Mahant Avaidyanath, who will be the face of a new stamp to be released by the central government on October 1, was the man who scripted the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ayodhya movement that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.

As the disciple and successor of Digvijay Nath, a major figure in the line of mahants of Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur, Avaidyanath initially embodied a saffron tradition distinct from that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. But a merger of the two traditions was effected at the Allahabad Kumbh Mela of 1989, giving birth to the Ayodhya movement and resulting a few years later in the destruction of the mosque in a single afternoon.

Avaidyanath played a pivotal role in carrying out this basic transformation of saffron politics. His speech at a meeting of sadhus – the Dharma Sansad – organised by the VHP at the 1989 Kumbh laid the foundation for the merger of two saffron traditions. Of the many resolutions passed by the Dharma Sansad, one concerned the construction of a Ram temple on the site of Babri Masjid.

The Statesman reported in its edition of February 1, 1989:
“Most of the clergy who spoke today took a strong anti-Muslim and anti-government tone. Mahant Avaidyanath of Gorakhpur pointed that the Quran prohibited Muslims from constructing mosques on the holy places of other religions. ‘And telling us to construct the temple in another place to avoid conflict is like telling Lord Rama to wed another Sita to avoid war with Ravana.’”

Tradition of hate

Avaidyanath’s speech simply mirrored the thoughts of his guru. On becoming the Hindu Mahasabha general secretary in 1950, Digvijay Nath had declared that if his party “attains power, it 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”, The Statesman reported on June 23, 1950.

Avaidyanath’s name had figured in the list of people blamed by the Liberhan Commission investigating the Babri Masjid destruction for leading the country to communal chaos. “There is sufficient and believable evidence on the record […] that provocative speeches were delivered by Uma Bharti, Sadhvi Ritambra, Paramhans Ramchander Dass, Acharya Dharmendra Dev, B.L. Sharma, […] Mahant Avaidyanath etc,” it said.

Like his guru, Avaidyanath contested most of his elections till 1989 on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket. Only after the two saffron traditions merged that he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and fought the Lok Sabha elections of 1991 and 1996 from Gorakhpur on saffron party ticket.

He died on September 12, 2014, but about a decade before his death he appointed Adityanath as his successor and Mahant of Gorakhnath temple in 1994. Adityanath has since then campaigned against so-called Love Jihad and asked those “opposing yoga and surya namaskar to either leave India or drown themselves in the ocean”.