Dhirendra K Jha

PARVEZ PARVAZ, a journalist and social activist, was passing by the Gorakhpur railway station when he noticed a big gathering near the statue of Maharana Pratap. It was the evening of 27 January 2007, and dusk had just fallen. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gorakhpur MP, Adityanath, dressed in saffron robes, was delivering an incendiary speech to rousing cheers. Parvaz was aware of tensions pervading the city because of a clash during a recent Muharram procession, in which a Hindu boy was injured and later died. “Seeing the charged atmosphere, I safely ensconced myself within the crowd,” he told me. The crowd was made up primarily of members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a youth militia Adityanath had founded five years earlier. Inconspicuous within the large gathering, Parvaz began to record the speech with a handheld camera he always carried with him.

“Ek Hindu ke khoon ke badle aane wale samay mein hum prashashan se FIR darj nahin karwaenge,” Adityanath declared. “Balki kam se kam das aise logon ki hatya usse karwaenge”—In the future, if a Hindu’s blood is shed, we will not get the administration to lodge an FIR; instead, we will ensure he kills at least ten in return. The crowd erupted in cheers.

As soon as Adityanath finished his speech, Parvaz quietly returned home, but the city began to detonate. “A hotel just in front of the venue of the meeting was looted and vandalised even before Adityanath could finish his speech,” Sunil Singh told me. At the time, Singh was one of Adityanath’s most trusted lieutenants, serving as the HYV’s state president. He is one of the accused in the case. Singh had addressed the crowd just before Adityanath spoke. “The hotel was owned by a local Muslim,” he told me. “From there, the rioting spread to other parts of Gorakhpur.” At least two persons were killed and property worth crores of rupees was burnt.

The next day, despite injunctions from the district magistrate, Adityanath and his supporters marched towards Gorakhpur’s troubled areas. He was arrested along with over a dozen other HYV leaders. The arrest was timed such that the militia could not carry out its threat of burning down tazia towers—which Muslims carry on their shoulders as part of Muharram processions—on 29 January.

Adityanath remained in the Gorakhpur jail for several days. His bail was approved on 7 February. “I was also arrested along with Adityanath,” Singh said. “While Adityanath remained in custody for 11 days, I was released after 66 days.”

This would be the first and only occasion when the local administration would act swiftly and firmly against Adityanath and his henchmen. The Uttar Pradesh government, then under Mulayam Singh Yadav, usually chose to turn a blind eye to his activities. This single intervention may have been because Adityanath was threatening to turn a local crime into a full-blown communal war just before the state’s assembly election due in April and May that year. Locals I spoke to argued that a battle along communal lines would have weakened the Samajwadi Party in the polls by forcing Muslims to cast their votes in favour of Yadav’s main rival at the time, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party.

On 12 March 2007, Adityanath famously broke down on the floor of the Lok Sabha, where he had represented Gorakhpur since 1998.

At any rate, the arrest and the state government’s decision to withdraw security guards assigned to protect Adityanath unnerved the priest. On 12 March, he famously broke down on the floor of the Lok Sabha, where he had represented Gorakhpur since 1998. His eyes welled up and tears rolled down his face as he recounted the trauma he had suffered in jail. His voice quivered and cracked, occasionally becoming shrill with emotion. “I have renounced my life for my society, I have left my family, I have left my mother and father, but I am being made a criminal,” he said. He spoke of a “political conspiracy” and threatened to quit if parliament would not offer him protection.

The strongman’s crying and pleading for protection in public had a striking effect. His followers—particularly the upper-caste Thakurs, who see themselves as a martial, brave people—were shocked. They saw it as a let-down, a crumbling of his carefully cultivated image as a fearless, firebrand Hindu warrior. But, before long, they started rebuilding his image, arguing that he was a sensitive man full of emotion, even as many locals called him a coward capable only of spreading mob violence. Ten years later, he became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

ADITYANATH’S REIGN OVER UTTAR PRADESH began with a mixture of confidence and anxiety. The Bharatiya Janata Party won an astounding victory in the 2017 state assembly election, taking the majority of the seats in the house. It had not projected a chief-ministerial candidate during the campaign, choosing instead to ride on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity. The BJP’s choice to then elevate a hardline communal priest with a record of instigating violence made international headlines. Adityanath has since become the most brazen face of Hindutva politics. A month after his election, in his first televised interview, he said, “There is nothing wrong in the idea of a Hindu Rashtra”—a Hindu nation. If there was any chance that the BJP was trying to overcome its violent past and promote a developmentalist politics in Modi’s first term in national power, Adityanath’s tenure has belied that hope.

