From supporting candidates against official BJP nominees to staying away from party events even while being MP, Yogi Adityanath, the BJP’s pick for the post of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has always set the terms for his engagement with the party. In his eastern UP constituency of Gorakhpur, it is said that Yogi doesn’t need the BJP’s support to win elections; it’s the party that needs him. The ‘Hindu Hridya Samrat’, as his supporters call him, is a science graduate from Garhwal University in Uttarakhand. He credits his political grooming to his mentor, former BJP MP Mahant Avaidyanath, who took him under his wings and announced that Adityanath would succeed him as head of Gorakhnath Mandir in Gorakhpur. That was on February 15, 1994, and Yogi was then 22.
Born in Panchur area of Garhwal district of present day Uttarakhand in 1972 – only the the fourth UP CM after GB Pant, HN Bahuguna and ND Tewari to be born in Uttarakhand – Adityanath had, in his affidavit for the 2014 Lok Sabha election, written Mahant Avaidyanath’s name in the column for father’s name.
After being associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) during his university days, Adityanath entered mainstream politics in 1998 when his guru, Avaidyanath, vacated his parliamentary seat for him. He would go on to win five consecutive elections from Gorakhpur – from 1998 to 2014
Adityanath had in March 2007 burst into tears in Parliament when he began describing the “political conspiracy’’ that led to his arrest in Gorakhpur. The BJP MP had spent 11 days in detention after being arrested in January for violating prohibitory orders in the communally sensitive eastern Uttar Pradesh town.
While his firebrand talk and rising Hindutva image suited the BJP well, the party and Adidyanath often found themselves on the wrong side of each other. While Adityanath himself contests elections on the BJP’s symbol, he has always maintained a distance from party activities and made it a point to skip party events in Delhi and Lucknow.
In the 2012 Assembly elections, upset that the BJP had denied tickets to names recommended by Adityanath, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, founded by Adityanath in 2002, fielded candidates against BJP’s nominees on several seats. This election too, the Vahini had unofficially declared that it would field candidates, but Adityanath has distanced himself from them and sacked the state president of the Vahini, Sunil Singh.
In 2012, he openly opposed the induction of former BSP minister Babu Singh Kushwaha into the BJP and even declared that he would not campaign for BJP candidates in the elections.
Earlier, in 2002, he had supported Radhamohan Das Agarwal as nominee of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha (ABHM) from Gorakhpur Assembly seat against BJP’s Shiv Pratap Shukla. Agarwal, who won that election, later joined the BJP and he is presently MLA from Gorakhpur Urban and is in the race for a ministerial berth.
The ice between Adityanath and the BJP started melting after the party’s poor showing in 2012 elections. He responded by turning up at party events.
But it wasn’t until the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that the BJP cashed in on his pro-Hindutva image. The party gave him a helicopter to campaign in the Muslim-dominated districts of eastern UP such as Basti, Sant Kabir Nagar, Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Deoria, Mau, Azamgarh, Ambedkar Nagar etc and also in Kanpur. Apart from Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh, Adityanath was the only candidate to campaign for anyone other than himself during the polls.
In by-elections to 11 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat (Mainpuri) the same year, the the party handed him the reins of the party’s campaign in the state. The BJP won four of the Assembly seats and lost the LS seat. Almost all the BJP candidates had then demanded public meetings of Adityanath in the hope that his presence would consolidate Hindus (across castelines) for the BJP. In one of those public meetings that he addressed, Adityanath had only a BJP-ruled government could bring a stop to ‘love jihad’.
His vitriol was in full flow in the 2017 elections too, with Adityanath now the BJP’s star campaigner. On February 7, he addressed his first ever press conference at the BJP state headquarters. There, he had said that the exodus of people from western UP was an issue in the state and that UP could turn into Kashmir if Samajwadi Party remained in power. Adityanath said he would raise these issues after the elections too.
Adityanath, who is considered close to party veteran L K Advani, is held in high regard in the current BJP setup too. At a rally in Gorakhpur in January 2014, Modi had praised Adityanath and called him a popular and jujharu (hardworking) member of Parliament.
As MP, Adityanath regularly raises the issue of Japanese Encephalitis that claims the lives of hundreds of children in eastern UP every year. At the Gorakhnath Mandir, religious discourse and bhajans are said to be his favourite pastime, besides campaigning for cow-protection and ‘national security’ through his ‘Rashtra Raksha abhiyan.’ He is also on the management committees of more than two dozens education institutions.
Such was his clout in Gorakhpur that until about two years ago, Yogi’s supporters wouldn’t display the registration numbers on their vehicles, instead, their number plates read ‘Yogi Sevak’. Sources said the practice had continued for several years.