Yogi Adityanath isn’t a coincidence — He is the culmination.
You are a 90’s kid and you are attracted to BJP — You should read this!
Yogi Adityanath was anointed as the would-be chief minister of India’s most populous state a few days ago. As the news started making its rounds, a lot of people started sharing acerbic, if not rabid, speeches by this man with explicit calls for violence.
Particularly, the news raised a certain amount of curiosity because the saffron-clad politician is the head priest of a major temple in the state — The Gorakhnath Math. I was not surprised by the news, neither should you be. And this article is about why it is so. I am trying to explore the evolution of this particular brand of politics around the sprawling lands of the iconic temple.
Clearly, threatening to kill a thousand Muslims if a Muslim kills a Hindu or to abduct a hundred Muslim girls for every Hindu girl leaving her home, isn’t really ‘secular-speak’.
But this article isn’t about him. This article is about why BJP didn’t have a choice but choose to him.
The allegoric reference to this saffron clad man is an attempt to undo the distinct charisma possessed by that obscure BJP MP/MLA who occasionally rises in national infamy after a tirade at some remote village calling out for communal violence.
Complement it with borderline comical references like the one below that begs strong will to suppress the laughter which tries hard to escape your esophagus.
But Adityanath isn’t from that league. The Yogi I am talking about is not that Hindutva icon (in)famous for his gaffes and tomfoolery. This one is different, for he was raised in a hotbed of political activity that could be thought of as the bone marrow of a certain brand of Hindutva Brigade — The Gorakhnath Math.
It perhaps takes a genius to discern the crazy cauldron that is Indian politics. It’s interspersed with religion, caste, linguistic and regional passion that renders any sane analysis useless. On top of that, we have opportunistic panderers as our politicians who won’t blink an eye before unleashing a communal riot that could boost their electoral prospects.
India wasn’t much different a hundred years ago too. Take a long stroll across our history and you will seldom come across a significant event that wasn’t dabbed with religion or some cultural marker that isn’t relevant to date.
In this context, let me introduce Mahant Digvijay Nath, the predecessor of Mahant Avaidyanath. Avaidyanath was the mentor and ceremonial ‘father’ to our Yogi Adityanath before he took over as the head priest of the Gorakhnath Math.
Do make a mental note of these three men before you proceed. Digvijay Nath, Avaidyanath and our beloved Yogi Adityanath. It will come handy when you have to make an inference based on the facts presented in this article.
The head of Gorakhnath Math will always be a Rajput. Digvijay Nath was born to a Rajput Thakur family in 1894. After he was orphaned at the tender age of 8, his uncle donated him to a Nathpath Yogi, who took him to the Gorakhnath Math temple where he grew up. He proceeded to attend St. Andrews college in Gorakhpur for higher education.
There, he got lured by the charms of politics. He left college to join Indian National Congress in 1920, the party in which he would remain until he left it to join the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937.
He took part in the non-cooperation movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi and made a lasting contribution to the movement — by being an active catalyst to an incident that brought the movement to a grinding halt.
French political scientist Christophe Jeffrelot describes Digvijay Nath’s participation as an “active role” in the incident that ended with the death of 23 policemen. It forced MK Gandhi to call off the movement because of the obvious deviation from the path of non-violence. This entered our historic lexicon as the Chauri Chaura Incident.
But this was just the beginning of an illustrious career as the political and spiritual head of a temple which has occupied an eminent position in the history of Modern Hinduism.
The Gorakhnath Math is seen as the centre stage of the Nath tradition of Shaivism, a sub-tradition within Hinduism. They were particularly known for the use of Hatha Yoga as a means to transform one’s body into a sahaja siddha, a state of awakened self’s identity with absolute reality.
Digvijay Nath used this tradition as a powerful aphrodisiac to make people come flocking under his ecclesiastic charisma. They hoped that some of it will spill over to their incorporeal lives.
In the next instant, we see him getting arrested by the Indian government for inciting Hindus to kill Mahatma Gandhi merely 3 days before his assassination.
It landed him in jail where he would spend the next 9 months of his life. Upon release, he initiated the first ever infectious Ram Janmabhoomi Movement that led to the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6th, 1992.
