Meet the Scribe Who Scribbles Yogi Story

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“Yogi used the religion ladder to climb and rise big in politics,” Pradhan maintained – and retraced the history of the Gorakhnath mutt, of which he is the head, to buttress his contention…writes Vishnu Makhijani

The “unexpected” appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister in 2017 was met with “outrage and disappointment in most quarters, other than the staunch right-wing groups that hailed the move to no end”, writes veteran journalist Sharat Pradhan, a close observer of state politics for over four-and-a-half decades, who terms it a “unique case of a rabble-rouser suddenly being anointed” to the post.

Approached by Penguin to write Adityanath’s biography, Pradhan found it “interesting because Yogi on the UP Chief Minister’s chair was a huge surprise for all and sundry including the larger chunk of BJP leadership here (in Lucknow)… It was a unique case of a rabble-rouser suddenly being anointed as Chief Minister – specially without any RSS background or having ever held any key position in the BJP,” Pradhan told IANS in an interview of “Yogi Adityanath – Religion, Politics and Power, The Untold Story” that has been co-authored with Atul Chandra.

Pradhan, has been associated with several media outlets, including IANS, TOI, Reuters, Sunday, Outlook, BBC, and The Wire and appears on several news channels, YouTube and OTT platforms. Atul Chandra is a former Resident Editor of Times of India, Lucknow.

The book took off barely six months after Yogi donned the mantle in March 2017 but contrary to the original plan, took a little more than three years to complete – partly due to the extensive research and travel involved and partly due to certain extraneous personal reasons. “However, in the bargain, we were able to cover and scan almost the entire span of his term as CM,” Pradhan said. It’s a term that is “flooded with ads” in print and on TV as it winds down, with assembly elections due early next year.

“Yogi used the religion ladder to climb and rise big in politics,” Pradhan maintained – and retraced the history of the Gorakhnath mutt, of which he is the head, to buttress his contention.

“The founder of the Gorakhnath mutt was perhaps the most secular sage once has seen on this soil in centuries. He set up this institution in the 11th century essentially for the benefit of the downtrodden castes whose members had no access to temples of the Brahmanical order.

“Throwing open the gates of his temple to all and sundry also brought a considerable following of Muslims, who were called ‘jogis’. They used to sing Ram bhajans and also offer ‘namaz’. Some of their descendants happen to continue the old practice but not within the walls of the mutt premises anymore. We (the authors) met two such families miles away from Gorakhpur in a village, where very reluctantly they sang Ram bhajans for us. I have a video also. But they were very worried that this could land them into trouble.

“This is how this highly secular institution has been reduced to a home of rabid Hindutva. This trend began with Mahant Digvijay Nath, who was Yogi’s guru’s guru and held the mutt from the early (19) thirties to the fifties. And Yogi took it to the hilt,” Pradhan pointed out.

Has Adiyanath succeeded where others before him have failed on the development front? Would his achievements be what they are without Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s backing? After all, this backing – personified by hoardings, posters and print advertisements carrying his image with that of Modi – is with an eye on next year’s assembly polls, where it is clear that while the BJP will return to power but with far fewer seats than it has now (308 in a 403-member house). Where will this leave Adityanath?

Frankly speaking it is a misnomer that other leaders failed on the development front. And his ‘development’ has been described by his own machinery in hyperboles. I wonder if you have seen the three-page advertorial in the Time magazine. Indian papers and TV channels have been flooded with ads. The fact remains that his predecessor Akhilesh Yadav actually carried out a number of development tasks but he was weaker in spreading the word as compared to Yogi, who devoted a lot to publicity,” Pradhan said.

Adityanath, the author said, also succeeded in claiming credit for certain projects actually undertaken and completed under the previous Samajwadi Party regime. These included the 300-km Lucknow-Agra Expressway – UP’s first access control expressway built in a record time of 23 months with world class technology. “If you were to drive on that you would agree that it is definitely India’s best expressway,” Pradhan said.

