Swashbuckling and firebrand 44-year-old Ajay Singh Bisht hails from a Garhwali Rajput clan, resident of Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. It was in the 1990s that he joined the Ayodhya Ram Temple movement as a youth of 21; he was given the name ‘Yogi Adityanath’ by his mentor and the chief of the Gorakhnath Math, the Mahant Avaidyanath.
His rise to the position of ultimate power in the most populous Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on March 19 this year was surprising for many. Uttar Pradesh represents the Ganga-Jumni syncretic culture with the overriding influence of Persian-Urdu speaking Muslim Ashraaf as a tangible reality. One may, therefore, argue that any extraordinary situation unfolding in Uttar Pradesh can send tremors in Pakistan.
Assigning such a crucial portfolio as the chief minister of pluralistic UP to someone who believes in unilateralist form of politics steeped in social exclusion and punctuated with religious chauvinism, indeed, seemed inconceivable until it actually transpired.
After the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992, the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is an event of critical significance which may have South Asia-wide repercussions. He has kept 36 ministries to himself, has imposed a ban on tobacco, paan and gutka in government offices, and has also made an official pledge to devote 100 hours every year for the Swachh Bharat Mission (with the slogan of “one step towards cleanliness”, initiated in 2014 to clean the streets, roads and infrastructure of the country’s 4,041 cities and towns). More crucially, the slaughterhouses in the entire state have been shut down as the newly appointed Chief Minister has a penchant for Gau Rakhsha. Ironically however, even the meat of buffalos, for which India is internationally known, cannot be bought and sold. Anti-Romeo squads have been formed so that gender segregation can be ensured.
The yogi has been voicing a serious concern over the phenomenon of love jihad whereby Muslim boys “dupe” Hindu girls into marrying them. Consequently the Hindu Nari (woman) is being used to produce Muslim children.
In view of these measures, the communal cleavage between Muslims and Hindus is likely to widen with dire consequences for Indian secularism which is already resting on a slippery slope ever since the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) swept the polls in 2014. Before spelling out the portents that such a move like appointing Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of UP can result in, a brief account of his political career seems warranted here, primarily to put things in perspective.
The son of Ajay Singh Bisht, a forest ranger, Adityanath completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Uttrakhand. It is quite ironic that despite instruction in the mother of all sciences, he opted to become quite the opposite of what science professes, and thus turned out to be a diehard and uncompromising priest believing in esoteric religious injunctions, instead of becoming a rational person.
According to French scholar Christophe Jaffrelot, Yogi Adityanath epitomises “a specific tradition of Hindutva politics in Uttar Pradesh” that was represented by Mahant Digvijay Nath who spearheaded the campaign which resulted in the capture of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya for Hindus on December 22, 1949. Digvijay Nath and his successor Avaidyanath were staunch members of the Hindu Mahasabha and were elected to the Lok Sabha from that platform one after the other. After the BJP and Sang Parivar came together in 1980s in the condemnation of the Babri mosque, the two strands of Hindu nationalism converged. Avaidyanath joined the BJP in 1991 but maintained marked autonomy. Yogi Adityanath was enunciated as Avaidyanath’s successor as the Mahant of Gorakhnath Math in 1994.
In 1998 he contested elections and was elected to the lower house of the Indian parliament as the youngest parliamentarian at 26 years of age. Immediately afterwards, he founded his own militant youth wing Hindu Yuva Vahini, which not only earned fame for its militant activities in the eastern Uttar Pradesh but also became the fundamental reason for his meteoric rise as a political figure.
Ever since 1998, he has won from Gorakhpur for five consecutive terms.
While studying the political rise of Adityanath, one must not lose sight of his mercurial character leading to strained relations with the BJP on several occasions. Since he had his own powerbase in eastern Uttar Pradesh, with the unflinching support of the Hindu Yuva Vahini and the Gorakhnath Math, thus he had the cheek to deride and criticise the BJP for ‘its dilution of the Hindutva ideology’.
Once he was so incensed with the BJP that he decided to field his own candidate Radha Mohan Das Agarwal against the BJP Cabinet Minister Shiv Pratab Shukla in 2002, and later was defeated by a wide margin.
Cognizant of his political clout and following, he has been kept in good humour by all the prominent right wing leaders like L.K. Advani, RSS Chief Rajendra Singh and the Vishwa Hindu Prishad Chief Ashok Singhal etc. All of them have visited him in Gorakhpur.
In some ways, Yogi Adityanath contemplates reviving the methods of Arya Samaj, like Shuddhi which was initiated to convert non-Hindus back to the fold of Hinduism. He gives it a new designation, ‘parvartan’. He thinks that since the DNA of the Indian Muslims has proved that their overwhelming majority hailed from India, they can be re-converted to Hinduism. That indeed will be a portentous path to tread.
In 2005, he led a purification campaign which had a striking similarity with Shuddhi though it was directed against Christians. In one such instance, 1,800 Christians were reportedly converted to Hinduism in the town of Etah. However, for the last few years, he has been particularly targeting Muslims. By alienating 20 per cent of the Uttar Pradesh population, how well will he administer the state is open to question.
Adityanath’s supporters argue that his strict personal regimental discipline indicates an efficiency that would in turn be reflected in his administration. However, historical precedence indicates the opposite. Not only is his government headed towards alienating a very large segment of society, becoming unpopular, but also that the unfolding events in UP might actually make the sentiments of ideologues like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar relevant again.
That is an eventuality that the largely secular and modern majority of UP and India must struggle to prevent. One must not forget that the impact of any event which unfolds in Northern India spills over to rest of South Asian and particularly Pakistan, the incident of Babri Mosque’s demolition is a case in point.