Monday, August 15th, 2022 08:15:53

Why so much fuss over a Yogi?

Updated: April 5, 2017 12:25 pm

The BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh has shaken up the media and other political parties not only on account of the scale of the victory, but also its aftermath. In what many people term a “surgical strike”, Yogi Adityanath has been chosen the Chief Minister, shocking many, with the Leftists calling it a diabolical move. Many immediately branded him as “communal”, a “bigot”, “a Hindu fundamentalist”, etc without even giving the new Chief Minister a chance to explain his agenda. Typical parts of the media, who have attributed to themselves the right to decide for the rest of us, are playing the role of the opposition, and some expressed concern whether certain communities will feel threatened. Broadly, there are three sets of people divided vertically over Adityanath as compared to the two, which have been split over Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Liberals and secularists have been opposing while corporates and pro-Hindutva advocates have been supporting Modi ad nauseam since the Anna Hazare protests scripted the fall of Manmohan Singh’s government.

In Adityanath’s case, a third category of Indians has overnight become too vocal to be ignored. It’s a massive bloc of Indians carrying a DNA heavily hung over by British colonialism. Adityanath also doesn’t fit into the all-pervasive American narrative in which capitalism–and not religion or culture–is the central subject.

Born Ajay Mohan Bisht, he studied BSc before joining the priesthood. He was initiated in 1994 by his guru Mahant Avaidyanath, the head priest at Gorakhpur’s Gorakhnath shrine. As a yogi, Adityanath captured the imagination of the faithful. His popularity soared after his mentor anointed him as the chief of Gorakhnath. Adityanath won his election to Parliament at age 26, in 1998. He was re-elected four times later.

But he never shed his outward identity. Nor has he ever been apologetic about his outspokenness. A breed of Indians, which lampoons Baba Ramdev for his dress, isn’t able to accept a chief minister primarily for his saffron robes.

Imagine if Adityanath hadn’t turned a cleric, did not dress up the way he does and had graduated from an Ivy-League college, perceptions would have been radically different. No matter if he still pursued aggressive Hindutva, he would likely be embraced as a scholar on Sanatan Dharma and as one of India’s youngest lawmakers in Parliament.

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Image makeovers for powerful leaders aren’t an issue. Backed by wealthy capitalists and PR professionals, they can very well bury their controversial pasts and market their humble beginnings to their constituencies.

It isn’t a big deal for a chief minister if he chooses to transform his public appearance. But the Adityanath phenomenon has once again exposed the fault-lines of a confused Hindi heartland. Publicly, many of Indian public detest Lutyens’ Delhi for all its symbolism. Privately, they just can’t digest a saffron-clad, non-English-speaking ascetic settling down as a decision-maker in power politics. This defect is genetic.

One remembers how the same elite across all communities, including the Sikhs, contemptuously treated Giani Zail Singh’s elevation as the country’s President in 1982. The term giani, which means a learned person, was reduced to a slur to address Sikhs back then. Singh had earned the title after studying religion. He was fluent mainly in the Urdu and Punjabi languages. Yet, he rose in politics.

The Giani was a soft-spoken gentleman. Unlike the Yogi, he wasn’t a hardliner. But his background and unfancy record in formal English education turned him into the butt of silly jokes. So, the real issue for some of Adityanath’s critics isn’t about his hard or soft approach on religion. In fact, it’s about his firm roots in religion. Why do the yogis, the babas and the gianis have to be restricted behind the walls of their monasteries till they don’t undergo a beauty treatment to soothe eyes infected by colonial conjunctivitis?

Questions were asked of the BJP after Yogi was appointed CM of UP, the most populous state in the country. Yogi brought with him a mix of both development and Hindutva and this was the perfect blend for his party. Yogi is a five-time MP and at the age of 44 has already made a mark in Indian politics. He has not been a back-bencher in Parliament. He has taken part in debates and has an impressive attendance. As per, his attendance was 77 per cent. He has taken part in 57 debates and asked 284 questions.

During his debates, he has focussed heavily on both issues concerning Hindus and development. He has raised issues such as river pollution and rising cases of encephalitis. On the one hand, he has focused on cow slaughter, protection of Hindu rights, protection for Hindu pilgrims, uniform civil code. He also played a major role in the discussions on the Enemy Property Bill, which was recently passed in Parliament. He has raised questions about the rise of the Islamic State and radicalisation. On the other hand, most of his questions were directed at the health department. He raised questions such as corruption in medical bodies and what measures were being taken to control population explosion. In this questions to the Home Ministry, he asked about measures being taken to control the rise of the IS, radicalisation, extremism by Christian separatists as well.

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Data would show that 8.5 per cent of his debates were related to the railway budget. Eleven per cent of his debates were focused around Hinduism. He sought to know what was being done about the facilities for Amarnath yatris, the reorganisation of the Amarnath Shrine Board, and also lifting the ban on the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra to Nepal. He also asked questions about pollution of Indian rivers. Five debates were around eradication of encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis. There were also five debates around central university status to the Gorakhpur University, the constituency he represents. He also took part in four debates on carving out a separate Poorvanchal state from eastern UP.

In Gorakhpur such is the clout of Adityanath that in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party was hunting for a huge open area for their prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who was drawing huge crowds.

