Politics, Culture, and the Political Economy of Everyday Communalism in Eastern Uttar Pradesh: An Excerpt

Image courtesy: Amazon.in

The Yogi and Communal Mobilization in Eastern UP

In more recent times, Yogi Adityanath, the present Mahant of the Gorakhnath Math close to Gorakhpur town, has emerged in the 2000s as an independent, right-wing, prominent, Hindutva leader. The temple is a religious institution that runs two Gorakhnath temples, one in Nepal and the other a little south of Gorakhpur town. It is said to contain the samadhi shrine (tomb) and gaddi (prayer seat) of Gorakshanath. Adityanath’s political influence is felt in the entire state as he has established himself as a hero of Hindu renaissance, but his rise has created a separate powerbase of the Hindu right in eastern UP ( The Times of India 2014).

He has had strained relations with the BJP for more than a decade as he has been seeking greater power in eastern UP causing at times conflict with the BJP leadership, though the party has found in him a useful base in the east (Jaffrelot 2014). The Gorakhnath Math, an important institution of the Nath sect, is believed to have been founded by the Hindu God, Lord Shiva. Matsyendranath, a disciple of Shiva, passed this knowledge to his disciple Gorakhnath. The sect with twelve branches promoted by Gorakhnath later came to be known as the Nath sect. The followers of this sect suffix Nath to their names and are called kanphata because of the tradition of cutting ears, and gorakhnathi because they are devotees of Gorakhnath. These features of the syncretic tradition of the Math are provided in the literature published by the Gorakhnath Mandir (for details, refer to श्रीवास्तव सम्वत २०७१; बनर्जी सम्वत २०१६ ; गोरकनाथ-मंदिर सम्वत २०२९ ). 

The Gorakhnath Math is over a hundred years old.  Figure 2.1 provides a view of the math in 1962; it is much larger today. The Math has been involved in political matters for decades. An earlier head, Mahant Digvijaynath joined the Congress in 1921 and was arrested for taking an ‘active part’ in the Chauri Chaura incident, thereby putting a brake on Gandhi’s non-violent, non-cooperation movement to which he was strongly opposed. He joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 and soon became the head of the party’s unit in the United Provinces. Shortly after independence, he was arrested for inflaming passions against Gandhi that contributed to his assassination and was imprisoned for nine months. After his release, he spearheaded the Ram Janmabhoomi movement of 1949, organizing a nine-day long recitation of Ramcharit Manas, at the end of which the idols of Rama and Sita were placed inside the Babri Masjid (for details, see Jha and Jha 2012).

Also read: Yogi Adityanath’s Vengeful “Naming and Shaming” and Erosion of Right to Privacy

The Babri Masjid was locked down as a result, but it led to Digvijaynath’s rise in the Hindu Mahasabha. Appointed the General Secretary at the national level, he won the election as MP of Gorakhpur in 1967. His successor, Mahant Avaidyanath who was also a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, was elected as MLA from Maniram as an independent in 1962, 1967, 1969, 1974, and 1977 and also as an MP from Gorakhpur in 1970 and 1989. Soon after, when the Sangh Parivar started its own Ram Janmabhoomi movement, he left the Hindu Mahasabha and joined the BJP and was elected as MP of Gorakhpur on a BJP ticket in 1991 and 1996 (Jaffrelot 2014). 

His successor Yogi Adityanath, born Ajay Singh (5 June 1972) in a Rajput family in Uttarakhand holds a University degree and has been Member of Parliament from the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha Constituency five times since 1998, including most recently in 2014. He succeeded Avaidyanath at the young age of 22 and was appointed as Mahant on 14 September 2014 after the death of his Guru on 12 September 2014. Mahant Avaidyanath passed away on 12 September 2014. Yogi Adityanath has been active in the BJP and has moulded the Hindu forces in the region by a combination of alliances cutting across caste lines, and raising demands for better economic livelihood (Jaffrelot 2014).

