The newly elected MLAs of the Bharatiya Janata Party have chosen Yogi Adityanath as their leader of legislature party in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly.
Born in a Kshatriya family in Garhwal, Uttarakhand in 1972, the 44-year-old Adityanath has been the mahant of Gorakhnath temple since 1994 and represents Gorakhapur in the Lok Sabha. He contested and won the 1998 Lok Sabha election from Gorakhpur at the age of 26. Since then, he has continuously won from the seat, all the way upto the 2014 election.
Adityanath’s profile page as a Lok Sabha MP lists his special interests as “yoga and spirituality, campaigning for cow-protection and promotion”. His favourite pastimes are “gardening, religious discourses, bhajans and touring religious spots”.
A profile in the Business Standard in 2014 reported that Adityanath had sponsored five Bills as an MP. In 2009, he asked the Centre to pass a national law banning cow slaughter. A second Bill asked for the country’s name to be changed from “India that is Bharat” to “Bharat that is Hindustan”, and a third demanded ban on forced religious conversions. Asking for an Allahabad High Court bench in Gorakhpur and a uniform civil code were the other two bills.
In a state with nearly four crore Muslims, where the BJP decided to field not even a single candidate from the minority community in the election, the chief minister-designate could be seen as adding insult to injury, because, more than anything else, he is known for his strident anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Over the years, Adityanath has established himself as the foremost firebrand Hindutva leader. His most recent anti-Muslim statement was an endorsement of the United States President Donald Trump’s immigration ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations.
Two years ago, he wanted Muslim places of worship to feature Hindu deities. “If given a chance, we will install statues of Goddess Gauri, Ganesh and Nandi in every mosque,” he was quoted as saying at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Virat Hindu Sammelan in Varanasi, by the Deccan Chronicle in February 2015.
He added: “Everyone, irrespective of religion, can come to Kashi but only Muslims are allowed in Mecca and Medina. This is the century of Hindutva, not just in India but in the entire world.”
In June 2015, responding to protests over the mandatory participation of government employees in the International Yoga Day, he said:
“Lord Shankar was the biggest Yogi who started Yoga. Mahadev (another name of Lord Shankar) lives in every particle of this country. So, those who want to avoid Yoga and Lord Shankar can leave Hindustan.”
He added that those opposing the surya namaskar sequence of yogic exercises should “drown themselves in the sea”.
In August 2015, he asked Hindu parents to caution their daughters about “love jihad” by young Muslim men, playing to the notion that Muslim men were attempting to seduce Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam. He also expressed fears that “high Muslim fertility rates” could lead to a demographic imbalance.
In November 2015, he compared actor Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed and said the actor should go to that country if he did not like the atmosphere in India.
In January 2017, he said the family of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched in Dadri by a mob that suspected he had kept beef at home, should face charges for cow slaughter and be stripped of the assistance they had been given after his killing.
This is not all. The chief minister-designate has repeatedly articulated his lack of faith in the law and order machinery. In an undated video, he is heard saying, “If one Hindu is killed, we won’t go to the police, we’ll kill 10 Muslims.”
In another undated video, he says: “If they take one Hindu girl, we’ll take 100 Muslim girls.”
Adityanath has had a running tussle with the state police and administration that he will now be presiding over, which has had to step in time and again to prevent him from visiting communally sensitive areas.
He has been called a “Bal Thackeray clone” and accused of instigating communal violence and riots in the past.
The details from Myneta.info, summarising cases against him as per his own affidavit at the time of contesting election, include charges of attempt to murder, criminal intimidation, rioting, promoting enmity between different groups, defiling place of worship.
A long tradition
Adityanath’s predecessor as mahant of Gorakhnath temple was Mahant Avaidyanath, one of the key figures in the Ayodhya movement that led to the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.
Avaidyanath was the disciple of Digvijay Nath, the mahant of Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur, who became the general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1950. He 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 played a key role in the passing the 1989 resolution which asked for the construction of a Ram temple on the site of Babri Masjid. The Statesman reported in its edition of February 1, 1989, 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.”
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.