The Hindu Yuva Vahini and Everyday Communalism: An Excerpt

The locals describe the HVY as ‘Yogi ke sena’. Its members face many cases of rioting, violating prohibitory orders, causing hurt to public servants, and criminal intimidation under the Gangster Act.

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Yogi Adityanath functions through different organizations, which he controls and calls cultural organizations. Included among these are the Hindu Yuva Vahini, Hindu Jagran Manch, Sri Ram Shakti Prakoshtha, Gorakhnath, Purvanchal Vikas Manch, Vishwa Hindu Mahasabha, and Hindu Mahasabha. But for Yogi Adityanath the most vital organization is the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) that comprises mostly unemployed youth, petty criminals, and youth striving for an identity (Apoorvanand 2007). It was formed in April 2002 on the eve of the Ramnavami festival under his patronage at Gorakhpur. Organizationally, it has branches in all the 72 districts of UP. Also the organization has a dedicated Media and  IT cell. As per its constitution, the stated aim of the organization is to protest against cow slaughter, have faith in rebirth, and to unite Hindus of all castes and creeds. On its formation, Yogi Adityanath had held that the Vahini was formed to control ‘religious conversions’, cow slaughter, and ‘crimes against Hindu women’ (Seth 2017: 13).

The locals describe the HVY as ‘Yogi ke sena’. Sunil Singh 42, the President of the UP Vahini and one of its founders says many names were considered when it was being formed such as ‘Gau Rakshak Dal’ and ‘Yuva Vahini’ and it was Adityanath who added Hindu to it giving it a definite cultural orientation. Singh says the Vahini was formed as there was arajakta (anarchy) in Poorvanchal. Madrasas were coming up in large numbers, there was human as well as drug trafficking on the India– Nepal border, and the government was not taking action. He says,

Poorvanchal ke dushashan se nipatne ke liye, Hinduon, Daliton, Mahilaon ke samman ke liye, yuvaon ki sena sakriya hui (To rid Poorvanchal of misrule, to protect the honour of Hindu, Dalits and women, an army of youth was created). (Seth 2017) The HYV sees itself as a cultural organization but it is known more for spearheading campaigns on issues such as Love Jihad, cow slaughter, conversions, crimes against Hindus, etc. (Seth 2017).

Its members face many cases of rioting, violating prohibitory orders, causing hurt to public servants, and criminal intimidation under the Gangster Act. Sunil Singh proudly admits that there are 70-odd cases registered against him at Hapur Budhat Police Station in Gorakhpur including rioting and under the Gangster Act, which he says are inevitable if the fight is against misrule. As the protector of Hindus, for the HYV any small incident involving Muslims takes on vital importance and they reach the spot to create trouble. Most of their acts are destructive, such as arson, destruction of property, and beating.

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In eastern UP, Love Jihad, cow protection, beef, etc., have long been issues leading to conflict. A vivid example is the Mohanmundera episode in Kushinagar. Here, a Muslim boy raped a Hindu girl and the girl died during treatment. Three days later, after Yogi Adityanath heard of this incident, he arrived there with his Vahini workers. The property of all 72 Muslim families was looted, their houses were set ablaze, and the Masjid damaged. The police remained a neutral witness. There are several such examples of the Vahini’s activities. If for any reason ‘revenge’ cannot be taken then they hold a meeting at the same spot that the event took place. They call such meetings ‘Hindu Sangam’ or ‘Hindu Chetna Sangam’. An inhabitant of Gorakhpur points out that the Vahini is sustained by only one thing: fear—fear of public humiliation or of being beaten up—which is what makes people afraid of the Vahini (Seth 2017: 13).

