From rabble-rousing to chief ministership of UP

From rabble-rousing to chief ministership of UP
The journey from a simple, young Ajay Singh Bisht in an obscure village of Pauri Garhwal (now in Uttarakhand) to the firebrand saffron clad Hindutva icon Yogi Adityanath has been quite a rollercoaster ride.

Anand Singh Bisht, a low-key Forest Department employee, was quite disillusioned when his son Ajay (one among the six siblings) lost the local degree college students union election in Kothdwar in 1990. Ajay was in the fray as Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) nominee and losing his first election in life had left him quite dejected.

Giving up his political ambitions, Ajay chose to move on a completely different path, that of his maternal uncle Mahant Avaidyanath – the virtual founder of Gorakhnath temple in Eastern Uttar Pradesh’s politically volatile town of Gorakhpur. With his sheer dint of courage and conviction to the cause of Gorakhnath, Ajay did not take much time to win the confidence of his ‘mama’, the widely respected Mahant.

Perhaps the first Hindu Mahasabha leader in many decades to be elected to the Lok Sabha, Mahant Avaidyanath was looked upon as a Hindutva icon. But it was not overnight that he built his larger than life profile. Avaidyanath was elected MLA three times  – 1962, 1967, 1968 before reaching the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1970. Thereafter, he got re-elected to the Assembly twice, before entering the Lok Sabha as a BJP nominee in 1991 and 1996. And evidently, it was the BJP which roped him into the Ayodhya Ramjanmabhoomi Temple Movement which got a big boost on account of his association. He even went to the extent of criticising most BJP leaders, including A B Vajpayee, for using the temple issue as a “vote-catching device”. Significantly, no top BJP leader cared to attend his last rites in Gorakhpur on September 12, 2014, barely four months after Narendra Modi took over as prime minister. All that Yogi Adityanath received from Modi and Rajnath Singh at that time of mourning were oral tributes.

 Having been entrusted with the legacy of Mahant Avaidyanath during his lifetime, Yogi Adityanath made it a point to impress upon his mentor that he had made no mistake by making him the sole inheritor. Even as Avaidyanath’s understudy, Adityanath made himself known as a rabble-rouser by whipping up Hindu passions at each of the gatherings addressed by him in different pockets of Eastern UP.

 His inflammatory speeches, pointedly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian, continued to help him consolidate the Hindu vote bank. Once he saw the strategy working, he formed a militant private outfit under the banner of Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV). With young lumpen elements from the saffron ranks rallying behind him, this HYV gained so much currency that it could throw the gauntlet at the BJP by often fielding candidates in several elections. Significantly, there was precious little that the BJP leadership could ever do to cow him down.

The year 1998 was the turning point in Adityanath’s life when he got elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time. Thereafter, there was no looking back. He won every election hands down – though of course that was more to do with the multimillion following of the Gorakhnath temple than his political persona.

Provocative utterances
Known for having made it big on his own steam, he rarely missed any opportunity to keep the BJP on tenterhooks, so much so that the top BJP leadership had to shrug themselves away from the provocative utterances made by him. The BJP spokespersons were often seen disowning his remarks like: “Whenever a Hindu visits Kashi Vishwanath Temple, the Gyanvapi Masjid looks at him with ridicule; if I were to be given a chance, I would get idols of Gauri, Ganesh and Nandi installed in every mosque”.

Even when he sought to blow up the Hindu exodus issue beyond all proportions just before the recently concluded Assembly elections, Adityanath  said, “We will not let Western UP turn into another Kashmir, so we will ensure that Hindus do not have to flee from their homes in Kairana”. In fact, it was he who gave the cue to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to raise questions on the UP government’s funding of  ‘kabristans’ (graveyards) and discriminating with ‘shamshaans’ (cremation grounds).

What apparently sobered him down was his arrest under various criminal sections in February 2007 when the then chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav took the unprecedented step of bringing him to book under the law. Eleven days in jail seemed to have given Adityanath a new lesson, which manifested itself in the emotional speech he gave shortly thereafter in Parliament. For all and sundry who had known the militant side of Yogi, tears rolling down his eyes before a packed Lok Sabha was surely an unusual sight. No wonder his speeches in the later years were relatively less inflammatory. Those who have known him, see one positive quality – integrity –  something UP has not seen in the ruling political class for decades. Local Muslims running commercial establishments surprisingly confess they have never faced any discrimination at his hands. “In fact, we often go to him with our problems which he is always ready to sort out through,” said a Muslim shopkeeper.

Adityanath is now out to project himself in a new mould. Beginning with his emphasis on “no discrimination with anyone” and his talk about “inclusiveness”, Adityanath ensured the induction of a Muslim in his council of ministers. Perhaps he is following the old dictum – discretion is the better part of valour.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Lucknow)

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