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Yogi Adityanath: Life story of a temple priest who ascended to the highest seat of UP

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

Lucknow: Not all know the fascinating life journey of the shaved headed saffron-clad sanyasi from a temple of Gorakhpur who went on to rule India’s most important state, Uttar Pradesh, after replacing Akhilesh Yadav and ascended to the highest administrative seat as the Chief Minister of UP on March 19, 2017.

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After serving as the head priest of Gorakhnath Temple in Gorakhpur, Ajay Mohan Bisht aka Yogi Adityanath made a dramatic entry in to the world of politics but before this who he was, where he come from, what he did and what merits made him a key political figure in BJP party.

Born as Ajay Mohan Bisht on June 5, 1972, in the village of Panchur, in Pauri Garhwal of the then undivided Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath had a dramatic entry in Purvanchal politics some 23 years ago. He was the second born in the family, among four brothers and three sisters. He left his home around the 1990s to join the Ayodhya Ram temple movement.

Yogi Adityanath: The angry young man

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It is early summer in Gorakhpur when few students indulged into a brawl with a local cloth merchant, who took out his revolver at the them and the next day, a young priest was seen leading a huge rally of protesters on the streets of the city, picketing the residence of the then Superintendent of Police. This priest-turned-leader was non-other than Yogi Adityanath.

Yogi Adityanath completed his graduation in mathematics from Uttarakhand, at the age of 22 in 1994 and was initiated by his guru Mahant Avaidyanath, who was the head priest at Gorakh Nath temple in Gorakhpur. At that time Purvanchal was trying to slip out of the grip of musclemen politicians Harishankar Tiwari and Virendra Pratap Shahi.

His name resonated with the imagination of upper caste students as they saw him as a successor of Mahant Digvijaynath, who was from Gorakhpur and played pivotal role in the Chauri Chaura incident in 1921, which forced Mahatma Gandhi to call off his non-cooperation movement. The mob supposedly led by Digvijaynath had torched a police station and this incident had added to his fame and paved his way to became the head priest of Goraksh Nath temple.

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Meanwhile, Ajay Singh Bisht who had now gained popularity as Yogi Adityanath, further rose to fame when his guru anointed him as his successor at the Goraksh Nath Math, which he has been heading since demise of Mahant Avaidyanath in 2014.

Riding on the influence of Avaidyanath in Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath contested 1998 Lok Sabha elections and got elected for the first time with margin of over 26,000 votes. And after this he never lost an election and this five-time Lok Sabha member went on to get elected to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly and took oath of office after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) endorsed the state legislative party’s unanimous choice.

Controversies and Yogi Adityanath

Yogi Adityanath faces several criminal cases including those of murder, communal riots, hurting religious sentiments and attack on religious places. But, despite of the fact that he was surrounded by so many controversies, Yogi Adityanath, rose to fame and his political career further strengthen. He not only became the youngest member of the 12th Lok Sabha at age 26 but has also been elected to the Parliament from Gorakhpur for five consecutive terms (in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections). Few of these controversies that helped Yogi in his political career are:

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Cow Protection Movement

A controversial advocate of Hindutva, Yogi founded ‘Hindu Yuva Vahini’, which according to him is reformist outfit and works for betterment of villages and protection of cows.

He even calls himself a gau-sevak (servant of cows) and works at the gaushala (cowshed) maintained at Goraksh Nath Math. During the state assembly election, he promised to shut down all the illegal slaughterhouses in Uttar Pradesh and to ensure that no cow is killed in abattoirs across the state.

Hindu Yuva Vahini has been in controversy over the years and is accused of fomenting communal trouble in Purvanchal. But with the increased activities of Hindu Yuva Vahini, Yogi’s popularity too soared in Gorakhpur and so did his winning margins election after election. In 2014 general elections, he won Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat by more than 3 lakh votes.