The HYV has been involved in lots of communally sensitive activity. This includes the Mau riots of October 2005 and the Gorakhpur riots in January 2007, particularly the bomb blasts that took place in the Golghar area of Mau city and spread to Padrauna. This led to the burning of trains and buses in the vicinity and reports of arson in Mau, Basti, Kushinagar, Deoria, and Maharajganj (Engineer 2006). The slogan of the HYV was ‘UP Gujarat banaenge/Padrauna shuruat Karenge’ (UP will become Gujarat, with Padrauna making a start).14 During the Mau riots when Yogi Adityanath and his workers were not allowed to enter the town, he held a meeting at Dohri Ghat itself, where he was stopped. This polarized Hindus there and also affected the district panchayat elections, which emboldened his supporters in Mau and misinformation about the mass massacre of Hindus was communicated to places outside the district. When Yogi Adityanath visited Lucknow after the riots, he not only repeated the falsehood that Hindus were being massacred in Mau but also warned of revenge. The riots in Mau and Gorakhpur and communal incidents in adjoining areas created a rift between Hindus and Muslims in the region. Some analysts contend that the spread of Yogi Adityanath’s work is really the result of administrative inaction. 

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In the UP assembly elections of 2007, the Hindu Yuva Vahini demanded that it would organize the elections in the eastern region on its own, but finally a compromise was reached with the BJP leadership (Engineer 2006). Adityanath demanded more than hundred seats in the eastern region for candidates selected by him, but the party leadership would not agree; after a negotiated compromise, possibly with the intervention of the RSS, eight of his candidates were fielded. With the approach of the 2017 assembly elections in UP the followers of Adityanath have demanded not only seats, but that he should be declared the Chief Ministerial candidate of the BJP. While he has denied this, perhaps this is why the party leadership did not announce a Chief Ministerial candidate during the campaign.

During the 2000s, Adityanath has been involved in a number of controversies which have resulted in communal incidents. In 2005, he 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. On 22–24 December 2006, Adityanath organized a three-day Virat Hindu Mahasammelan at Gorakhpur, during the same period when the BJP was holding its National Executive Meet in Lucknow. In January 2007, an altercation between Hindus and Muslims in a Muharram procession in Gorakhpur, led to the hospitalization of a young Hindu, Raj Kumar Agrahari. The District Magistrate issued orders banning Adityanath from visiting the site as it could inflame passions, but when Agrahari died, he disobeyed the magistrate and with his followers started a dharna on the site.

They made inflammatory speeches and some of his followers set fire to a nearby Mazar (Muslim mausoleum) leading to imposition of curfew. Adityanath was arrested for breaking the curfew and jailed for a fortnight, on charges of destroying a Muslim tomb. His arrest led to further unrest and several coaches of the Mumbai-bound Mumbai–Gorakhpur Godan Express were burnt, allegedly by protesting HYV activists. However, the day after the arrest, the District Magistrate along with local police chief were transferred and replaced, which was widely perceived as a result of Adityanath’s clout with Mulayam Singh Yadav. The tensions soon escalated to riots across Gorakhpur leading to the burning of mosques, homes, buses, and trains. After his release, Adityanath protested his jailing in the Parliament.(15)

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In March 2011, the documentary film Saffron War—Radicalization of Hinduism accused Adityanath of promoting communal disharmony through a Virat Hindustan rally in rural UP. In another controversial incident in 2015, Adityanath shared the stage during a hate speech in which an unidentified speaker urged the Hindu audience to dig up the graves of Muslim women; recording of this event went viral on social media in March 2015. In August 2014, political activist Shehzaad Poonawala wrote to the National Commission of Minorities demanding that a police First Information Report be filed against Adityanath. Despite his dubious record, the BJP finds him useful in the east and is wary of trying to control him. Yogi Adityanath has also taken full advantage of the fact that political parties have abandoned the struggle for development in eastern UP leaving the field clear for him.

However, while the Yogi has been successful in socio-religious and cultural everyday mobilization using his position as the Mahant, the BJP until recently could not achieve electoral success in the region. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the SP and BSP continued to gain more seats in the UP assembly and parliament. It was only in 2014 that the BJP was able to win all seats except one in Azamgarh, won by Mulayam Singh Yadav. However, this may change with the continuous grass roots mobilization by the Mahant to create a larger and more inclusive Hindu support structure, which would be useful during elections. Moreover, the Mahant though a religious and social head has also become politically ambitious as viewed in the demand by his followers that he should be made the Chief Ministerial candidate for the 2017 assembly elections.


15. Compiled from interviews during fieldwork in November 2016, details
are given in Chapter 3.

This is an excerpt from the book Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh, published by Oxford University Press. The excerpt has been re-published here with the permission of the publisher.

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