Among the "solid reasons" adduced by Mitra for the Yogi being so "anointed" - (I thought kings, not sadhus, were "anointed") - is that "the no-nonsense Yogi has promised to ensure the return of law and order". I would applaud this decision if Mitra were to accept the principle of "setting a thief to catch a thief" as the determining parameter of "good governance" and "achche din". For this "skillful organizer" who has "phenomenal control" over east UP is, according to the affidavit the Yogi signed before the Returning Officer on the eve of contesting the Lok Sabha election in 2014, currently booked or charged with the following criminal offences: "injuring or defiling places of worship"; "trespassing on burial spaces"; "mischief by fire and negligent conduct with respect to combustible matter"; "rioting with deadly weapons"; and even "attempt to murder". What a suitable personality to restore "law and order"!
The "Yogi" has a personal army called the Hindu Yuva Vahini, notorious for its advocacy and practice of violence, and considered responsible for the arson that consumed the Godan Express when Adityanath was arrested in 2007. Earlier, in 1999, it was the same Yogi's gangs that were implicated in the firing at a rally being addressed by a Samajwadi Muslim lady leader, Begum Talat Aziz. It is the Yogi's excessive reliance on such vigilante squads that has endowed him with the notoriety of having launched "love jihad", "ghar wapsi" and goonda-gardi in the name of "cow protection". The Yogi further consolidated his doubtful reputation when he emerged as the fiery defender of those who had murdered poor Mohammad Akhlaq on suspicion of storing beef in his refrigerator. He has ever been the inspiration for goons taking the law into their own hands.
He is also an impassioned supporter of BJP MLA Sangeet Som who succeeded through a fake video in turning between 70,000 and 1,00,000 centuries-long Muslim residents of villages in the Muzaffarnagar area into refugees in their own country. And in a village near Varanasi, social activist Harsh Mander spotted and photographed a notice, below which was appended Adityanath's name and designation as "sanrakshak" (protector or patron) and "MP, Gorakhpur", apparently without any denial on the Yogi's part, ordering all Muslims to vacate the village by the end of the year or face the consequences if the BJP came to power. Not only has the BJP come to power, the Yogi himself has been "anointed" Chief Minister. The Muslims of the village have been warned.
The Yogi is also the progenitor of "Vrihad Hindu" that is inspired by his calculated rhetoric: "Every time a Hindu visits the Vishwanath temple, the Gyan Vapi mosque taunts us". (As the grand old historian, the late BN Pandey, conclusively established, Aurangzeb wreaked his fury on the Vishwanath Mandir because the pandas at the temple molested, and perhaps even raped, the Nepali Hindu princess who had been charged to the Emperor's care. Alas, the Yogi's "anti-Romeo" squads were not at hand in the 17th century!) Nothing withstanding, the Yogi's clear agenda, in his own sweet words, is to "install statues of Goddess Gauri, Ganesh and Nandi in every mosque" - subject to the proviso, "if given a chance". As Chief Minister of UP, he now has his chance. Not just the Hindu Yuva Vahini, but the entire security forces of the state are there to enforce his threat: "When they could not stop the karsevaks from demolishing the Babri Masjid, how will they stop us from carrying out the construction of the mandir?"
Nevertheless, Chandan Mitra visited the Yogi's Math, and finding some Muslim women among those waiting to present their petitions to the head of the Peeth concluded that this was proof positive that the Yogi really meant "sabka saath, sabka vikas". Now, Mitra is too much part of the "English-speaking elite" (that he apparently loathes) to have not heard of the "Stockholm Syndrome". The syndrome is defined by Wikipedia as "a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity", marked by "strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other". Adityanath and his Vahini do all this and more. Mitra himself acknowledges - indeed points with pride - to the "phenomenal control" that the Yogi exercises over east UP, and how "without his support no candidate can hope to win from at least five seats in and around Gorakhpur". And what are these minorities to do but surrender to the Yogi's army of supporters who ominously chant: "Gorakhpur mein rehna ho to/Yogi, Yogi kehna hai"? They have doubtless heard Yogi Adityanath ordering Muslims who do not perform the Suryanamaskar to either "drown themselves in the sea" or go to Pakistan. Pakistan was also the destination he recommended to youth icon and Bollywood's favourite star, Shah Rukh Khan, after comparing him to Hafiz Saeed. They have also doubtless heard his ominous threat: "If [Muslims] kill one Hindu man, then we will kill 100 Muslim men". (But, interestingly, not the other way around! Mohammad Akhlaq can be left to be lynched.)
