In his book, The Monk Who Became Chief Minister (The Definitive Biography Of Yogi Adityanath), Shantanu Gupta traces the life of Ajay Bisht, who later became Yogi Adityanath. Here, he answers questions from Swarajya on his book, and its subject.
The saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath was greeted with misgiving when he was chosen to lead the most populous and politically powerful state of India. Shantanu Gupta in his latest book, The Monk Who Became Chief Minister, reveals the parliamentarian in Adityanath, his political prowess and the challenges he is facing in the overhaul of a state fraught with a corrupt bureaucracy, deteriorating law and order situation and infrastructure deficit. In an interview to Swarajya, he talked about the Chief Minister, his life, politics, and his plans to turn around the fortunes of a state, marred by the regional politics of caste, religion and nepotism.
Your last book in Hindi was on Uttar Pradesh. And the current one is on its Chief Minister. Based on that, what do you see as Adityanath's greatest challenges in governing the state?
In my previous book, Uttar Pradesh – Vikas ki Pratiksha mein (Uttar Pradesh is waiting for development), I clinically examined the electoral development promises of governments in UP in the last 15 years. This book touched upon the historical, cultural and social backdrop of Uttar Pradesh and explored the current and past political scenario emerging in UP. I focused on the point that even though UP is very important politically, development still eludes the state. Even today the state is struggling with poor electricity, bad roads, pathetic law and order, poor education and low rankings in ease of doing business; all resulting in lack of employment for the youth. Here, I am drawing upon some research done for my previous book, to understand the results of UP assembly elections of 2017, which gave us Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister.
In the eighties, Ashish Bose had coined the term BiMaRU (sick), for the four states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, owing to their abysmal socio-economic indicators. Since then Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have catapulted themselves out of the status of being diseased or BiMaRu. Bihar seemed right on track once, to come out of it, but now looks trapped again in the chakravyuh of kidnapping, nepotism and failed law and order with the re-entry of Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar politics. The state of Uttar Pradesh was, however, still screaming for development and Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have failed miserably to live up to the mandate of the people for the last 15 years.
Even without access to all these macro data and facts, the people of Uttar Pradesh daily live the pathetic condition of their state. They heard kam bolta hai rhetoric at Akhilesh Yadav’s rallies, but while returning home from the rally, they faced bad roads, bad traffic, lawlessness, and houses with electricity, corruption in government jobs selection process and a bleak future for their children. It is evident that when the people of Uttar Pradesh voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), they voted for aspirations, for a better future for their children and for a prosperous Uttar Pradesh.
So, new Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has huge expectations to fulfil.
Based on your research, how would you describe Adityanath's relationship with the UP bureaucracy so far, and how do you see it playing out in the future?
New chief ministers usually begin their stint by overhauling the bureaucracy, but Adityanath did not make changes immediately after assuming office. He retained former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s setup, but warned officers against laxity. However in the second week of April, three weeks after taking charge, Adityanath moved 20 senior IAS officers, putting eight of them in the waiting list. Among the wait-listed officers, the names that cannot be missed are Dr Ramaraman of Noida Authority fame and Navneet Sehgal, who were favoured by the previous dispensation. These are the two names, which Amar Singh had loudly proclaimed as the most corrupt bureaucrats of Uttar Pradesh in the famous ‘Aap Ki Adalat’ episode with Rajat Sharma. Though many BJP loyalists believe that only wait-listing them is not a solution, but such officers should be prosecuted for their blatant corruption and misuse of power.
To tighten the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath brought one of the senior most IPS officer, Sulkhan Singh, from the 1980 batch to replace Uttar Pradesh’s much junior director general of police (DGP) Javed Ahmed of the 1984 batch. During the recent assembly polls, the BJP had petitioned the Election Commission to remove Ahmed, alleging that he was working at the behest of the then SP government. On the contrary, Singh is known for his honesty and dedication. His paternal house in Banda is still made of kaprail, the old style tiles made in the rural areas. His only big asset is a house that he purchased from Lucknow Development Authority (LDA) for which he is still paying the EMIs. Singh is known in the state as someone who does not succumb to political pressure and follows the rule book and whose honesty had remained a hindrance to his career propsects so far. If Singh had not exposed the police recruitment scam under Mulayam Singh Yadav governance in 2007, he would have become the DGP much earlier. By placing him at the helm of affairs of Uttar Pradesh’s police department, Adityanath has made his intentions clear.
