their activities also threaten to tarnish the image of the government. The division of labour, which has so far worked tremendously for both the BJP and the Hindu militia groups, may not continue for long in the same old manner now that the saffron outfit is in power.
And, yet, the BJP government cannot straightaway clampdown on these senas. The crossroads these players now find themselves on may be a significant milestone in the evolution of the senas, the BJP and the RSS.
Q. What would you say are the differences between a pracharak and a yogi? How do their philosophies differ?
A. A pracharak is the RSS whole-timer who takes the vow of celibacy and spends life detached from his family, working on assignments given to him by the organisation and shifting from one area to another on regular basis. As an agent of politico-cultural change, he is supposed to work with members of the Hindu community, unite them and guide them to realise their “strength” until they achieve the RSS’ ultimate objective of transforming the secular republic into a Hindu Rashtra. A yogi, on the other hand, is a mendicant of Shaiv persuasion and is believed to represent the oldest school of Hindu asceticism.
As a seeker of God, he is supposed to stay away from the community which he has left as he has moved on the path to attain salvation that can be achieved only through the union with God.
In practical terms, however, the philosophy of pracharaks boils down to an attitude towards the minorities, particularly Muslims, while that of the yogis, despite their play of words with regard to spiritualism and esoteric rituals, to the management of the Math, its properties and its followers.
Q. How do you see the future of the Ayodhya dispute with Yogi as chief minister?
A. The mahants of Gorakhnath temple have an old association with the Ayodhya dispute. Digvijaynath, as a Hindu Mahasabha leader, oversaw the plot to convert Babri Masjid into a temple in 1949. It was he who controlled and pulled all the strings, while the Mahasabhaites in Ayodhya — working under the banner of All India Ramayan Mahasabha — carried out the task of planting the idol in the mosque.
Avaidyanath, the disciple of Digvijaynath and the guru of Adityanath, was among the Hindu leaders who scripted the Sangh Parivar’s Ayodhya movement that culminated in the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
Adityanath, who is known for inciting communal hatred for political gains, has, on several occasions, used the symbol of Ayodhya as a means to affect polarisation of Hindus.
He is likely to keep the Ayodhya issue hot ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections even as the dispute is pending in the Supreme Court.