Yogi Adityanath: How Gorakhnath priest became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh

Chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath’s ties with Gorakhnath Temple assumes significance as the Math was at the forefront of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement


Chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath enjoys good relations with predecessor Rajnath Singh, who is currently the Union home minister. Photo: HT
Chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath enjoys good relations with predecessor Rajnath Singh, who is currently the Union home minister. Photo: HT

New Delhi: Yogi Adityanath was sworn in on Sunday as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, placing a polarizing figure in charge of one of India’s most important states.

Adiyanath, a controversial advocate of Hindutva, took oath of office after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) endorsed the state legislative party’s unanimous choice.

The swearing-in ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah and the entire senior central leadership of the party. At 44, the shaved headed saffron-clad sanyasi will be the second youngest chief minister of Uttar Pradesh after his predecessor Akhilesh Yadav. The five-time Member of Parliament (MP) from Gorakhpur in eastern UP is unmarried and the head priest of Gorakhnath Temple in Gorakhpur.

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Not much is known about Adityanath’s childhood, except that he was born Ajay Singh Bisht on 5 June 1972, in a Rajput family in Panchur, a village in Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. At the age of 21, he renounced his family to become a disciple of Avaidyanath, the head priest of Gorakhnath Temple.

His connection with the temple was to prove crucial in later years—members of the Gorakhnath Math or monastery where the temple is situated played an important role in the movement to build a Ram Mandir in place of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Adityanath is a graduate in science from Garhwal University at Srinagar, Uttarakhand, according to the Lok Sabha website.

At Gorakhnath Temple, Adityanath became the favourite disciple of his mentor Avaidyanath and followed in the long tradition of the temple churning out members of the state assembly and parliament.

Both Avaidyanath and his predecessor Digvijaynath were elected to the Lok Sabha as member of the Hindu Mahasabha, a militant Hindu outfit. Later Avaidyanath joined the BJP.

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Adityanath cut his teeth in politics managing the election campaign for his mentor, and in the 1998 general elections, formally entered public life when he became the youngest MP from Gorakhpur at the age of 26. He has won all four general elections since then.

“Yogi Adityanath has always used symbolism as a tool in politics and his appointment as the chief minister will witness the use of symbolism to reach out to the people of the state. While he was born in an upper caste family, he has renounced everything and so he will be able to reach out the financially and socially weaker section of people,” said a senior BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh who was involved in the decision making process for elections.

As Adityanath rose in politics, he started to enjoy good relations with former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and current Union home minister Rajnath Singh, one of the seniormost BJP leaders from Uttar Pradesh. The head priest of Gorakhnath Temple is also close to members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP.

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“The appointment of Yogi Adiytanath as the chief minister is also a test for him because he has never held any administrative post and it is a challenge for him to reinvent himself from being a religious leader to a parliamentarian and now play a role of an able administrator,” the BJP leader added. With the BJP having pledged development, good governance and improvement in law and order in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the biggest challenge for Adityanath will be to try and meet the aspirations of voters by creating job opportunities for the youth, as well as infrastructure development.

Adityanath is also the patriarch of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a non-profit organization, which was started in 2002 to promote nationalism, common cause of Hindus, Hindutva and social harmony. Among the many things, Adityanath is also involved in protection of cows, more than two dozen educational institutions and also works to provide health facilities in rural areas.

Political analysts say that while Modi has emphasised the need for inclusive development and social harmony, the choice of Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh chief minister is the antithesis of such talk.

“Yogi Adityanath has been a controversial politician and Modi was seen as someone who wanted to bring all communities together on development. The prime minister had projected himself as someone who wanted the fruits of development to reach everyone irrespective of caste and religion but the choice of chief minister is directly opposite because Adityanath doesn’t represent development or inclusiveness,” said A.K. Verma, a political science professor at Christ Church College, Kanpur.

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