Shashi Prakash Goyal, an IAS topper of the 1989 batch, is officer of UP cadre who has returned from a central posting recently. He has been made the new Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister. Goyal will also be the Principal Secretary to departments of civil aviation, estate and protocol.
The Chief Minister has also brought senior IAS officer Avneesh Awashthi of the 1987 batch to head the very important information division of the government. Awashthi is an IITian and was previously district magistrate of Gorakhpur.
Young and bright IAS officer Mrityunjay Kumar of the 1995 batch was appointed Secretary to the Chief Minister. Mrityunjay holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and master’s in public policy and administration from King’s College London. Mrityunjay is very tech-savvy and has won the highest category platinum award for his innovative e-governance initiatives under ‘Digital India Awards’, 2016.
Amit Singh of Indian Railway Services, who was serving as Regional Passport Officer in Lucknow, was also pulled into the Chief Minister’s office. Senior IAS officer Nitish Kumar has been appointed as a Special Secretary to the Chief Minister. Prior to this, Kumar was posted as the additional registrar of Cooperative Societies.
The very first appointment in the Chief Minister Secretariat was Rigzin Samphel as the Special Secretary to Adityanath. A 2003-batch IAS officer, Samphel was also among the top officials during the SP rule and has served as the district magistrate of Jalaun district in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh in the year 2002.
Rajbhushan Singh Rawat, a close associate of Adityanath and also his classmate from college days, has also moved to Lucknow to assist the Chief Minister in his work.
Coming to his personal life, how would you describe the childhood years of Yogi Adityanath, then Ajay Bisht? What was his relationship with his family like?
Yogi Adityanath was born as Ajay Mohan Singh Bisht on 5 June 1972 in a village called Masalgaon in the Uttarkhashi district of Uttar Pradesh (now in Uttarakhand), while his father was posted there. He was the fifth child in the family, among four brothers and three sisters. His father, Anand Singh Bisht, was a forest ranger and his mother Savitri Devi, was a homemaker. It’s interesting to note that in his electoral forms Yogi Adityanath filled Mahant Avaidyanath name under the father’s name, as after sanyas, the guru is considered the father.
Ajay Bisht’s mother Savitri Devi told me that Ajay was quite fond of his three older sisters. In a recent interview on India TV, Adityanath mentioned that he has learnt a lot from his sisters. He said that they were the ones who introduced him to his first akshar gyan (alphabet knowledge), and language.
Savitri Devi also told me that Ajay Bisht was good student and never kept bad company. She said that he was a simple boy and they never realised that he would grow to this stature. She fondly remembered how close he was to her as his father was usually posted at different locations and he was also strict, so all the children were a little scared of him.
How Did Ajay Bisht Become Yogi Adityanath?
Ajay Bisht, who was undergoing a master’s degree in mathematics in Rishikesh, also had a strong personal inclination towards the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi movement. In early 1993, during the peak of the Ram Mandir movement, he went to Gorakhpur to visit the Gorakhnath Temple and also got the chance to meet Mahant Avaidyanath. Avaidyanath patiently heard Ajay Bisht’s story and told him that he was a born yogi and was destined to come there one day. This was not Ajay Bisht’s first interaction with Mahant Avaidyanath. He had briefly met him in 1990, when Mahant Avaidyanath was on his India tour for the Ram Janmabhoomi freedom movement.
In May 1993, Bisht again went to Gorakhpur for a week to meet Mahant Avaidyanath to express his desire to learn and know more about yoga. When Bisht was returning, Mahant Avaidyanath asked him to join the Gorakhnath Temple as a full-time disciple. Bisht returned with mixed thoughts, but he was immensely influenced by Mahant Avaidyanath.
