Who is Yogi Adityanath?
The BJP's choice of hardball Hindutva advocate Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of UP has raised quite an uproar across India with liberals asking "Why?" and Hindu nationalists retorting "Why not?". Before jumping to conclusions about Yogi Adityanath and what his regime might bring, it is important to explore his past, his anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the implications of the same in secular India.
Yogi Adityanath's early life
Born in a Kshatriya family as Ajay Singh Bisht in Garhwal, Uttarakhand, in 1972, little is known of Yogi Adityanath's pre-sanyasi days, except that he holds a B.Sc in Mathematics. At 21, he became the disciple of Mahant Avaidyanath, the then-head priest of Gorakhnath Temple, and trained as a sanyasi. Within a few years, he had become Avaidyanath's favourite disciple.
Yogi Adityanath's stellar political career
In 1994, Yogi Adityanath took up his guru's reins, and has been the Mahant of Gorakhnath Temple ever since. In 1998, he contested and won the Lok Sabha election from Gorakhpur, and since then, has continuously won from the seat, all the way up to 2014. Yogi Adityanath has a strong following in Hindu-dominated Eastern UP and is known for his strong anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Adityanath's efforts at promoting Hindutva
As an MP, Yogi Adityanath had sponsored five bills advocating a national law on banning cow slaughter, a ban on forced religious conversions, a uniform civil code, renaming of "India that is Bharat" to "Bharat that is Hindustan", and asking for an Allahabad High Court bench in Gorakhpur. In 2002, he founded the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a hardball Hindutva youth outfit.
List of criminal charges against Yogi Adityanath
The affidavit filed by CM-designate Yogi Adityanath before contesting the election lists several serious criminal charges. Among them, the most eye-catching ones are charges related to attempted murder, criminal intimidation, rioting armed with deadly weapon, defiling places of worship with intent to insult a religion, promoting enmity between groups along religious lines, and committing acts detrimental to maintenance of harmony.
Yogi Adityanath wants Hindu deities in mosques
According to a report by the Deccan Chronicle in February 2015, Yogi Adityanath advocated the installation of Hindu deities in mosques. In August 2015, Yogi Adityanath cautioned Hindus about "love jihad", an alleged strategy by Muslim men to convert Hindu women to Islam. He further expressed fears that "high Muslim fertility" rates could lead to a demographic imbalance in India.
Yogi Adityanath's anti-Muslim streak
In November 2015, Yogi Adityanath compared Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind 26/11, for speaking against growing intolerance in India. In January 2017, he said that the family of Dadri lynching victim Mohammad Akhlaq should be stripped of any assistance and charged with cow slaughter. Recently, he also endorsed President Donald Trump's Muslim ban.
Yogi Adityanath's inflammatory, violence-provoking comments
In one undated video, Yogi Adityanath is heard saying, "If one Hindu is killed, we won't go to the police, we'll kill 10 Muslims." In another, he says, "If they take one Hindu girl, we'll take 100 Muslim girls." These apart, he has taken several jabs at Muslims, has been called a "Bal Thackeray clone", and has been accused of inciting communal violence.
All we can do is wait and watch
The BJP's choice of Adityanath as UP's CM maybe risky, but considering his popularity, it might also bear fruits both electorally, and developmentally. All that we can do now is wait and watch what unfolds. Now that Yogi Adityanath is in a position of power, whether his anti-Muslim rhetoric will take a backseat in favour of development remains to be seen.