Yogi Adityanath’s influence has been strongest in the seven districts of Gorakhpur division (Gorakhpur, Deoria, Kushinagar, Maharajganj) and Basti division (Basti, Sant Kabir Nagar, Siddharthanagar). He is now spreading his wings in the Azamgarh division, of which Mau is a part. This is because in Poorvanchal, the region south of the Ghaghra particularly Varanasi and districts surrounding it, follow orthodox Hindu traditions. However, north of the Ghaghra a more open, eclectic, and radical atmosphere has prevailed historically as the Gorakshak peeth has a monastic order which according to the principles of Gorakhnath does not follow Brahminical or caste traditions so non-Brahmins (like Adityanath) may serve as priests. A second reason is that this region, except Gorakhpur district, has a large Muslim population. After the 1857 mutiny, many Muslims moved to the terai area (foothills) and the emergence of a large number of Madrassas has created intensive media attention on the Muslims of the region leading the BJP–RSS to join hands with the VHP to fi ght ‘these anti-national’ elements; which the Yogi has labelled as the ‘hub of terrorism’. The region from Bahraich to Gorakhpur is also the focus of attention of Hindutva forces because it is the hotbed of Naxalite activities and the CPI(ML) and therefore expected to be the breeding ground of Muslim insurgents. Consequently, Hindutva politics is more intense here and the RSS has many workers in this region.

Also read: U.P Man Booked for Sedition for Facebook Comment on Yogi Adityanath

Shrigorksanath Sanskrit-Vidyapeeth / Image courtesy: goraknathmandir.in

The strength and the reach of the Gorakhnath Temple Trust in the eastern region can be gauged from the fact that the Trust and its affiliates have at least 44 institutions linked to them, located in Gorakhpur, adjoining districts, and in Varanasi (Seth 2017: 13). No persons involved in these institutions is willing to talk about their finances, earnings, or income except to say that the 800 acres over which the Trust’s institutions are spread are worth upwards of Rs 500 crore (Seth 2017). The main campus is spread over 55 acres, and apart from the temple includes a hospital, an Ayurvedic centre, a Sanskrit school with a hostel, a nursing institute, a gaushala with about 500 cows and a vermi-compost plant, a dharmashala, and an auditorium.

The trust also owns 500 acres of both agricultural and forest land in Chowk Bajar area, which holds another gaushala and farms. A temple in Balrampur district is spread over 125 acres. The Math kitchen makes food for about 450 persons daily. Meals are also provided to some of the schools and colleges run by the trust at subsidized rates. Adityanath solely decides the menu. The Trust also runs five colleges, a polytechnic, a tailoring college, and a nursing college. Most of the students of the area go to these institutions as fees are low and facilities are good. The most successful of the Trust’s ventures though are its three hospitals; Adityanath set up the main one in 2003. It has 350 beds, 22 departments, 440 staff members, a blood bank with facilities to handle dengue cases, and low patient charges. Patients come from Nepal and many parts of eastern UP (Seth 2017). More details pertaining to the institutions under the Math are available in its own literature published in commemoration of Mahant Digvijaynath who is credited with having created most of the educational and health institutions. Parliamentarians across party lines commended his institutional contribution in eastern UP (गोरकनाथ-मंदिर सम्वत २०२९). 

Guru Sri Gorakhnath Chikistalay / Image courtesy: gorakhnathmandir.in

In a region which is very backward, with poor educational facilities and institutions run by the government, hardly any employment and poor governance, the Gorakhnath trust stands out as a well-organized philanthropic organization and is very popular among the inhabitants. However, the trust and all the institutions under it are under the tight control of Yogi Adityanath; locals allege that they have CCTVs directly linked to his mobile so that he can closely monitor their working. In every institution of the Math there is a ‘Peethadhishwar’ chair covered with a saffron cloth reserved exclusively for Yogi Adityanath, on which no one else can sit. Muslim localities and small teashops lie on all four sides of the Math, which have come up over the years to cater to visitors. A significant change in the area is that since Adityanath became an MP, localities such as Alinagar and Urdu Bazaar near the Math have acquired new names visible on many shops and homes—Aryanagar and Hindu Bazaar (Seth 2017). Yogi Adityanath holds janata durbars at his office in the Math at which local and family disputes are resolved, the Yogi writes letters to government departments seeking favours to the supplicant and even to the railways to ensure that those with wait listed tickets travel the same day. In sum, the Math seems to run a Robin Hood parallel government.

Also read: UP CM Yogi Promises Youth Jobs, ‘Yogi is a Liar’ Trends on Twitter

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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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