Adityanath, the book says, is at the vanguard of the Hindu consolidation process along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah
Will Yogi Adityanath be the Prime Minister of India one day? Does the monk-turned-Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, qualify for the coveted job? If journalists Sharat Pradhan and Atul Chandra are to be believed, this could well become a possibility; in any case, Adityanath, having come this far, is unlikely not to eye the Prime Minister’s post. With their fingers on Uttar Pradesh’s pulse, the Lucknow-based authors know what they are talking about.
So, who is Adityanath, who holds a constitutional post even while heading the famed Gorakhnath temple? In the hard-hitting autobiography, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader comes out as one who has no faith in secular values, who is determined to turn India into a Hindutva nation (no wonder he is a RSS favourite), brooks no dissent, is dictatorial and is not such a great administrator. He does have one quality: financial probity.
If anyone doubts Adityanath’s abilities to turn things upside down, note that he and his immediate predecessors have already succeeded in banishing the innate secularism of the revered ancient sage Gorakhnath, their guru. Gorakhnath laid the foundation of Hindu-Muslim unity. Kabir and Guru Nanak took inspiration from his teachings. Gorakhnath preached that neither the Vedas nor the Quran was enough to provide complete knowledge. “You are Hindu by birth, Muslim by wisdom, and Yogis by absorption.”
Muslims and Gorakhnath
It is true that several commercial establishments within the Gorakhnath temple premises are run by Muslims; a few temple employees are Muslims too. No Muslim is denied audience at the temple ‘janata darbar’; it is a common to see burqa-clad women at these gatherings. Adityanath often showcases these to prove his secular credentials. Yet, the real Adityanath is very different.
Adityanath has no previous experience in administration other than running the temple trust. He, however, carries “a sack full of controversies on his priestly shoulders”. He is staunchly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian too. He has in the past had no compunction about breaking the law; now he uses law to do things as he pleases.
When his Gau Raksha Manch (cow protection platform) could not take him far, he transformed it into the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) militia which, while functioning independently of the BJP and RSS, became a law unto itself even before Adityanath took control of Uttar Pradesh.
HYV needlessly whipped up cow protection, ‘love jihad’ as well as ‘ghar vapsi’ (reconversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism) to browbeat Muslims in particular. One HYV leader gloated that in a Hindu Rashtra (nation), Muslims will be reduced to second-rate citizens and eventually lose their voting rights. No wonder, at the drop of the hat, Adityanath would declare that he won’t allow tazia processions of Shia Muslims in Gorakhpur district. In Gorakhpur, he was the law.
Banishing ancient secularism
Vahini activists drove away Muslim yogis from the Gorakhnath temple, overturning a historic tradition. Muslim yogis in eastern Uttar Pradesh who donned saffron attire and sang Ram bhajans were an active part of the ancient temple. Fearing for their lives, many Muslim followers of Gorakhnath have given up their passion for bhajans. “What became Adityanath’s strength was his complete deviation from the path paved over the centuries by Gorakhnath.” And Adityanath loves to propagate that Muslims are anti-Hindu!
Adityanath believes that opposing Hindutva is akin to opposing development. He has ranted against the Taj Mahal, saying it does not reflect Indian culture. It doesn’t strike him that Hindutva as an ideology was born in the late 19th century and is not synonym for Hindu religion. He once wrote that Muslims should be treated as enemies. He has compared Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan with Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed! He wants critics of ‘Surya Namaskar’ and yoga to quit India or drown themselves. Statistics he throws up to claim a rapid increase in India’s Muslim population are fanciful.
Yet Adityanath, the book says, is at the vanguard of the Hindu consolidation process along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. It is his combative style that makes the RSS make Adityanath a key speaker during elections in other states. According to him, the world “secularism” is the biggest lie told since India’s independence. He defends every act of omission or commission of his government so vehemently that there is little room for admitting faults or shortcomings. In power, he denied permission to his own police to prosecute him for making hate speeches. But he used the law to harass, fine and jail Muslim protesters, claiming he was a believer in law and order.
The authors say that neither he nor his HYV could produce a single person who claimed to have undergone a coercive religious conversion and was keen to return to Hinduism. He could not prevent 63 children from dying due to lack of oxygen in his political fiefdom Gorakhpur because the supplier had not been paid bills by corrupt officials. He never fixed prima facie responsibility for the tragedy, apart from sending a Muslim doctor to jail. And women have remained on the edge in Uttar Pradesh. His threat to publicly shame those who harass women was never carried out – with disastrous results for some women who were raped and killed. Adityanath’s graph took a solid beating within months of his taking office.
It is on personal and financial integrity that Adityanath scores high marks, the authors say. Even if he did a reasonably good job tackling the first wave of Covid-19, the second and more lethal second wave proved a disaster. Uttar Pradesh has also become a major investment destination under Yogi.
Given everything, the Chief Minister seems poised for a bigger role in national politics. Seeing his age, integrity and commitment to Hindutva, perhaps the RSS sees Yogi Adityanath as a potential Prime Minister. In 2024, Modi will be 74 and Adityanath 51 years old. Thus, the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh will be a litmus test for Adityanath.
This book is a must read for anyone who wants to know Adityanath better. It has come out at an apt time.
Title: Yogi Adityanath: Religion, Politics and Power - The Untold Story; Authors: Sharat Pradhan and Atul Chandra; Publishers: Penguin Books; Pages: 389; Price: Rs 399
(The reviewer is a veteran journalist and political commentator)