Notably, under Yogi Adityanath’s administration Uttar Pradesh became one of many that have banned beef, witnessed highest number of violent incidents committed by cow vigilantes – who attack Muslims and lower-caste Hindus who trade in beef on the black market. With four deaths in 21 attacks in 2018–with the lynchings of 45-year-old Qasim Qureshi in Hapur, western UP, 20-year-old Shahrukh Khan in Bareilly, northern UP, and the latest murder of a police inspector and a bystander–UP has emerged as the deadliest for bovine-related hate violence and reports more attacks than any other state.

Yogi and his name change politics

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The controversy of name change is also synonymous with Hindu nationalist, Yogi Adityanath. He changed the name of many major cities, towns, streets, airports and one of the country’s biggest train stations, swapping names that reflect Muslim heritage for Hinducentric ones. Yogi government changed the name of Uttar Pradesh’s iconic railway station Mughalsarai railway station after RSS ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyay. The names were changed after getting the NOC from the Central Government. Allahabad, the 16th century legacy of a Muslim ruler, the Mughal Emperor Akbar was changed to Prayagraj— a word that references the Hindu pilgrimage site there. While, Faizabad, the capital city of Awadh – a princely state founded by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, was also converted to Ayodhya amid rising Ram Janam Bhoomi politics.

Yogi Adityanath’s reputation for changing Muslim names into Hindu names goes back beyond his chief ministerial tenure. In Gorakhpur, the Lok Sabha seat he won five times, he initiated the moves that led to the renaming of Mian Bazar as Maya Bazaar, Urdu Bazaar as Hindi Bazaar, and Humayunpur as Hanuman Nagar. 

Purification And Conversion Drives

Year 2002 was a turning point for this strong hardliner Hindutva leader, who was made an accused in the 2002 Mohan Mundera incident at Kushinagar district, where nearly 50 homes of Muslims were torched after a Hindu girl was allegedly raped. Even though opposition parties pointed fingers at Yogi Adityanath but, he was not made an accused.

While, in 2005, Yogi launched a ‘purification drive’ to re-convert Christians to Hinduism. Later, he went on to officially claim that he reconverted more than 5,000 people at Etah in UP. The same year, Yogi and his Hindu Yuva Vahini were accused of instigating communal violence in Mau.

In 2007, Yogi Adityanath launched a ‘non-violent agitation’ after a Hindu boy was killed when some miscreants opened fire during Moharram procession in Gorakhpur. He led a march and gave a speech promising justice despite prohibitory orders. Though he was arrested after this incident but his popularity touched new heights in Gorakhpur. Later, Yogi Adityanath broke down in the Lok Sabha, however, the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government had suspended the senior police officials of Gorakhpur after the incident.

Yogi’s arrest saw a wide-scale violence led by his Hindu Yuva Vahini in Gorakhpur, where two people lost their lives.

Yogi after 2014

In 2014 parliamentary polls, Yogi Adityanath’s influence added to BJP’s big win in Uttar Pradesh. His contribution in state politics was such that many expected that Yogi would be rewarded with a cabinet berth at the Centre.

Infact, during the UP Assembly election campaign, he was the star campaigner of BJP in second half of the seven-phased polls as the theatre of electoral politics shifted towards eastern part of the state.

As Modi was camping in Varanasi for the final two phases, Yogi’s supporters made it sure that Purvanchal delivers maximum seats to BJP to take it past 300-mark on its own.

Even though, Yogi is a staunch believer of Hindutva, he often derided and undermined the BJP, criticising its dilution of the Hindutva ideology.

On 3 January 2016, a day after the terrorist attack on an Indian air force base in Pathankot allegedly by Pakistani terrorists, Adityanath compared Pakistan to Satan.

Considered as the Hindu Nationalist, Yogi, once again stirred controversy as he praised then US President Donald Trump’s decision to enact a ban on citizens from 7 Muslim-majority countries entering the United States and had called for India to adopt similar policies to tackle terrorism.

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