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Hours before Yogi Adityanath, head priest of the Gorakhnath mutt, took oath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, it was business as usual at his janta durbar in Gorakhpur. Yogi was in Lucknow, but behind the small wooden barricading inside his office, three fixed-line telephones rang incessantly, and two typewriters constantly churned out chitthis — recommendations for individuals to a range of offices and institutions. Among the people waiting in line for “Maharaj ki chitthi” is Shamsher Alam. He is seeking a letter from Yogi’s office so that his waitlisted railway ticket is confirmed. He has to leave for Delhi for the ear surgery of his unmarried sister in the next few hours, but his berth has not been confirmed yet, he says.
Sitting before Alam is 65-year-old Sanichari. She is seeking a “chitthi” that would get her free treatment for a severe headache that she’s been getting for the past few months. She has no money for a check-up, she says.
Maharaj ki chitthi is that magic letter that gets all work done in Gorakhpur, say the people who throng Yogi’s janta durbar.
“Chief minister koi bhi ho. Jo yahaan aata hai, iss chitthi se uska kaam ho jaata hai. Yahaan kal, parson, ya narson nahi bulaaya jaata, aur adhikari Maharaj ki baat nahi taalte (It does not matter who the chief minister is. This letter does the job for whoever comes here. Here, you are not told to come back tomorrow, the day after, or the day after. And officials do not disregard what Maharaj says),” says Alam.
Once he has got his chitthi, Alam rushes off to the railway station, struggling to make his way through a crowd of volunteers from Yogi’s Hindu Yuva Vahini taking selfies with Yogi’s chair — empty today — in his durbar. A saffron towel is draped on it, and a pile of books and papers sits on the desk in front. There is the Ramayana on top, and a book on the RSS written by Professor Triloki Nath Mishra.
This is Yogi’s office, where he holds his janta durbar every day from 9 am to 11 am when he is in Gorakhpur. In his absence, the letters of recommendation are signed by his representative, Dwarika Tiwari.
Recommendations for confirmation of waitlisted tickets are requested commonly — besides Alam’s, there are 22 other recommendations that are being sent to the railway office by fax.
Chaudhary Kaiful Waraq has come to seek a recommendation for inclusion of his name in the government quota for Haj pilgrims. “Whoever comes here gets his work done,” he says. “Some time ago, we had come here seeking resolution of a dispute over some land belonging to a mosque, which was being encroached upon. It was resolved by Maharaj,” says Waraq.
The way Yogi’s office is run contradicts in many ways the strong Hindutva image that he carries outside, says Zakir Ali Waarsi, the 51-year-old head of the section that keeps land records. Young Mohd Moan is one of the caretakers at the cow shelter inside the compound. Mohd Yaseen, who is in his 70s, is in charge of all the construction work at the mutt and at its properties outside.
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As the Hindu Yuva Vahini volunteers raise slogans, Zakir Ali walks quietly inside the durbar and sits behind Dwarika Tiwari to assist him in his work. He says he is getting calls from relatives outside Gorakhpur, who want to know how it is to work at the mutt, and whether it is safe.
“I do not know about public perception, politics or public speeches, but I have been working here since 2004 and some of the most important land documents are kept with me,” he says, adding that just the mutt is sprawled over 60 acres of land, and work on building a medical college-cum-research institute is ongoing nearby.
Soon, preparations begin to show to Yogi Adityanath’s followers his oath-taking in Lucknow. In a room next to the durbar, decorated with pictures of Mahant Avaidyanath, a big screen is put up. The entire staff and students of Sanskrit school, which runs on the campus, as well as the visitors, sit down to watch the ceremony live. There are chants of “Jai Shri Ram” and clapping as Yogi takes oath as chief minister.
Soon afterward, a group of BJP workers with BJP flags enters the mutt — not a usual sight here. They raise a variation of the popular slogan associated with Yogi — replacing Gorakhpur with Uttar Pradesh: “Uttar Pradesh mein rehna hai to Yogi Yogi kehna hai”. Students of the neighbouring school join in to blow the shankh as chants of Jai Shri Ram begin again.
As reports come in about the possibility of the Chief Minister visiting Gorakhpur, members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a “cultural organisation” created by Yogi in 2002, are excited.
Sanjay Singh, head of the organisation in Deoria district, says, “Hinduvadi hona kuchh galat nahin hai. Hum kisi ko target nahin karte, par Hindu bhawnaaon ki raksha karte hain. (There is nothing wrong in being pro-Hindu. We target no one, but we protect the feelings of Hindus.)”
He adds, “Earlier, we were limited to just eastern Uttar Pradesh, but in this election, we have spread ourselves to the entire state and are moving towards Bihar and Delhi as well. Our only point is that those who live in Bharatvarsha should follow its rules and regulations instead of praising Pakistan or Bangladesh, or following them instead.”
Singh and all his colleagues are hopeful that Yogi, once he is back in Gorakhpur, would give them new directions about their future activities.