After a couple of months, when Mahant Avaidyanath was admitted in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, for treatment, Ajay Bisht went to see him. At the time, Mahant Avaidyanath earnestly asked Ajay Bisht to reconsider his earlier request of joining Gorakhnath Mutt. Mahant Avaidyanath also added that not being in good shape he needed to anoint an able disciple, or the Hindu community would blame him. So he coaxed Ajay Bisht further by saying that he saw a natural yogi (saint) in him and requested him to join the temple as a disciple. Ajay Bisht assured him that by the time Mahant Avaidyanath regained his health and was ready to return to Gorakhpur he would join him there. In November 1993, Ajay Bisht left his village, his parents, his friends, and his studies and without disclosing much to anyone in the family, he went to Gorakhpur. On 15 February 1994, on the auspicious occasion of basantpanchami, Ajay Bisht was anointed as a Nath Panth yogi by his guru. As destined, Ajay Bisht became Yogi Adityanath, Mahant Avaidyanath's successor as the Mahant of Gorakhnath Mutt, the oldest mutt of Nath Panth, the tradition of which is said to have originated from Adinath, Lord Shiva.
After the death of Mahant Avaidyanath on 12 September 2014, Adityanath became the peethadeesh (head priest) of Gorakhnath temple after a traditional, formal ceremony.
What has been the role of the Hindu YuvaVahini in Yogi Adityanath's politics?
Adityanath entered Gorakhpur politics, when one the one hand, it was under the influence of musclemen like Hari Shankar Tiwari and Virendra Sahi and on the other, Islamic Wahhabi influence, which was on the rise in the region. He needed a strong and dedicated cadre at his disposal to counter these two currents.
Adityanath formed the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) in April 2002, on the occasion of Ramnavmi (festival associated with the birth of Lord Rama) as a non-governmental, apolitical and purely cultural organisation. As per the organisation’s charter, it aims to spread the feeling of nationalism, uphold the interest of Hindus, raise their concerns collectively, work on faith and belief on Hindu-religious text, work on mutual cooperation, establish an equal and just society.
When the rising political star of eastern Uttar Pradesh and someone as strong willed as Adityanath formed Hindu Yuva Vahini to protect Hindu rights and work on other social issues, popular media and left-liberal lobby could not digest it. They started crafting stories to paint HYV communal and started assigning venomous vocabulary to HYV to declare it anti-minority. By the way, a considerable portion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s success can be assigned to false and venomous media attacks on him after the unfortunate Godhra incident, and with every negative story that was planted, HYV’s and Yogi’s graph sore.
When you look at Adityanath's record as a parliamentarian, what are the attributes that stand out?
Adityanath entered the Lok Sabha very early in his life. From being the member of 12th Lok Sabha till his last speech as a parliamentarian in the 16th Lok Sabha, Adityanath has been a very active parliamentarian all along. One measures a member of parliament’s (MP) performance based on his or her attendance, debates he or she has participated in under different rules of the parliament, the nature of questions asked and the private member bills introduced in the Parliament. Adityanath’s performance is above the national average in almost all these counts. If we take the example of 16th Lok Sabha, he participated in 57 debates against the national average of 50.6, he asked 306 questions against a national average of 199 and introduced three private member bills, against the national average of 1.5. This data speaks volumes about his engagement in the Parliament. If we compare this data, with someone like Rahul Gandhi, a very senior leader of Congress and heir apparent of the Gandhi family, we observe that in 16th Lok Sabha Gandhi participated in only 11 debates, asked zero questions and introduced no private member bills.
The image the mainstream media projects of Adityanath is very different from how he conducts himself in Parliament and in his constituency over the last two decades. Media has repeatedly thronged us with a few charged up election speeches of Adityanath, but has never shown us the multi-faceted interventions made by him in the Parliament. When he spoke for the rights of the Hindu community, the media painted him as a Hindu hardliner. But in my research I meticulously went through more than 300 questions that this so called ‘Hindu hardliner’ has asked in the 16th Lok Sabha.
But, unfortunately, the popular media never bothered to show us this side of Adityanath.
And at the constituency level, his extremely popular and the effective janta darbars, keep him connected to his constituents.
Every leader has a team of close and long time associates working with him. Who are Adityanath's close aides and in what ways do they help him?