I regularly stumble upon online warriors of the Indian right, who deny the involvement of Hindutva ideology in the killing of Mahatma. What they don’t see is that there is an ideological connect between the kind of people who wanted to kill Mahatma Gandhi and the ones who actually did it.
It’s sort of an irony that the same people were involved in the demolition of Babri Masjid, which still remains a dark spot in the history of secular India.
In short, the Ram janmabhoomi movement was started by a guy who got jailed for inciting Hindus to kill Mahatma Gandhi. And Yogi Adithyanath is his direct descendant. Ringing any bells?
Chanting of Ramacharitha Manas for ten consecutive days started off the movement. It ended with idols of Ram and Sita forcefully placed inside the Masjid premises. Karsevaks and some leaders of the BJP would later claim that these idols appeared on their own and would use it as a ‘proof’ to their theory that the spot was the actual birthplace of Lord Ram.
And Digvijay Nath, working under Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha, was “the unifying factor for all those who wanted the Ayodhya strategy to succeed”. (Ayodhya: The Dark Night by Krishna Jha and Dhirendra K. Jha).
Then he went to make a foray into the Indian Politics. He was radically anti-Muslim and was quite open about it. While our country had stringent laws to punish those who are involved in hate speech and promoting hatred, it routinely buckled when it met a powerful upper caste priest making statements unacceptable to any civilised society.
For instance, in an Interview published on The Statesman 13th June, 1950, he makes the following comment on record.
“if we attains power, we would deprive the Muslims of the right to vote for five to 10 years, the time that it would take for them to convince the government that their interests and sentiments are pro-Indian.”
There might be an impulse to call this nationalistic, but this brand of politics has a lot to do with the classic power consolidation rather than putting nation above anything.
Even if this is a true patriotic narrative, it is a matter of debate if such comments can be brushed under the carpet calling them nationalistic when it is visibly seething with rabid hatred.
He would go on to win the Gorakhpur MP seat in 1967. Isn’t it starting to make sense?
After his death in 1969, he was succeeded by his protege Mahant Avaidyanath, who was anointed the head priest of Gorakhnath Math soon after the death of Digvijay Nath.
This Mahant too, as it turned out, wouldn’t stay away from Politics.
He went on to win from Maniram Vidhan Sabha constituency (which was part of Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency before ceasing to exist in 2008 following the delimitation order, 2008) for a record five times in 1962,1967,1968,1974 and 1977.
He also managed to get elected from the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat multiple times. First in 1970, followed by his re-election in 1989, 1991 and 1996.
If you can’t still see the pattern emerging, a bit more information should do the task.
Mahant Avaidyanath was instrumental in the formation of Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti and led a march from Sitarmahi, Bihar, to Ayodhya to “liberate” the temple. This happened in 1984 — the year BJP sent a prominent figure of two MPs to the Lok Sabha as their contribution.
This was the year in which Indira Gandhi was shot dead, the anti-Sikh riots allegedly contrived by some congress leaders, raged the streets of the national capital region killing thousands.
1984, just like the iconic Orwellian classic, will stay as a landmark year in the history of our nation. From anti-Sikh riots to the revival of Ram Janmabhoomi movement, this year would see the vestiges of our past coming to haunt us. Then it would show us how the same thorns could traumatize India in the form of the worst communal polarization this nation has ever seen.
Later on in 1992, during the event of the demolition of Babri Masjid, Mahant Avaidyanath was spotted on the terraces of the ‘Ram Katha Kunj’, the building facing the Mosque, among senior leaders such as L K Advani and Ashok Singhal, all according to court documents.
So this is a primer about Digvijay Nath and Mahanth Avaidyanath, who were the predecessors of Yogi Adityanath, as the lieutenants of a particular brand of politics that would see BJP rising as the most powerful party in the country. It’s about time we get back to Yogi Adityanath.
Yogi Adityanath, born Ajay Singh Bisht in 1972 is a Rajput who left his family in 1990 to join the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Later, he joined Gorakhnath Math as the disciple of Mahant Avaidhyanath and subsequently got a ticket for Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency in 1998.
