After the Bharatiya Janata Party’s sweeping win in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, it has at last announced its chief minister: Yogi Adityanath. Head of the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur, Adityanath is a Far Right leader known for building his politics on religious polarisation.
How did Adityanath rise to become the chief minister of India’s most populous state? This 2011 documentary by Rajiv Yadav, Shahanawaz Alam and Lakshman Prashad explains Adityanath’s rise from a priest to one of India’s most powerful politicians.
The film opens with a chilling threat. “If a single Hindu is killed, we will not go to the authorities, but instead murder 10 people [in return],” declaims Adityanath fiercely to a large crowd. “We will not let any tazia processesions take palce inside Gorakhpur city. And along with these tazias, we will also celebrate our Holi.”
Clearly, Adityanath is unconcerned with even sugar coating his bigotry. His organisation the Hindu Yuva Vahini is driven by the same ideology. At a Hindu Yuva Vahini meeting, speaking from the same stage as Adityanath, a speaker digs even deeper into the violent pysche of Hindutva: “At present what we need is to dig out the corpses of their [Muslim] mothers and sisters and rape them.”
The Gujarat model
Adityanath’s template of communalism is Gujarat. Cries of “UP will also become Gujarat” are common at his rallies.
Adityanath wants Muslims to bow to the Hindu majority. “If any organisation refuses to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ or sing Vande Mataram, like we smashed the Babri Masjid, we will smash it,” the documentary shows Adityanath saying. A popular chant for BJP workers in the area: “If you want to live in this area, you’ll have to take the name of Yogi.”
The documentary points out that the Hindu Yuva Vahini was one of the accused in the Mau communal riots of 2005. Adityanath was arrested for causing communal violence – an act which led to more violence, with his supports setting fire to a train.
His politics means he has changed the history of Gorakhpur to erase all Muslim influences. Areas such as “Urdu Bazar” have been renamed to “Hindi Bazar”, “Alinagar” to “Aryanagar” and “Miyan Bazar” to “Maya Bazar”.
Hindutvaising lower castes
The documentary points out that while he has used his position as the head priest of the Gorakhnath temple, his ideology goes against the historical message of its founder. The temple was founded as a reaction to Brahmanism and once was a multi-faith institution which included both lower caste Hindus and Muslims.
In 1952, the head priest of the temple, Digvijay fought elections on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket, effectively ending Muslim participation at the temple. The institution’s lower caste character in turn was used to introduce Dalits to Hindutva.
In effect, the Gorakhnath temple, by marrying lower caste mobilisation and Hindutva provided a template for the massive BJP win in the 2017 Assembly election.