The BJP has finally chosen Gorakhpur MP and firebrand leader Yogi Adityanath as their Uttar Pradesh CM. This came after a lot of deliberations between the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and their political wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the country with a full majority today. In a way, this completes a full circle.
Yogi Adityanath’s “spiritual father” and predecessor Yogi Avaidyanath of the Gorakhpur mutt had served as president of the Hindu Mahasabha and won the 1962 Assembly election as a Hindu Mahasabha candidate from Maniram constituency of Uttar Pradesh.
He went on to get re-elected another four times from the same constituency. In 1989, he contested the Gorakhpur parliamentary constituency again as a Hindu Mahasabha candidate, and won.
In 1991, however, Yogi Avaidyanath chose to contest on a BJP ticket and won again. He retained his seat as the BJP candidate in 1996. In 1998, he nominated his successor Adityanath as the candidate. Adityanath won and has retained the seat ever since.
Adityanath, born as Ajay Singh in a Garhwali Rajput family, had taken his “Deeksha” in 1994 at the Gorakhpur mutt in the presence of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) president Ashok Singhal and other Hindutva icons. He also floated a “socio-cultural nationalist” organisation on his own called the Hindu Yuva Vahini that gained notoriety in the Purvanchal region with vigilante acts and engineering riots, among other feats.
As the Ram temple movement gained momentum in the 1980s, Yogi Avaidyanath became an ally of the VHP in spreading that cause in the temple town and around. Adityanath took it to the next level by descending from the pulpit of the Gorakhnath mutt and becoming active among the largely unemployed and frustrated youth of the area.
His outreach ranged from "Ram Prakostha" for pavement dwellers to the "Bansfod Hindu Manch" for woodcutters. The Hindu Yuva Vahini was formed in 2002 by merging all these fronts and he emerged as a cult figure in the aftermath.
One of his campaigns that gained popularity initially was based on the propaganda that Muslims in the adjoining Nepal border districts and the mosques in the area were getting infiltrated and being used by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as terrorist launchpads.
Gorakhpur, which hadn’t seen any violence even during the Babri Masjid demolition aftermath, was soon communalised as the Hindu Yuva Vahini began terrorising Muslims in the region. The growing stature of a don like Mukhtar Ansari can also be traced to this period as a counter to Adityanath.
The Hindu Yuva Vahini was charged with the Mau riots in 2005 and the Gorakhpur riots in the month of January 2007 that actually made headlines across the nation. Adityanath's supporters set ablaze a Muslim mausoleum of the Shias after a Hindu youth injured in an altercation at a Muharram procession died at the hospital.
After Adityanath's subsequent arrest, his followers torched two coaches of the Mumbai-bound Mumbai-Gorakhpur Godan Express on January 30, 2007. Mulayam Singh Yadav, then CM of UP, saw to it that the district magistrate and the local police chief were transferred within 24 hours of Adityanath’s arrest, thereby raising suspicions of state patronage despite his secular credentials.
Adityanath has several cases registered against him including murder and was till recently referred to as one of those “fringe elements” of the BJP. He once hit headlines by making the charge that Mother Teresa was a conspiracy foisted by the missionaries to convert Hindus to Christianity.
He has also lent his support to the “Love Jihad” and the “Ghar Wapsi” campaigns. Yogi has been a star in the media with his occasional rabid statements. Even as late as 2015, he made the statement that people who found the “Surya Namaskar” objectionable could migrate to Pakistan.
Just as Narendra Modi gained the aura of Vikas Purush of Gujarat after Vajpayee’s ill health and Advani’s lacklustre show in 2009, the 44-year-old Adityanath could be the RSS’s investment for 2019 and beyond once the Modi magic fades.
This is the moment of the fringe element going mainstream and any pretences of the BJP as an inclusive party will surely not wash after this choice of Adityanath.
The communal pot will keep simmering in Uttar Pradesh in the run up to 2019 and the Hindutva juggernaut might obliterate much of the opposition if they do not see the larger picture in the aftermath of Yogi’s ascension.