Yogi Adityanath, a radical Hindu ‘monk’ and a long time veteran in the politics of communal hatred, has been elected as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state of the Indian Union. If we measure humanity not in money or perceived prestige or whiteness but at a very basic level of numbers, the elevation of this divisive character to the top post of a state whose population is as large as nearly two thirds of the United States of America, this should have been a cause of global concern comparable to the Trump phenomenon. But brown lives matter less than White lives, even to many brown people.
But it should for Yogi Adityanath represents an explicit stamp of divisive communalism on the body politic of Uttar Pradesh, in case anyone was taken in by Indian Union’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s icing of development that hid a crude, distasteful base of religious majoritarianism. One can only pity those who thought otherwise. Or may be they all secretly knew. As my friend Aniket De quipped after Yogi Adityanath’s elevation to Chief Ministership - “He exactly is the right face of his party — with all the skills in hate speech, bigotry and riot-mongering. There is no mystification of “development” here”.
It is not a matter of small embarrassment for me, a Bengali, that Yogi Adityanath has a Bengal connection, as tenuous as it may be. Bengalis claim Matsyendranath, a 10th century monk as one from historical Bengal. A common icon of certain Buddhist and Shaivite groups, his fame spread much beyond his homeland. He is also founder of the Nath sect that considers Shiv to be its primary lord. He is said to be have attained enlightenment inside the belly of a fish through arduous meditation for 12 years and hence came to known as Matsyendranath, meaning ‘Lord of the Fishes’ or ‘He Whose Lord is the Lord of the Fishes’. Many groups and sects lay claim to his tradition though he influence is mostly stretches from Newari areas of Nepal down to what is now South-Central India, with the Bengal being quite outside this area of influence.
Gorakhnath was one of the two principal devotees of Matsyendranath and a revered yogi. His Samadhi (tomb) is said to be inside the Gorakhnath mutt of the Nath sect whose base of operation is Gorakhpur. These sects, through its chain of chiefs, have been able to maintain an unbroken chain of a Shaivite monastic order that is centuries old. There is even a legend that connects Gorakhnath to Aurangzeb, that not only claims that Aurangzeb became a disciple of Gorakhnath (centuries after his demise) but Aurangzeb has a quasi divine status in that understanding where he is Mrtakanath (Lord of Death) and in Pune, a sect exists in his name as Siddha Handi Pharang Nath.
The sect has been involved in various political moves of the 20th century, where it took an increasingly dangerous turn. It had a central role in the burning of the Chauri Chaura police station in 1921 during Congress’s non cooperation movement in the United Provinces. The mutt head Digvijaynath was active in this. This character later joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, became the head of its UP unit and post Partition was instrumental in the placing of Ram Sita idols inside the abandoned Babri mosque in 1949, that lay the foundation of the contemporary contours of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement that centred around the worship of these illegally placed idols, culminating in the destruction of the Babri mosque structure in 1949. The mutt’s later chief Advaitanath was a powerful political figure in eastern UP and now the mutt is now closely associated with the hard line Hindutva faction of the Hindu right wing whose affiliation with the BJP is based on some amount of mutual suspicion. This is no longer a fringe as the elevation of Yogi Adityanath, the present mutt head and successor to Advaitanath shows.
UP has long been the most communally polarized region of South Asia and this is not from today. Its record of Hindu-Muslim riots, Shia-Sunni riots, riots between “Hindu” monastic sects have been as violent as they have been legendary. Both Hindu and Muslim communal forces have for150 years found solid ideological , institutional and organizational base here — the Muslim side losing some steam after Partition and the resultant exodus of communal ashrafiya.
The principal contribution of this region has been the injection of a hard form of communal poison in the body politic of Northern South Asia, popularly known as Hindustan and broadly includes zones of Hindi-Urdu hegemony and contestation. Yogi Adityanath is an inheritor of this tradition of poisonous communal politics. He has spearheaded conversion drives to Hinduism (‘gharwapsi’ as Hindi people call it), provoked medium scale riots, compared Bollywood Hindi film actor to Lashkar-e-Taiba Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and so on.
Liberals of the Delhi Indian ideology types are now waiting to see what the elevation of this character to the most important political post in the Hindi belt might mean. They are clueless. So are many others. Victims of erstwhile riots may have an inkling. RSS is said to have had an important role in chosing Yogi Adityanath over others. Is he a short-term player or a long-term bet for the Hindu right for even greater roles in times to come? Whether this is BJP’s way of taming the unruly one or an important inflection point in the politics of the Indian Union and possibly the unintended anointment of a future challenger of Narendra Modi reflecting the corporate versus socio-religious divide of the BJP remains to be seen.
We, the non-Hindi people of the Indian Union, can only guess. Unfortunate cultural-linguistic minorities in an ever aggressive Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology centric Indian Union whose futures will be decided by these currents in UP, whether they like it or not, whether their homelands have BJP or not.
Garga Chatterjee is a brain scientist and commentator based in Bengal