The first eight-km stretch of the Lucknow Metro (UP’s first) was also completed and trial runs carried out successfully in September 2017; the work had begun in 2014. The Metro was initiated for Kanpur as well but the Union government held back its clearance that was given only after the Yogi government was installed.

“To give yet another example, an international cricket stadium was built under a PPP arrangement in Lucknow with a capacity of 50,000. The stadium was also renamed and the credit hogged by Yogi. Other innovative services like Women Helpline -1090 – Dial 100 were also initiated and implemented by Akhilesh Yadav. But Yogi chose to rechristen both. While Women Helpline was renamed as ‘Mission shakti’, Dial 100 was changed to 112 and described as Yogi’s creation. He also loves renaming mohallas and towns,” Pradhan said.

The value that Yogi could bring towards the beginning was “cleaner governance” and “improvement in the law and order situation” the author said, adding these too remained short-lived and as time went by, corruption took over and remained beyond Yogi’s control.

“Once again, a publicity blitzkrieg helped him build a somewhat half-truth perception that law and order was transformed under Yogi – even as heinous crimes like Unnao gangrape, Hathras gangrape and Lakhimpur killings went on, while the government left no stone unturned to defend the culprits. But for the intervention of the High Court and the Supreme Court, they would not have been brought to book,” Pradhan pointed out.

Conceding that Yogi too has undertaken multiple development works across the state, Pradhan said most of these are attributable to the Central government and the interest taken by Prime Minster Modi.

“Doubtlessly, many of these have been inaugurated hastily, essentially with the eye on the 2022 elections. Some of these are incomplete too.

“It is difficult to say whether BJP can repeat the 2017 performance in 2022. And there is a growing perception that if BJP returns with much fewer seats, the Modi-Shah duo could replace him in UP. Under such circumstances, Yogi could be accommodated in Delhi,” Pradhan concluded.

In the midst of this, Pradhan presents a rather startling proposition: Is Adityanath India’s next Prime Minister in the making?

“Was Adityanath appointed with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s concurrence or did RSS trump them to have a man of its choice in Uttar Pradesh? Yogi himself has said that the Shah-Modi combine was behind his political appointment,” Pradhan writes in the concluding chapter titled “Future Prime Minister?”

Noting that Modi had smooth sailing in the 2019 general elections, Pradhan writes in the book. “It is unlikely that the same pattern will follow in 2024. Questions could be raised within the party over his continuation in 2024 when Modi will be 74 years of age. On the other hand, Adityanath would be only 51, and with Modi himself having fixed a retirement age of 75 for BJP leaders, the monk could easily be considered among the frontrunners for the top job. Other prime ministerial hopefuls like Rajnath Singh will turn 73.”

“The only person who could upstage Yogi at the goalpost” is Amit Shah, as he is only 53 at present, Pradhan writes, adding that Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan “could form the second rung of aspirants for the PM’s post”.

You have yourself mentioned there are others waiting in the wings – Amit Shah and Nitin Gadkari, to mention just two. If at all Aditynath is to become the PM – and this seems a pretty long shot as of now – it can happen only if he succeeds Modi. How realistic are the chances for this to happen?

It is true that Yogi has no RSS background. In fact on some occasions in the past he has been critical of the RSS. He raised the Hindu Yuva Vahini as some kind of a parallel to RSS… There is a world of a difference between him and Modi. But he is trying to ape him in many ways.

“Perhaps he believes that just as Modi was able to convert all his disadvantages into advantages – that includes the 2002 riots – he too would be able to use his rabid ways to push himself as the biggest Hindutva icon – and the fact that he wears the saffron also makes it easier for him to do so. But where he is unlikely to make much headway is casting himself in the Modi mould as a development man. You see all his advertisements are trying to project him as a ‘development oriented man’ that could enable him to showcase his UP model on the lines of the ‘Gujarat model.’ Besides, his arrogance is also not relished by a large chunk of BJP leaders,” Pradhan said.

So, why raise the question in the first place? “Because this had been suggested when Adityanath was made the Chief Minister, the question needed to be answered,” Pradhan added.

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