Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
A boy from a remote mountain village of Pauri Garhwal rose to register a historic win in the most populated state of India. How did Yogi Adityanath become a powerful force?
Childhood and the Journey to Monkhood
Born on 5 June 1972 in the village of Panchur, in Pauri Garhwal, Uttar Pradesh (now in Uttarakhand), Ajay Singh Bisht was the fifth of seven children of Anand Singh Bisht, a forest ranger.
Ajay finished his graduation, a BSc in Mathematics, from Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University. It was during his MSc that he left college and took up renunciation.
In 1994, at the age of 22, Ajay had become a monk, without informing his family. He donned saffron robes, shaved off his hair, and got his ears pierced to wear large earrings.
Ajay Singh Bisht had become Yogi Adityanath of Nath Sampradaya, a faith named after Guru Gorakhnath.
The Clout of Gorakhnath Math
The shrine of Guru Gorakhnath, the 11th century ascetic, is situated in the city named after him – Gorakhpur. The shrine, Gorakhnath Math, has a massive following.
The head seer of the Gorakhnath Math also held great political influence. Mahant Digvijay Nath, who had become the head of the shrine in 1935, had also become a prominent name in Uttar Pradesh's Hindutva politics. He was one of the key player in spearheading the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1949.
Digvijay Nath became the Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur in 1967 on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket. After his death in 1969, his successor, Mahant Avaidyanath, took over the baton of Gorakhnath Math and became Gorakhpur's MP in 1970.
The chief of the Math had represented Hindu Mahasabha until 1991, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the main player of the Ayodhya movement and Mahant Avaidyanath switched to the BJP.
He won from Gorakhpur on BJP's ticket in 1991 and 1996. Although, officially an MP of BJP, Avaidyanath maintained significant autonomy.
Yogi Adityanath, who had become Avaidyanath's disciple a few years ago, was also declared his heir apparent in 1994. After Avaidyanath retired from active politics, Adityanath took up his guru's legacy and was given BJP ticket from Gorakhpur.
The Undefeated Parliamentarian
At the age of 26, Yogi Adityanath became the youngest MP of the 12th Lok Sabha in 1998. Even though his guru, Avaidyanath, may have lost elections from Gorakhpur, Adityanath remained undefeated. Yogi won five consecutive elections from Gorakhpur, from 1998 to 2014.
Like his predecessor, Yogi had a tense relationship with BJP, the party he represented. He often criticised the saffron party of 'dilution of its Hindutva ideology.' But regardless of the recurring strains with the BJP, the party couldn't take away Gorakhpur seat from Adityanath.
The Hindutva Hardliner
In 2002, Adityanath formed a youth group called 'Hindu Yuva Vahini'. The group became a self proclaimed law enforcing body, acting independently on what it considered 'anti-Hindu' activities. The group has multiple communal offences charged against it. Yogi himself has several criminal offences on him and he even had to go to jail in 2007.
Yogi's communal speeches at Hindu Sammelans, that often targeted minorities, stirred controversies time and time again.
Even though controversial, Yogi's Vahini grew to become a powerful force in Eastern UP. It was Yogi's combination of Vahini's growing clout and Math's historical influence that helped Yogi create an autonomous power base for himself, independent of BJP.
In 2017, when the BJP won a landslide election in Uttar Pradesh, a challenging state with complex religion and caste arithmetic, Yogi wasn't a CM probable due to his history with the party. Therefore, when Yogi was officially declared chief minister by the party, the decision raised eyebrows all across.
Yogi's tenure as CM was marked by several tough yet controversial decisions — from shutting of slaughter houses to activating anti-romeo squads.
Many of his government's policies are criticised for targeting Muslims. Like the love jihad law or the spree of changing names of cities to detach their Islamic nomenclature.
In the 2022 state assembly elections, Yogi faced anti-incumbancy and a bipolar contest with Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi party. His election campaign focused on the development work undertaken in the first term of his government and claims of improved law and order situation of the state.
Yogi registered a historic second-term win, becoming the only UP CM to come to power after completing a full five-year term.
His re-election to the top post of the state with one-sixth of the country's population is also seen as Yogi's claim to becoming PM Modi's successor.