Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath leaves after a meeting in Lucknow on Monday. Mahant Avaidyanath, four-time MP from Gorakhpur, in Parliament. Photo: Vishal Srivastav.

By Yubaraj Ghimire 

Yogi Adityanath’s rise to power in Lucknow is in several ways the culmination — and recognition — of consistent efforts put in by at least two earlier heads of the Gorakhnath Peeth, the highest seat of the Nath Aghori order, to push the Hindutva agenda in Indian politics. In fact, the famous pledge in the BJP’s Palampur Resolution (1989) to build a “magnificent Ram temple in Ayodhya” was a reiteration of what Mahant Digvijaynath, a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha and the then head of the Gorakhnath Peeth, had resolved to do a full four decades ago.

In 1949, at the end of a long religious ceremony organised by Digvijaynath, idols of Ram Lalla and Sita appeared mysteriously inside the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. A never-ending legal dispute followed, and L K Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra in 1990 created an unprecedented Hindutva wave countrywide, leading ultimately to the demolition of the 16th century mosque by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992.

The Jana Sangh, the BJP’s predecessor organisation that was born in 1951 with the aim of promoting ‘Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan’, surrendered its existence to the Janata Party that was formed to fight Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in 1977. After rebirth as the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980, it allowed itself a bit of ideological confusion — toying for a while with a variant of Gandhian socialism. In elections held after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, it sank to an all time low of 2 seats in Lok Sabha (C Janga Reddy from Hanamkonda and A K Patel from Mehsana), which prompted a sharp ideological turn to the far right, and the BJP put Ramjanmabhoomi at the top of its agenda.

Four years after the Babri Masjid was pulled down, the party formed its first government at the head of a coalition, which lasted for 13 days. It came back to rule for 13 months in 1998, and then again in 1999, this time for a full term — which saw a fair sprinkling of saffron robes in the House. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the BJP to a majority on its own, which included an astonishing 71 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. A near repeat of that performance in this month’s Assembly elections, and the choice of Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister, underscores the importance the BJP places in the Ayodhya movement as the engine of its rise.

The Hindu Mahasabha, whose creation was the culmination of several efforts made to unite Hindus between 1906 and 1915, is older than both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (formed in 1925) and the Jana Sangh. It advocated militant methods in support of the Hindu cause, and to restore India’s pre-Partition integrity. Digvijaynath, who became the Mahant of the Gorakhnath mutt in 1934, called for temporary disenfranchisement of Muslims, and unlike the heads of many other Hindu religious institutions, joined politics. He entered Lok Sabha in 1967 with the support of the Hindu Mahasabha and Jana Sangh, comfortably defeating the Congress candidate at the Gorakhpur seat. Digvijaynath’s successor Avaidyanath, who became Mahant in 1967, served as an MLA for 5 terms and as the MP for Gorakhpurfor 4 terms, winning the last two elections — in 1991 and 1996 — as a candidate of the BJP when the party had adopted the Ramjanmabhoomi issue as its main electoral plank.

Yogi Adityanath, who took over the leadership of the mutt on February 15, 1994, has always been with the BJP, and has been pursuing Hindutva causes more aggressively and with greater anti-Muslim stridency than his mentor Avaidyanath and Digvijaynath, often warning the party against surrendering the Ram temple issue. Like the Hindu Mahasabha and both his predecessors at the Gorakhpur mutt, he has crossed swords with the BJP many times, always in favour of a more assertive Hindutva.

Beside his visible clout in northeastern UP, what possibly worked to propel Yogi to the Chief Ministership was his ability to display public rage on being denied the post, with likely unpalatable chain effects inside and outside the state, given the power of the Gorakhnath Peeth and the reverence with which it is held by large sections of people. The Chief Minister is a Rajput, but the mutt has a significant following among all sections of Hindus, including Dalits, as Gorakhnath is believed to have encouraged rulers to treat their subjects fairly, with equality and dignity, and punish those who defied the edicts. Yogi is likely to be tasked with promoting Hindu militancy and development simultaneously.

Yogi Adityanath is believed to follow closely behind his two immediate gurus on their belief in the need for a stronger India, and an expansion of its current borders. To that end, those close to the Chief Minister say, he firmly believes in the Hindu Mahasabha’s June 8, 1947 resolution: “India is one and indivisible and that there will never be peace unless and until the separated parts are brought back into the Indian Union and made integral parts thereof.”

On Nepal — where Yogi makes occasional visits and his order has a large following — he has said repeatedly that “its status as a Hindu kingdom must be restored”.

Digvijaynath was anti-Partition and anti-Gandhi, to the extent that he was investigated in the Gandhi assassination case. He was opposed to the Mahatma’s non-violent politics — and Digvijaynath’s alleged incitement of a mob that set fire to a police station in Chauri Chaura (Gorakhpur) in 1922, killing 23 policemen, led Gandhi to call off his Non-Cooperation Movement.

Yogi Adityanath is heir to the history and legacy of a mutt that has long believed in militant involvement in politics as a means to achieving its religious and ideological ends. It remains to be seen how the leader of the Gorakhnath Peeth discharges his duties as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.

Guru Gorakhnath, believed to be Shiva’s incarnation in human form, is the presiding deity of Nepal’s royal dynasty. Legend has it that as a 7-year-old child, Prithvi Narayan Shah, who ruled Nepal in the 18th century, was blessed by Gorakhnath, who predicted he would conquer every piece of land he set foot on, and that 10 generations of his family would rule after him. Prithvi Narayan Shah went on to conquer many kingdoms and fiefs, and had, by 1768, unified Nepal into the entity that it is currently.

The abolition of the monarchy in 2008 has not reduced the royal family’s reverence for the Guru, and its relations with the Gorakhnath Peeth, the highest seat of the Nath Aghori order, remain intact. “In fact, Prithvi Narayan Shah was initiated into the Nath Aghora order, and wrote a bhajan in praise of the lord,” says Debnath Yogi, priest of the Gorakhnath temple on the premises of Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath temple.

Every Makar Sankranti, when the Gorakhpur Peeth offers khichri as prasad to devotees — to mark Gorakhnath’s first appearance, when he ate khichri prepared with rice, lentils and other things his disciples got in alms — Nepal’s royal family is the first contributor.

Yogi Adityanath has met former King Gyanendra at least twice over the last 4 years, asserting that Nepal must once again become a “Hindu kingdom”, and blaming “Western donors and NGOs” for conspiring to remove the “cultural and historic symbol of (Nepal’s) identity”. Four years ago, Adityanath invited Gyanendra Shah to inaugurate the newly built Gorakhnath temple near Gorakhpur. Two months ago, Gyanendra was the chief guest at a dharma sabha attended by sadhus and representatives of various faiths, where Yogi addressed the former King as “Vishwa Hindu Samrat”.

Until about a decade ago, coins and currency notes carried the words “Sri Gorakhnath” and an image of Shiva’s trident. “Jai Gorakh” is the war cry of military units in Nepal, and one of the battalions is named Gorakh gan. Nepal’s Army celebrates Shivaratri as its Foundation Day in honour of Gorakhnath.

This story first appeared on indianexpress.com