Interestingly, Gorakhpur is like that captive constituencies where the Mahants of Gorakhnath Math have an exclusive right to candidature and is entitled to a walkover victory. No other candidate has won from the constituency since 1989; the only tangible competition was in 1999 when Adityanath took on the polls for the first time. This fact might be probably more biting for the BJP supporters because the major political sloganeering that drove electoral dividends for the party in 2014 were the attacks against the dynastic succession in the Congress Party.
It’s the irony of India that our culture favors dynastic succession and as time changes cards in our electoral arena, our constituencies get locked up with privileged people usurping constitutional positions that are meant to distribute power.
I am not going to the allegations levelled against Yogi Adityanath and the organisation he founded — the Hindu Yuva Vahini. The foot soldiers of Hindu Yuva Vahini are accused of being his pet brigade and is involved in a myriad of communal debaucheries including engineering riots from trivial domestic quarrels.
To quote one instance about Yogi Adityanath from this article on Business Standard:
In 1999, Yogi Adityanath made front-page news as an MP. “BJP out to protect trigger-happy MP” ran the second lead on the March 6 Lucknow edition of The Times of India, detailing an extraordinary story that began as a minor dispute over the fate of a peepul tree in a Muslim graveyard in a faraway village, acquired increasingly communal overtones, and ended with Adityanath desecrating the graveyard and his supporters fatally shooting a 26-year-old policeman in the face
Yogi certainly has a panoply of weapons in his arsenal when it comes to stoking communal passions. But this article is not about the person that is Adityanath, it is about the allegory inside our beloved Yogi. I shall refrain from talking about his personal exploits. What we need to talk about is why this man was handpicked by the BJP leadership for the top job. Sure, an objective analysis points in a grave direction.
Footnote: This article is meant to throw some light on the “surprise” decision to appoint Yogi Adityanath as the CM of the Uttar Pradesh. I don’t want to particularly hatch any conspiracy theories, but by describing some facts about the man, I am sure, I am building a relatively strong case on why the choice wasn’t that surprising after all.
It’s a matter of fact that the BJP enjoys a huge support among the urban middle class who looks at it as a credible choice for development and strong governance. I don’t want to challenge this notion, but want to educate the reader about the history and that this narrative of ‘development’ could be a ploy meant to appease our own sensibilities.
And that beneath all this ‘development’, lurks a direct connection with the militant Hindutva that can destabilize our nation and its relatively young democracy.
Please note that the cultural organisation which is the ideological fountainhead of the BJP is never featured in this story. I didn’t want to direct any references at them. They have stayed away from this story for the larger part of history.
But there is a catch.
From Mahant Digvijay Nath to Yogi Adityanath and their exploits, the modern BJP wouldn’t want a stake in their cultural hegemony. The one that exhorted Hindu militants to kill Mahatma Gandhi and launch a catastrophic movement that would change the course of this country forever.
The newer generations of BJP supporters want to dissociate themselves from this narrative and rally behind Narendra Modi as an icon of Hindu emancipation and/or ‘development for all’ through good governance.
This Modi school (the part of BJP that stands for these modern ideas) is in an enviable position now. After winning in majority of states in the country and is undoubtedly the largest political party in the world, BJP marched on to secure a thumping victory in the nation’s most populous state this month.
With 325 out of 403 seats in the Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly), they could have formed the government the way they wanted. They could have roped in literally anyone to run this government for them.
But they chose Yogi. You could think of it as naivety or choose from a basket of umpteen reasons to believe that the current BJP leadership has nothing to do with the brand of politics bandied by Yogi Adityanath or Mahant Avaidyanath or Mahant Digvijay Nath or anyone from this school of thought.
But do think for yourself, why would have Modi picked Yogi? Did he really have a choice? Was it a message meant to reach the masses? What about the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that saw BJP rising from two seats to 85 seats between 1984–1989? Why do we have a Mahant from Gorakhnath Math in the CM’s office of UP despite all this rhetoric around development — “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”?
And when you think, I want you to think in terms of Yogi the allegory, not that person who urges us to hate even SRK just because he is a Muslim.
Thank you for taking time to read this long long article! If you find that this article will help another human being, I request you to share this for her/his benefit. Thank you so much!
- The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics by Christophe Jaffrelot. (link)
- Ayodhya: The Dark Night by Krishna Jha and Dhirendra K. Jha.