Yogi Adityanath has made Poorvanchal his Hindutva experimental laboratory. The attempt has been to communalize everyday lives in the region, using petty incidents on a regular basis, giving a communal colour to mundane events that are otherwise not even worthy of being called a serious crime, invoking issues from imagined Muslim fear, to terrorism to rising threat of Naxalism.
An aggressive Hindutva unlike that of the BJP–RSS, it has no institutional sense except making best use of the syncretic, inclusive, and progressive tradition of the Gorakshnath Temple that he heads. His attempt to dominate the entire political and cultural space is seen from the fact that when he first emerged on the political scene, his supporters chanted, ‘ Gorakhpur mein rahna hai toh, yogi yogi kahna hoga!’ (To live in Gorakhpur one has to chant, Yogi, Yogi). As his area of influence has expanded, this slogan is also taking new forms: ‘ Poorvanchal mein rahna hai toh yogi yogi kahna hai!’ (To live in Poorvanchal one has to chant, Yogi, Yogi).
Two features characterize Adityanath’s non-Brahmin Hindutva which makes it different from that espoused by the BJP–RSS. First, is the anti-Brahmin position, which is clearly seen in his successful fight against the Brahmin mafia in the late 1990s described earlier by Vishwakarma, which removed them from positions of power in the region leaving him dominant in the region. Second, is the pro-lower caste strategy and attempt to pitch them against the Muslims, which is visible in the statement made by Saurabh Vishwakarma:
In the Muslim majority localities in the town (Gorakhpur) like, Unchwa, Tiwaripur, Jafra Bazar, Ilahibaad, Purana Gorakhnath, Turkman Pur, Naseerabad, Narshinghpur, Bahram Pur, Rajghat, Basantput Saray and villages in Gorakhpur and other districts, like Laxmipur in Sidhdharthnagar, the cohabitants hailing from lower OBCs and Dalits, face day to day harassment by the Muslims who target our sisters and religious occasions. The other Hindutva outfits have simply failed to protect the Hindus, especially the lower sections against the evil acts of the Muslims, making HYV under Yogiji, as the only hope for them. (Interview with Saurabh Vishwakarma in Gorakhpur, November 2016)
During the 2000s, Yogi Adityanath has attempted to bring the lower OBCs, most particularly the Dalits, into the Hindu fold and make the Muslim the ‘other’ with the aim of creating a unified Hindu cultural nation. As Badri Narayan points out, the strategy is not totally new as ‘politically motivated communal forces’ since the mid-1990s have been silently and ingeniously working among the Dalits and backwards (Narayan 2009: ix). However, it assumed importance in the 2000s because the poorer and smaller sub-castes situated in eastern UP began to enter the democratic arena. In eastern UP, the method followed by Yogi Adityanath and the RSS has been to promote and gain the support of Dalit sub-castes.
As Dalits are highly fragmented with competitive and conflicting relations along regional and sub-caste lines, an approach of wooing the individual sub-castes was viewed as useful as each had its own ideas, heroes and stories which could be used for the purpose of mobilization (Narayan 2009:10). Narayan argues that while reinterpretation of the past serves as a powerful cultural capital for Dalit communities, the process of modernization makes Dalit sub-castes less confident and leads them to draw smaller and smaller boundaries for themselves vis-à-vis other sub-castes: from national to regional, to caste boundary, and eventually to sub-caste boundaries. Among Dalits it is their past suffering and humiliation that creates this unity against others and creates both individual and collective memories and their sense of identity (Narayan 2009: 4).
During the 2000s local Hindutva leaders, including those belonging to organizations headed by Adityanath, have been unearthing local histories and myths by which they could link Dalits to Hindutva and gradually build walls between them and others who had formed the composite culture of the villages. The attempt is to communalize the identity of different communities, their feeling of pride being slowly converted into a feeling of hatred for other communities (Narayan 2009). They are finding folk traditions of Dalit communities, which are against Muslims, and portraying them as enemies although they had lived in harmonious interdependence with each other for the last many centuries, thus creating a ‘politics of hate’ (Narayan 2009: xii).
This strategy is visible in three examples provided by Badri Narayan of linking of three Dalit communities, who are numerous in eastern UP, with the Ramayana: the Pasis, Musahars, and Nishads. The symbol of Lord Ram is being stretched at the local level by either linking him, or finding similarities between him and a local Dalit hero through which local myths are being ‘Ramaized’ (Narayan 2009: 21). The idea that the Pasis helped Ram throughout his period in the forest is propagated and thereby symbols of unity built between them and the upper castes (Narayan 2009: 30). Two brothers Dina and Bhadri, popular heroes of the Musahars, who are remembered as having fought against injustice and exploitation, have been re-interpreted as the reincarnations of Rama and Laxman, while Savari, a minor character in the Ramayana, is described as belonging to the Musahar caste.
These stories represent the aspiration of the Musahars to rise and gain education and respectability (Narayan 2009: 21). Similarly, Guhya, the king of the Nishads, a caste of boatmen, is being projected in Allahabad and the surrounding regions, as the person who helped Ram cross the river in the forest. During the Rath Yatra, the Nishads transported large numbers of Kar Sewaks over water, and a temple to Nishadraj was built in Shringverpur (Narayan 2009: 313). A special issue of Panchjanya in 2004 titled Samajik Nyay with a wide circulation in eastern UP, attempts to show that Dalits and backwards have historically supported and died for Hindus in all riots and stood their ground against the Muslims (Narayan 2009: 30). The idea is to inspire Dalits to be part of the Hindu fold as they are shown as the saviors of Hinduism when it is in danger, true guardians of the faith (Narayan 2009: 31).
Another example shows how in the Bahraich region, the BJP has attempted to create anxiety among Hindus against the Muslims by counterpoising the myth of local hero Suhaldev to that of Ghazi Mian and using it to bring Dalits into the Hindu fold by creating a new collective memory through a selective past (Narayan 2009: 26–7). The story of inter-communal harmony, of Hindus and Muslims visiting the dargah of Sayyad Salar Ghazi Mian specially during the month of May, has been woven by the Hindutva forces into a new story. This story denounces Ghazi Mian as a foreign intruder and establishes Suhaldev as a Pasi Hindu, a Dalit king, and hero who protected the Hindus from the intruders evil designs (Narayan 2009: 61). Aggressive hatred against Muslims is projected which has already led to a small riot over this issue in 2003 (Narayan 2009: 94). These strategies are used by the BJP in many parts of UP. However, in the eastern region they have become a part of the everyday communalism that Yogi Adityanath and his followers, described below, have attempted to institutionalize.
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.