In the past five years, Uttar Pradesh has been in the news for one horrifying story after another: from cow-related lynchings to extrajudicial killings to, more recently, a massive death toll from COVID-19 and the government’s efforts to hide the numbers. The Adityanath government, when it has not tried to cover up or spin these issues, has used state power to hound those who try to draw attention to them. In 2017, the doctor Kafeel Khan was thrown in jail and repeatedly persecuted for pointing out that an oxygen shortage at a Gorakhpur hospital, caused by government negligence, led to the death of over thirty infants and many adults. In 2019, the journalist Pawan Jaiswal was booked for involvement in a criminal conspiracy when a video he took of children being served rotis and salt as a school lunch went viral. In 2020, the journalist Siddique Kappan was locked away under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for attempting to report on the gang rape and subsequent death of a Dalit woman at the hands of upper-caste men in Hathras. In 2021, a first-information report was lodged naming a hospital that put out a notice about running short of oxygen during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Uttar Pradesh police are now regularly dispatched to serve notice to journalists for reporting or tweeting things the government does not like. Adityanath has empowered the state police to act with impunity against protesters and journalists while, more often than not, allowing it to turn a blind eye to upper-caste Hindu vigilantism. All of these practices are supposed to somehow reflect the tough measures he has taken to maintain law and order.

As the 2022 assembly election in Uttar Pradesh approaches, Adityanath’s government has unleashed a blitzkrieg of advertisements highlighting its supposed achievements as a counter to all the negative press. The priest’s face, along with Modi’s, has almost daily adorned the front pages of major newspapers, including those largely read only outside the state. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the Uttar Pradesh government spent Rs 160 crore on television advertisements in TV channels. It is a concerted effort to whitewash his image and to deflect attention from the terror and violence the state has witnessed during his term.

Adityanath, like other Hindu nationalists, has shown an obsession with rechristening places with names he considers offensive. As the member of parliament for Gorakhpur, he changed the names of several areas in the city: Alinagar to Aryanagar, Miyan Road to Maya Road and Urdu Bazar to Hindi Bazar. As the chief minister, he has taken this obsession to other parts of the state. Faizabad district became Ayodhya district, and Allahabad was renamed Prayagraj. In November 2021, while laying the foundation stone for a university in Azamgarh, he said, “The university, whose foundation stone has been laid today, will make Azamgarh truly Aryamgarh. There should be no doubt about it.”

Adityanath is often pictured with cows, his dog, monkeys and other animals to showcase an ostensibly softer side to his personality. However, the most violent manifestations of his anti-Muslim sentiments have to do with cow protection. One of his first initiatives as chief minister was to order the closure of all illegal slaughterhouses in the state and launch a massive police crackdown against them. As most of Uttar Pradesh’s slaughterhouses had always been operating without proper licenses, this resulted in a massive loss of livelihoods for butchers and meat-unit owners, a majority of them Muslims. He ordered the creation of “cow-protection committees” in each district, to be headed by the district magistrate and the district police chief and backed by two private “cow-loving persons.” On paper, the move was aimed at ensuring the proper upkeep of cows, but in practice it gave a fillip to cow vigilantism by Hindutva groups. Many instances of Muslims accused of cow-smuggling or cow slaughter have ended tragically.

Adityanath’s blatantly communal approach is hardly hidden; it dominates his public speeches. While campaigning for the BJP during the Delhi assembly election in 2020, he attacked the Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal for “supporting the Shaheen Bagh protesters and feeding them biryani.” He was referring to a peaceful sit-in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which discriminates against Muslims. Threatening the protesters, he said, “People who do not listen to boli”—words—“will listen to police goli”—bullets.

The ruthless suppression of anti-CAA protests in Uttar Pradesh was the most obvious evidence of the authoritarian regime that has emerged under Adityanath. Nowhere in the country was the crackdown as cruel and openly communal as in Uttar Pradesh. His government indiscriminately slapped fines on protesters for alleged destruction of public property, without any judicial finding required to prove their crime. He ordered posters to be put on Lucknow walls with the names and photos of protesters. When none of these efforts seemed to work as deterrence, there were police raids and assaults.