As The Guardian (UK), in its editorial of 19 March observed: "Mr. Adityanath, now a powerful figure, is signaling that in India minorities exist merely on the goodwill of the majority. Step out of line and there will be blood." It then goes on to paraphrase the Stockholm Syndrome as applied to the women petitioners Mitra found huddled in the Yogi's ante-room: "For some of India's 140 million (sic) Muslims the threat is enough to see them debating to withdraw from public life to avoid further polarization." No minority dares oppose the Yogi and his Vahini except at extreme threat to life and limb. Pressed into subordination and submission to the Yogi's pledge that "I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu Rashtra", the Muslim women clutching their petitions are victims for the most part of the Stockholm Syndrome, not, as Mitra imagines, living testimony to the Yogi's secular credentials.
As for the "long political tradition" of the Math that Mitra invokes, he forgets to tell his readers that the tradition goes back to the Math inciting the mob that burned down the police chowki at Chauri Chara (a village in Gorakhpur district) that caused Gandhi-ji to withdraw his first non-violent non-cooperation struggle in 1922. The Math and its Mahants have always celebrated violence and vigilantism and, therefore, were among the foremost Gandhi-baiters during the Freedom Movement. It was back in 1934 that Mahant Digvijaynath joined politics, took up a series of key appointments in the Hindu Mahasabha and launched a campaign to disenfranchise Muslims. It was the same Mahant who undertook a long religious ceremony at Ayodhya in 1949, at the end of which idols of Ram and Sita suddenly and mysteriously appeared ("swayamabhu") inside the Babri Masjid, sparking the defining dispute between those who are the votaries of a "Hindu India" and those who believe in a secular, inclusive republic. Ever since Advani embarked on his infamous Rath Yatra, young Adityanath has been the voice of "Hindu assertiveness". The Peeth "has long believed in militant involvement in politics as a means to achieving its religious and ideological ends".
That last is a quote from a very distinguished Nepali correspondent for The Indian Express, Yubraj Ghimre (21 March 2017). I have deliberately quoted him because the Gorakhpur Peeth is an ardent supporter of the erstwhile royal family of Nepal, who have returned the compliment by being among the most generous patrons of the Peeth. Two months ago, the unceremoniously overthrown monarch of Nepal was "anointed" by Yogi Adityanath as "Vishwa Hindu Samrat". Adityanath's principal foreign policy objective (Sushma, watch out!) is the restoration of Nepal as a "Hindu kingdom".
While Mitra, despite his contempt for the "English-speaking elite" (he even edits, and, if I am not mistaken, also owns an English newspaper - whose most famous contributor was that notorious Imperialist, Rudyard Kipling) only sees in Yogi Adityanath, in his best St. Stephen's English, "an astute political mind" and a "talented speaker" (both of which the Yogi definitely is). While much of the media, Indian and foreign, have indeed "demonized" the Yogi - not unfairly, as Mitra seems to think, but on the basis of the life and times of this principal propagator of "communal venom" - to use Mitra's phrase. One hardly needs to draw the attention of readers to those "sections of the media" in India that Mitra scorns, but readers might perhaps be interested in how the world views this alarming "anointment". The New York Times is apprehensive that between them, the Yogi and Modi "will resort to deadly Muslim-baiting to stay in power, turning Mr. Modi's dreamland into a nightmare for India's minorities". Warning that "the appointment of a rabble-rousing Hindu cleric...sends an alarming message both to Indians and the world," The Financial Times of London says, "Mr. Modi has served a worrying reminder of his dark past and raised legitimate concerns among secularists and Muslims that the BJP will now use its increasing dominance to drive a more muscular Hindu nationalist agenda ahead of the general elections in 2019." And The Guardian editorial cited above poignantly ends: "This is a nation that once was said to succeed in spite of the gods. Now it is going backwards because of them".
We are threatened with the death of the "Idea of India" that fired our struggle for independence. Everything we learned about our composite civilization from Swami Vivekananda to Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru is endangered. We have to fight back. Last week, I explained how. Next week, I will return to the theme.
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)
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