Yogi Adityanath wields his influence primarily in eastern UP and, during the Lok Sabha elections, had led the BJP campaign in Muslim-dominated districts of that region. The upcoming byelections, the campaign for which he has been given charge of, include four seats in the communally sensitive west. The assignment is a recognition of the Gorakhpur MP’s emergence as the new Hindutva face of the party in the state, rather than in one region.
It was an image once associated with Kalyan Singh, particularly during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, but the former chief minister has been in and out of the BJP and has now been sent to Rajasthan as governor. Among other Hindutva faces, Vinay Katiyar no longer holds a significant position in the party while Uma Bharti is now in the union cabinet.
Considered close to L K Advani, Yogi is held in high regard in the current BJP setup too, as Narendra Modi showed in January when he took him in his helicopter to Manbela ground of Gorakhpur to address a rally. Apart from Modi and Rajnath Singh, Yogi was the only candidate to campaign for anyone other than himself during the polls, with seniors such as Murli Manohar Joshi and Kalraj Mishra busy on their own campaigns. The party provided him a helicopter to campaign in Muslim-dominated constituencies.
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“Yogiji has always expressed the ideology of BJP inside and outside Parliament and the public appreciates his efforts to uplift deprived sections,” BJP state spokesperson Chandra Mohan said. “Yogiji will campaign in the bypolls because he represents the BJP’s slogan ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’.”
Yogi’s relations with the state BJP, however, has long been bitter. He has set up the Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organisation parallel to the BJP, and has never needed the party’s support to win his five elections from Gorakhpur. For the past two years, though, he has been attending party programmes, something he used to skip.
He had openly opposed the induction of former minister Babu Singh Kushwaha in the BJP in 2012, and asked HYV workers not to campaign for BJP candidates. He fielded his own candidates against the BJP’s in several seats after the party denied tickets to those he had recommended. These included Rana Pratap against then BJP state president Surya Pratap Shahi from Patahardeva, and Ram Lakshman against the BJP’s Subhawati Paswan from Bansgaon. Yogi also supported Radhamohan Das Agarwal as a nominee of Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, who won the Gorakhpur Urban seat against the BJP’s Shiv Pratap Shukla. Later, however, Agarwal joined the BJP.
A science graduate from Garhwal University in what is now Uttarakhand, Yogi runs some two dozen education institutions. In Parliament, he has often raised the problem of Japanese encephalitis that kills hundreds of children in eastern UP every year. Frequently seen in religious discourses and fond of bhajans, Yogi also campaigns for the protection of cows and is chief editor of the monthly Yogvani.
In March 2013, he surprised his party and rivals when he came out in support of independent MLA Raghuraj Pratap Singh, better known as Raja Bhaiyya, when he was named an accused in the murder of a police officer.