Lucknow: A five-term Lok Sabha member of Parliament (MP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Yogi Adityanath is a fiery Hindutva mascot who has developed a reputation of being controversy’s favourite child over a period of time.
Sworn in as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister on Sunday, 44-year-old Yogi Adityanath, a priest-turned-politician, is known for his provocative speeches and mass following across the state and never shies away from making controversial remarks, be it about Islam or Pakistan.
Clad in his trademark saffron robe, Yogi Aditayanth, a member of parliament from Gorakhpur, has been seeking greater power and is expected to give a push to BJP’s Hindutva-wrapped agenda of development with the emergence of a separate power base for the party in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Born Ajay Singh, the diminutive, shaven-headed politician is known for his powerful oratory, though most of his speeches hinge on divisive lines and has been in the forefront in keeping the communal politics alive in the country.
Yogi Adityanath, who is a strong votary of construction of Ram Mandir at the disputed site in Ayodhya, drove BJP’s Hindutva campaign in eastern Uttar Pradesh in the just concluded assembly elections in the politically crucial state where the party won three-fourths majority.
Adityanath has rebelled against his party on several occasions, but because of the sway he holds over the ‘Hindu’ voters, the BJP apparently could not ignore his ‘leadership qualities’.
He had floated Hindu Yuva Vahini, a right-wing outfit, in 2002. Ever since, the Hindu Yuva Vahini has been largely instrumental in his meteoric rise—from a student leader to five-time MP.
Right from comparing Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed during the intolerance debate in 2015 to asking people to leave India if they don’t practice Surya Namaskar in 2015, the Yogi has been at the centre of several controversies.
Playing the religious card during the pre-poll campaign, the firebrand leader had said controversial issues like “love jihad” and ‘Kairana Hindu’ exodus have always been on his party’s agenda. He had also said that the hurdles on the path of construction of a grand Ram temple will be gradually removed and its construction will soon start in Ayodhya.
Born on 5 June 1972, Adityanath was the youngest member of the 12th Lok Sabha at 26. He has been elected as an MP from Gorakhpur to the Lok Sabha in the 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections. In 2005, Adityanath allegedly led a purification drive which involved the conversion of Christians to Hinduism. In one such instance, 1,800 Christians were reportedly converted to Hinduism in the town of Etah in Uttar Pradesh.
In January 2007, an altercation involving a Hindu group and Muslims broke out during a Muharram procession in Gorakhpur which led to the hospitalisation of a young Hindu, Raj Kumar Agrahari. The district magistrate had made it clear that Adityanath should not visit the site as it may inflame tensions. He initially agreed but after Agrahari died, he disobeyed the magistrate and travelled to the site with a group of his followers. Adityanath then started a non-violent dharna on the site.
However, inflammatory speeches were made and some of his followers even set fire to a nearby Muslim mausoleum. Curfew was imposed by the local police, but Adityanath broke it and was subsequently jailed. He was arrested and remanded for a fortnight, on charges of disturbing peace. His arrest led to further unrest and several coaches of the Mumbai bound Mumbai-Gorakhpur Godan Express were burnt, allegedly by protesting Hindu Yuva Vahini activists. The tensions escalated to riots across Gorakhpur leading to the burning of mosques, homes, buses and trains.
During the intolerance debate in the media, Adityanath compared Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed. He had said, “Shah Rukh Khan should remember that majority population of the country made him the star, and if they boycott his films, he will also have to wander on streets. It is unfortunate SRK is speaking the same language that of Hafiz Saeed.” That he is not someone who minces words while expressing himself was manifested when he came out full throttle for yoga in the midst of controversy over the issue saying that those who oppose Surya Namaskar can leave India.
He also made a request that those who see communalism in even Sun God should drown drown themselves in the sea or live in a dark room for the rest of their lives. On January 3, 2016, one day after the terror attack on an IAF base in Pathankot, Adityanath blamed the assault on Pakistan, claiming, “The Pathankot attack has once again proved that Satan could change for the better but Pakistan cannot.”
Adityanath has had a strained relation with the BJP for more than a decade. With the emergence of a separate powerbase in eastern Uttar Pradesh, he has been seeking greater power, causing further conflicts. In December 2006, Adityanath had organised a three-day Virat Hindu Mahasammelan at Gorakhpur, during the same period when the BJP was holding its National Executive Meet in Lucknow.
The 2007 elections saw a conflict between Adityanath and the BJP leadership—he wanted more than hundred seats in this region to go to candidates selected by him, but the party leadership would not agree. Subsequently, a compromise agreement was reached, possibly with inputs from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and eight of his candidates were fielded. In March 2010, Adityanath was one of several BJP MPs who started the defiance to the party whip on the Women’s Reservation Bill.
Adityanath is the Mahant (head priest) of the Gorakhnath Mutt, a Hindu temple in Gorakhpur, following the death of his spiritual “father,” Mahant Avaidyanath in September 2014. Though known more for his right Hindu politics, it is to his credit that people in Gorakhpur, especially around the temple, hold him in high esteem irrespective of whichever caste or community they belong to. Even Muslims around the temple are given protection by him.
Yogi Adityanath comes from a Rajput family. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Science from Uttarakhand.