The BJP on Saturday declared Yogi Adityanath as the next chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, putting an end to speculations that were rife since the party won a landslide victory with 312 seats out of 403 in the state assembly elections. Yogi Adityanath, the controversial 44-year-old priest-politician from Gorakhpur is known for his staunch Hindutva approach, provocative speeches and mass following across the state. He never shies away from making controversial remarks, be it about Islam or Pakistan. He is a Member of the Parliament in the Lok Sabha and has been winning from his constituency since 1998, a seat where his spiritual father Mahant Avaidyanath had won from 1989-98.
Born Ajay Singh, the diminutive shaven headed politician is known for his powerful oratory, though most of his speeches hinge on divisive lines and has been in the forefront in keeping the communal politics alive in the country. Adityanath, who is a strong votary of construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, drove BJP’s Hindutva campaign in eastern UP in the just concluded Assembly polls in the politically crucial state where it won three-fourths majority.
Adityanath has rebelled against his party on several occasions, but because of the sway he holds over the ‘Hindu’ voters, the BJP apparently could not ignore his ‘leadership qualities.’ He had floated Hindu Yuva Vahini, a right-wing outfit, in 2002. Ever since, the HYV has been largely instrumental in his meteoric rise – from a student leader to five-time MP.
Yogi Adityanath was the youngest member of the 12th Lok Sabha, elected at the age of 26. In 2005, Adityanath allegedly led a purification drive which involved the conversion of Christians to Hinduism. In one such instance, 1,800 Christians were reportedly converted to Hinduism in the town of Etah in UP. However, the Yogi does not think of these as conversion drives, but instead claims them to be ‘re-conversions’ or ghar wapsi.
After the Modi government came to power in 2014, Uttar Pradesh saw rise of such drives again and the leader has vowed not to stop till religious conversion is banned.
The Yogi’s name is linked to the 2007 communal violence in Uttar Pradesh. His inflammatory speeches allegedly led to the riots in the state. His arrest led to further unrest and several coaches of the Mumbai bound Mumbai-Gorakhpur Godan Express were burnt, allegedly by protesting Hindu Yuva Vahini activists.
In January this year, Yogi Adityanath said that the situation in western UP was similar to the situation in Kashmir 27 years ago. Addressing a rally in Sahibabad, he said: “When I look at western UP, I have regrets… when I see the social framework and demography… On January 19, 1990, Hindus had to migrate collectively from Kashmir. A massacre took place, the honour of mothers and sisters were openly tramped upon. If we have seen a sight similar to this anywhere, it was either in Bengal or western UP. Kairana and Kandhla are examples. Is Kairana not an issue? Is Kashmir not an issue? If this country’s majority, Hindus, are tortured, is it not an issue? But if a thorn pricks the foot of someone from the minority community, it becomes an issue. This politics is strange.”
“I find western UP unsafe. We do not face a threat in eastern UP because there we use the language that people understand and set them straight…,” he had added at the rally, which was attended by Ghaziabad MP VK Singh.
At the same rally, Adityanath was seen lauding President Donald Trump. Claiming that Trump had mentioned just two political leaders during his campaign — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Valdamir Putin – Adityanath said: “Trump’s victory has given politics a new direction, a new flow. You must have seen the decision he has taken. He named Narendra Modi his political icon… In 2013, Putin was questioned over Muslims being given special rights. The issue was discussed in their Parliament… He stood up and said Russia cannot give anyone special rights as they are a minority. Whoever lives in Russia will abide by Russian laws and whoever doesn’t follow, should go where they like Shariat law. Can the Congress, SP, BSP, RLD try to show such courage? They cannot because they have turned this into a votebank”.
Last month the Yogi sacked UP Hindu Yuva Vahini state president Sunil Singh who had announced HYV will contest against BJP candidates. Following this, Adityanath had justified his frequent hardline speeches, saying “I cannot give up Hindutva. Hindutva and development are our issues and will remain so.” When asked about how raising these issues could end up communalising the state, he said, “Hindus are victims in many areas. They are fleeing from their homeland. It is imperative for them to raise their voice.”
More recently, he also compared popular Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistan terrorist Hafiz Saeed and created a fresh controversy.
His supporters had during the 2017 elections campaign rooted for him to become chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.