Pradeep Rao handles various institutions for the mutt and a close aide of Adityanath. While Yogi is away in Lucknow, the janta darbar at the mutt still continues. Yogi’s close associate Dwarka Prasad Tiwari holds fort and monitors the speedy resolution of grievances at the mutt. Rajbhushan Singh Rawat, a close associate of Adityanath and also his classmate from college days, has also moved to Lucknow to assist him in his work. Rawat, also known as Raja Babu, also organises regular college reunions and is the contact point for the all the classmates to reach out to their former classmate, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The names of the team of officers in Lucknow, since he has become Chief Minister, are mentioned earlier.
According to you, what would have been his reaction had the BJP chosen someone else to be UP's chief minister?
He is contended and a busy man. He was happily managing Gorakhnath Mutt. The Mutt runs close to 45 health, education and other institutions with lakhs benefitting from it.
How would you describe the reportage that immediately followed the announcement that it would be Yogi Adityanath who would take over as UP Chief Minister?
Left-Liberal media, opposition got a shock of their life. How can a saffron clad person be at the helm of the most populous and politically powerful state of India. So what if he is extremely popular, among people in whole of eastern region, so what if he is parliamentarian form Gorakhpur for last five terms, so what if his victory margin is increasing exponentially every time, so what if his questions/debates/private-member-bill numbers are way higher than the national average, So what if his janta darbars are more popular than chief ministers, even before becoming the Chief Minister.
Adityanath’s rise to the post of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh was not missed by international media either. Washington Post wrote, “Modi’s party picks Yogi Adityanath, strident Hindu nationalist priest, as leader of India’s biggest state”. BBC said, “Yogi Adityanath: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister choice criticized”. New York Times said, “Firebrand Hindu Cleric Yogi Adityanath picked as Uttar Pradesh Minister”.
On 12 July, New York Times' South Asia bureau chief Ellen Barry wrote an article on the rise of Adityanath, whose headline on Twitter read, "Head of militant Hindu temple ascends India's political ladder". India Samvad Bureau reported that this is not the first time when New York Times published an ignorant article about India but still everyone was left shell-shocked when it called Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister a militant. As soon as the article grabbed attention, Twitter users blasted New York Times for calling Yogi - the "head of militant Hindu temple". Ellen Berry gave a lame excuse, that "militant" as an adjective is quite general, meaning "aggressive" or "forceful," and has no association with terrorism. But after facing a backlash from the Twitterati, the editor seems to have changed the headline to "Firebrand Hindu Cleric Ascends India’s Political Ladder."
It is unfortunate that the so-called rigorous journalists from the BBCs, New York Times and Washington Posts of the world, just did shallow reporting of translating some Hindi tabloids into English. Not one of them cared to research his record as a parliamentarian, the national and international issues he raised in the parliament over two decades and how he conducted himself in his home constituency and why his vote percentage grew exponentially over years.
How would you describe Yogi Adityanath's efforts in improving healthcare services in Gorakhpur, both as an MP, and as the head of the Gorakhnath Mutt?
Yogi Adityanath is very keen to get the AIIMS up and running in Gorakhpur to cater to the population of eastern Uttar Pradesh. In July 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation for establishing AIIMS in the city at an estimated cost of Rs 1,011 crore that is expected to provide super-specialty healthcare to people of the state and create a large pool of doctors.
The Gorakhnath Mutt has played a crucial role in building medical facilities in the region. In 1972, the mutt established the Gorakshnath Ayurvedic College and the Digvijaynath Ayurvedic Hospital. Though the ayurvedic college had to be closed in 1984, Digvijaynath Ayurvedic Hospital is still functioning. Over the years, the hospital was further modernised. In 2003, a modern Gorakshnath Hospital equipped with advance medical technology was established that catered to the poor people of Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and lowland areas of Nepal. This served the people of the region as a good alternative to the deteriorating government medical infrastructure and costly private hospitals. The mutt also organises regular medical camps in villages and helps bring medical assistance to the doorstep of the poor, who are unable to go to hospitals.
The mutt has plans to start a medical college named Guru Gorakhnath Institute of Medical Sciences. The Guru Gorakhnath School of Nursing is engaged in training para-medical staff for medical establishments.