The year 2002 was a difficult time for India. Spanning across three days in late February, a spate of barbaric communal incidents left the Western state of Gujarat burning. Following the bloodshed of the Godhra riots, several minor inter-communal clashes took place throughout the country that year. The same year, two months following the savagery in Gujarat, the mahant or head priest of the Gorakhnath Math, a Hindu temple in Gorakhpur, and a rising political star in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, put together a number of unemployed youth to form an anti-minority organisation which was named the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV). Undying support to their patron and founder and a firm vow to turn India into a Hindu nation were perhaps the threads that bound the group founded by Yogi Adityanath.
Since the moment of its formation, the HYV had steadily been embroiled in communal violence. “The HYV ran an aggressively toxic campaign, turning even small events into full-blown communal wars and projecting minorities as the enemies of Hindus,” wrote Dhirendra K. Jha in his recent book, “Yogi Adityanath and the Hindu Yuva Vahini”. Focusing on the meat eating habits of the Muslims, specifically cow meat, and how it allegedly created a tendency to incite violence, the HYV spread its communal wings across Gorakhpur and other parts of Eastern UP to soon make Adityanath the face of saffron politics in UP.
Despite the stronghold of the HYV in Eastern UP, the organisation had until much recently been unable to expand its influence beyond the region. However, no sooner was its patron appointed the chief minister of the state that the organisation received a fresh lease of life. Since March the outfit’s growth has been rampant, to the extent that recently the RSS and a section of the BJP have both expressed discomfort in the HYV’s rising influence on the state. Lately, the HYV has been particularly involved in controversial activities like the ánti-Romeo squads’, that was aimed to thwart harassment of women but in reality became a militant check on Muslim men in relationships with Hindu women, and cow protection movements which have also targeted the Muslim community.
Political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot is of the opinion that the HYV’s militant Hinduism belongs to a school of thought that widely differs from the BJP’s political process. The roots of HYV’s political thought, says Jaffrelot, can be traced to Adityanath’s predecessor Digvijay Nath, who was also the Mahant of the Gorakhnath temple of Gorakhpur. What put Digvijay Nath apart from other religious leaders of the time was his political acumen. Originally a member of the Congress, Nath had joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, and played an instrumental role in communal politics of the time. It is recorded that three days before the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, Nath had incited Hindu militants to kill him. Later in 1949, Nath realised the potential inherent in Babri Masjid to become a symbol of communal politics that would favour the Hindu Mahasabha and presided over the operation of installing an idol of Ram inside the masjid in December 1949. The religious politics exercised by Nath ensured that he became the first head priest of the Gorakhnath temple to play an active role in politics and made the Gorakhnath temple a religious and political centre exclusively controlled by Hindu upper castes.
Nath’s tradition of communal politics has been carefully carried forward by Yogi Adityanath. When he conceived the HYV, he followed the pattern set by the RSS and made it more of a cultural rather than a political outfit. However, the influence of the HYV in the political scene of UP is undeniable. As written by Dhirendra K. Jha, “Adityanath uses the BJP symbol every time he goes to polls, and yet strives to retain complete hegemony within his fiefdom in eastern Uttar Pradesh, through the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), independent of the RSS and any of its outfits.”
Jha went on to explain that on ground the members of the HYV behave nothing less than goons, who obey no one other than their leader. They fondly refer to Adityanath as “Gau Raksha Peethadishwar Parampujya Yogi Adityanath Ji Maharaj” and put on a saffron stole around their necks to distinguish themselves from others. On their website, the group describes themselves as “A fierce cultural and social organisation dedicated to Hindutva and nationalism.”
While communal riots became a regular feature in Gorakhpur and adjoining areas ever since the inception of the HYV, what is remarkable is the complete silence of the local administration on the activities of the organisation. The only time when the state did step in as a disciplinary check on Adityanath and his group was in 2007 when the HYV was leading a march after an inflammatory speech made by its leaders, aimed at destroying a Muslim religious structure. After his arrest in 2007, Adityanath along with his organisation is believed to have become a bit cautious in terms of their activities. While he continued to spew hatred in his speeches, a note of caution was maintained in the acts of the HYV.
The recent resurgence of its radical religious political activities have become a point of worry for the ruling party, from which it claims to derive ideological support. At a point in time when the ruling party in state and national government is sincerely trying to cover up for the communal politics with which it is associated, the activities of the HYV has all the potential to cause serious damage to its image.