Caligula’s horse, whom he appointed as tribune of the people, was a harmless beast. He could, at best, be accused of inaction since he was inherently unfit for the job. So is Yogi Adityanath, mahant of the Gorakhnath temple in Uttar Pradesh. But he is far worse. Handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be UP’s new chief minister, Adityanath is a person with a capacity for great harm. So what does Modi’s action signify? Precisely what message is he trying to convey?
The BJP has consciously groomed fire-eating religious figures to secure electoral gains. There was one Digvijaynath, who became mahant of the Gorakhnath temple in 1934. He was close to the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, and was involved in planting an idol of Ram in the Babri Masjid on the night of December 22, 1949.
He was succeeded in 1967 by Avaidyanath, who was elected five times to the UP Assembly and four times to the Lok Sabha. He played an important role in the movement to build a Ram temple on the debris of the Babri Masjid, and was one of the accused in the mosque’s demolition case. Adityanath succeeded him in 1994, and was elected to the Lok Sabha five times from Gorakhpur. The BJP routinely attacks Muslims for serving as “vote banks” for other parties. As a besieged minority, however, Muslims are perfectly entitled to vote for those who would voice their grievances. The BJP, meanwhile, uses extremist religious figures from among the Hindus. Their success in elections is guaranteed. Adityanath began his political career with an outfit for the protection of cows. Significantly, in 2002, he changed it to a youth organisation called Hindu Yuva Vahini. There is an excellent record of his political journey, in a concise e-book by senior journalist Dhirendra K. Jha, entitled Yogi Adityanath and the Hindu Yuva Vahini. He writes, “There were at least six major riots in the region within the first year of HYV’s formation” and “at least 22 major riots in Gorakhpur and the neighbouring districts till 2007”. Jha notes that his “political fortune doesn’t depend on the BJP or the RSS but is fuelled by a communal polarisation of an extreme kind”.
Upon his anointment as CM on March 18, the Indian press published a string of Adityanath’s utterances. Here is one gem: “Muslims who want to become Hindus will be purified and we will form an entire new caste for them… If they take one Hindu girl, we will take 100 Muslim girls.” He also coined the expression “love jihad” for Muslims who married Hindu girls. Muslims are not the only targets. Fifty years ago, the then RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar bracketed Christians with Muslims and communists as being “internal threats”. In June 2016, Adityanath said, “Mother Teresa was part of a conspiracy to convert Hindus to Christianity. Hindus were targeted in the name of doing service and then converted by her”. He has also extolled the infamous “anti-Romeo squads”, saying that such “squads will be formed and if anyone is found teasing girls they would be hanged publicly”.
Adityanath has been convicted in two criminal cases involving insult and mischief causing damage. In two other cases, two charges each (promoting enmity between religious groups and defiling a place of worship) have been levelled, indicating acceptance of a prima facie case. Cognisance has been taken in some other cases (attempted murder and criminal intimidation). He has, of course, no administrative experience. Evidently, the shining credentials that the media have denounced him for are the very same ones that commended him to his patron. As the New York Times remarked in an editorial: “The move is a shocking rebuke to religious minorities, and a sign that cold political calculations ahead of national elections in 2019 have led (the BJP) to believe that nothing stands in the way of realising its long-held dream of transforming a secular republic into a Hindu state.” The immediate steps are the obliteration of the Sharia on divorce and the erection of the Ram temple; hopefully with the Supreme Court’s green light. With an RSS pracharak as PM and Adityanath as UP’s CM, India is all set on the road to a Hindu state.