(Yogi Adityanath has been named as the next chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. In the light of this announcement, The Quint is republishing this article from its archives, originally published on 4 March 2017 as a part of The Quint's Uttar Pradesh Assembly election reportage.)
There is a flutter followed by a hushed silence among the assembled throng of men and women as the ochre-clothed, shaven headed man with a perpetual frown and curled lips hurried out of a room and sinks into a cane chair in the shadow of the temple built in honour of his preceptor Mahant Avaidyanath.
It took no time for the people gathered on the raised platform adjacent to the living quarters of this diminutive ascetic – the Muslim-baiting, hate-spewing Yogi Adityanath, the BJP MP from Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh – to line up with sheets of handwritten petitions clutched in their hands.
Inside the Sprawling Mutt
One by one, they shuffled up to Adityanath – who had already turned impatient before the first few pages – with pleas begging his assistance in admission to schools, resumption of food grain rations and sundry other appeals.
“Jayyiye aap. Thik se likhwa ke layyiye,” he barked at one appellant stunned by the verbal volley. To another he retorted angrily, “Nahin hoga”, as he dismissed him with the wave of his hand. He passed on the sheets of a lucky few to a sidekick, also draped in saffron kurta and dhoti.
The room is simple enough: It is adorned with large-sized portraits of human saints; the table in front of another cane chair (which Adityanath would occupy) inside the room had a few books on Hindu saints, a saffron pen and, oddly, a sleek silver Pierre Cardin eyeglass case, the table glass top polished to a flaw. A table in another corner displayed a cut-glass cutlass and a sheathed sword among brass figures of a bull and a cow.
An assistant rushed towards us and sought our business cards. Less than 10 minutes later, when the gathering broke up, Adityanath walked briskly to the doors to the room, sized us up, the curl on his lips betrayed the contempt that he held us in, before brusquely saying, “nikliye yahan se”.
Politeness, warmth or mirth, so much intertwined in the lives of the Bhojpuri-speaking people of Gorakhpur and the other districts of eastern UP, is alien to Adityanath, schooled in the language and politics of hatred.
Adityanath hasn’t stepped out of the precincts of the sprawling Gorakhnath mutt today for campaigning across the eastern districts of UP, which go to polls on 4 March and 7 March.
When he emerged from the private meeting room, after a brief tete-a-tete with a youngish associate, whom we had earlier found to be afflicted with a behavioural deficiency similar, if not identical, to his saffron-clad master, we had another brief encounter.
This time, Adityanath was displeased because of our presence next to the spic-and-span temple to Avaidyanath where we were watching Bholenath, another of his saffron-clad minions, using his nimble fingers to braid a thread (made of ram hair) used to string rudraksh beads. Jerking his head to the right, his contempt having now turned to gratuitous scorn and arrogance, he said: “Yahan kya kar rahein hain? Baahar nikliye.”
And off he trooped along with a motley bunch of flunkeys and gun-toting bodyguards to attend to a large chunk of bricks-and-plaster that had broken at the edge of a flag stand next to a pond.
“Maharaj baukhlaye huye hain. Position kuchh thik nahin hai,” said Suresh Singh, a plain-clothed guard lounging over tea and khaini with locals in a sweetmeat store outside the main entrance to the mutt.
“Adityanath is coarse. His guru, Avaidyanath was jocular and often greeted us with ‘kaa ji, kaa haal-chaal ba,’ ” recalls Jagdish Prasad, the owner of a tea stall close to the mutt which has, over the years, become cash-rich.
Adityanath certainly has reasons to be edgy and uneasy, though Gorakhpuris are familiar with his churlish nature. The Hindu Yuva Vahini that Adityanath founded in April 2002, split recently over participation in the Assembly polls when a group led by Sunil Singh sought to contest the election.
Adityanath, who was the sole arbiter for ticket distribution for the BJP in UP’s Purvanchal, was against this move.
Between them, Gorakhpur and Bansgaon Lok Sabha constituencies account for nine Assembly segments – Sahjanwa, Pipraich, Gorakhpur Urban, Gorakhpur Rural, Campiarganj, Khajni, Chauri Chaura, Bansgaon and Chillupar – of which four are held by the BSP, three by the BJP and one each by the SP and the NCP.
Spiritually Dominant and Politically Significant
Besides its spiritual dominance, the Gorakhnath mutt is a money-spinner and the people of this town hold it in deep reverence. The flow of the devout is perennial, though it peaks on Makar Sankranti when the “khichdi ka mela” gets underway.
The mutt, since it assumed a politically significant position in UP, is also the fount of electoral politics laced with vituperative hate-mongering by Adityanath (whose pre-yogic name was Ajay Singh Bisht) and his undivided Hindu Yuva Vahini who keep the Muslims, ghettoed in the congested town’s periphery, cowering in fear.
“Gorakhpur ko Hindutva ka laboratory mana jata hai. Lekin Adityanath ji ne ticket becha hai, Hindu sanskriti ko asamman kiya hai,” said Sunil Singh, who leads the breakaway, fringe faction of the Hindu Yuva Vahini which is contesting 13 seats in eastern UP.
A Flow of Devotees and Their Unbound Faith
A voluble Sunil Singh, who along with other HYV cadres led riotous mobs to attack Muslims in Mau in 2007, proudly introduces a party colleague as a “killer of Muslims” before directing his ire against Adityanath for giving tickets to men associated with “katta (country-made revolvers), bhatta (brick kilns) and dupatta”.
Back at the mutt, even as the sun is overhead, the flow of devotees – several are women in loud-coloured synthetic sarees, their bangles and payals jingling – has turned into a steady stream, each holding small cardboard boxes containing offerings.
One woman is visibly dejected as Adityanath has turned her away from entertaining her plea to recommend her son’s admission to the local Kendriya Vidyalaya.
He said he can’t this time because of the election. Last year too he had promised to recommend my son’s admission to the school.Reena Tiwari, a devotee
But she has unbound faith in Adityanath who she will approach yet again next year.