The area they zeroed in, near Maanvela village in Gorakhpur, had a high Muslim population. Much to the surprise of the party leadership, the Muslims themselves came forward and offered their agriculture land for Modi’s rally, who till then carried the Godhra taint.

Rise of the Yogi

Amid high drama and a last-minute twist-in-the-tale, controversial Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath swept the rug from under the feet of all other contenders for the post of Chief Minister. The BJP Legislature Party elected Adityanath as its leader and the next Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Here are 10 things to know about the man:

  •   Adityanath was born in a village in present-day Uttarakhand in 1972 as Ajay Singh to a Rajput family. He later took the name ‘Adityanath’.
  • He has a degree in Science from Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University.
  • He runs his own “youth wing” called the Hindu Yuva Vahini, which has been accused of inflaming communal passions. They were accused in the 2005 Mau riots.
  • Adityanath is a five-time MP from the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency.
  • He was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1998 at the age of 26, becoming the youngest member of the 12th Lok Sabha.
  • His spiritual Guru Mahant Avaidyanath passed away in 2014, passing on the reigns of the Gorakhnath Mutt to Adityanath.
  • The MP has been accused of polarizing statements. He has been accused of making hate speeches. In 2015, he had declared that those who opposed ‘Surya Namaskar’ should be prepared to leave India.
  • In 2005, he led a “purification drive” to “re-convert” Christians to Hinduism.
  • In 2007, he staged a “non-violent dharna” during a Moharram procession in Gorakhpur. However, it was alleged that inflammatory speeches were made during the demonstrations and some of his followers allegedly set fire to a nearby mazar. Adityanath later broke a curfew and was jailed. Following his imprisonment, riots spread across Gorakhpur district.
  • The firebrand MP’s relationship with the party has been strained. In 2006, he staged a Virat Hindustan rally at the same time as the BJP National Executive meeting. He has been in conflict with the BJP leadership over ticket distribution several times. In 2010, he even defied the party whip to vote against the women’s reservation bill.

The reason: Mahant Yogi Adityanath had helped the Muslims of the area get their dues for the land acquired by the Gorakhpur Development Authority.

Now, when the BJP brass rewarded him for the 175 rallies he held across the state, paving the way for the party’s spectacular win in the 2017 elections, eyebrows are being raised. The doubts are no less amplified by the fact that in him, the state is having its first chief minister dressed in saffron, who is mahant of the much-revered Gorakhnath Peeth and has been at the forefront of the Ram temple movement.

Adityanath is the second chief minister to come from the Gorakhpur region, a neglected area of the state. The late Vir Bahadur Singh was the first chief minister from the region in a Congress dispensation.

Through his selection, the party high command has sent a clear message to the voters about its ambitious plan to pursue their winning formula of Hindutva and development. Simultaneously, the social engineering formula, evolved by the party president Amit Shah, has also been carried forward. Adityanath is a Thakur, while his deputies Keshav Maurya and Dinesh Sharma belong to the OBC and Brahmin community respectively.

Many insiders indicate the party’s plan to prop up another Thakur leader against Rajnath Singh, the only Rajput leader of prominence in the state and country. Many political experts define Adityanath as the Modi of Uttar Pradesh. The slogans raised on his anointment day were ‘Modi, Yogi, Yogi’.

The Modi BJP has always had hardliner Hindutva leaders who have managed to climb the rungs to the highest levels of power in the party. Remember Uma Bharti, who was accused of the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition? She not only was briefly chief minister of Madhya Pradesh but is now the  Union  Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation. Perhaps the only assumption about the Uttar Pradesh elections that many had was that in Modi’s era such leaders wouldn’t get so much power. With Adityanath’s elevation, all bets are now off. This is a leader who has publicly promised the Ram Mandir in the state, something even the Modi campaign of 2014 reduced to a footnote in its manifesto.

The message is now clear in the BJP: deliver the goods and no matter your past record, you will be rewarded. The elevation of Adityanath to the chief ministerial post had the sanction not only of the MLAs but reportedly also of the BJP’s Parliamentary board and the Prime Minister.

His choice shows a clear strategy by the BJP to prepare for the big election in 2019 in what is the most crucial state for seats in Parliament. To win big in 2019, as in 2014 and 2017, a clear consolidation of the Hindu vote cutting across caste is essential. All other parties have played the Muslim card combining with other caste groups to come to power. The BJP has succeeded in bypassing the Muslim vote through its successful strategy. There is a strong possibility of all other political parties joining together to prevent votes from splitting in 2019, and a Hindu consolidation is certainly needed if the BJP has to win.

To win in 2019, the new government has to govern well till then, demonstrating economic growth, development and jobs. Rule of law, safety of life, liberty and property of all citizens specially women, the poor and vulnerable sections including Muslims, is essential. Roads, power, water for drinking and agriculture, other infrastructure, health and education, enforcement of the rule of law and dismantling of goonda raj, improving the quality of life, jobs and creating economic opportunities for all should be the target. As PM Modi did in Gujarat over the last 10 years before becoming the PM, there is no reason why the new Chief Minister will not do the same. Power brings great responsibility and for a Yogi, a patriot and ardent nationalist who loves his country, there can be no better opportunity to show his mettle as Chief Minister of UP. Certainly much hope and the future of Indian politics depend on the strong, broad shoulders of Yogi Adityanath.

By Nilabh Krishna   

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