In November 2020, he became the first chief minister to bring in an ordinance to control incidents of “love jihad”—described by Hindu communalists as a plot by Muslim men to lure young Hindu women into marriage and conversion to Islam. The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion Act, 2021 stipulates imprisonment of between one and ten years and a fine of between fifteen thousand to fifty thousand rupees for marriages deemed suspect. The issue of “love jihad” had been on Adityanath’s agenda long before he became the chief minister—the HYV actively used it to target Muslims in Gorakhpur and surrounding areas.

The Uttar Pradesh police, armed with the new law, began a crackdown against inter-faith marriages in several parts of the state. In one of the most troubling instances, a 22-year-old woman from Moradabad suffered a miscarriage after she was sent to a shelter home following her husband’s arrest under the law. Later, the husband was released as the police could not find evidence to support allegations that the woman had been forcibly converted.

A December 2020 letter to Adityanath by a group of 104 retired bureaucrats referred to the police’s brutality in the Moradabad case. It stated that “the entire police force of Uttar Pradesh needs to be trained without delay in respecting the rights of all citizens; and the politicians of UP, including yourself, need to re-educate yourselves about the provisions of the Constitution which you and other lawmakers have sworn to uphold.”

Such objections aside, Adityanath has derived massive political profits from such measures. They represent authoritarianism in the eyes of his opponents, but to the section of Hindus that constitutes the main support base of the BJP and its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, they are evidence of his hatred for Muslims—the best possible qualification for becoming the poster boy for the Hindutva agenda of the combined Sangh Parivar. In real terms, however, Adityanath has not offered any tangible benefits even to his Hindu constituents in Uttar Pradesh, and yet his attempts to make Muslims’ lives miserable have delighted Hindu communalists in the state as well as the rest of the country.

A large part of his success owes to projecting priestly allure. He always wears the ochre robes of his order, and his head is always bare. He has convinced a significant section of devout Hindus that he is someone who can lead an apolitical life—even as he occupies the highest political office in the state—and wishes to restore or reinforce Hindu traditions. In the Hindu public’s imagination, he is first and foremost the head of a monastery. The point is often made that, even after becoming the chief minister, he has followed an ascetic lifestyle: he gets up very early, practises yoga and then, after elaborate worship, gets down to his worldly duties. It is also said that a visit to a cowshed is almost a daily part of his routine. Yet, contrary to popular perception, there was a time in his life when he did not seem destined for the monastic life.

With a carefulness verging on pedantry, Adityanath has styled himself as a combination of Hindu monk and hardcore Hindutva activist. His signals and declarations of communal antipathy are so open and frequent that even Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, his closest lieutenant, might appear moderate in comparison. After a point, once he found firm ground to stand on as chief minister, the forcefulness of his manner and his policies combined to fuel debate as to whether he may eventually emerge as a bigger Hindutva icon than Modi himself.

To be sure, Modi is not reputed to tolerate any counterparts in his party with the popularity or strength of personality to outshine him. He himself projects an image of an ascetic politician devoted to the Hindutva cause. Many believe that, in the battle of public perceptions, Modi faces a challenge from Adityanath, who has the advantage of being an initiated yogi—an ascetic for whom saffron is not just the colour of his political banner, as it might be for other BJP leaders, but also of his sectarian identity.

AJAY MOHAN SINGH BISHT was born on 5 June 1972 to a Thakur family in Masalgaon, a village in the Uttarkashi district of what is now Uttarakhand. He was the fifth of seven children born to Anand Singh Bisht, a junior official in the forest department, and Savitri Devi, a homemaker. Anand Singh’s job involved frequent transfers, so during the latter part of his career, a few years after Ajay’s birth, Savitri Devi and the children started living mostly in the family’s native village—Panchur, in the Pauri-Garhwal district—while he visited them on holidays.

Whatever evidence there is about Ajay’s early life suggests he had a pretty ordinary childhood. His parents ensured that he remained in school, and he studied to the eighth standard in the government primary school at Thangar. As there was no secondary school in the local gram panchayat, he moved to Tehri district, where his father was posted. He completed his schooling from a government school at Gaja. He was then sent to Rishikesh, where he lived with an elder brother. He enrolled at Shri Bharat Mandir Inter College and opted to study physics, chemistry and mathematics, along with English and Hindi.

In 1989, Ajay joined the PG Government College in Kotdwar to pursue a degree in science. A recent hagiography written by Shantanu Gupta, an author who openly bats for the BJP and Hindu nationalism, claims that Ajay was always interested in politics and that, in many ways, the spiritual life chose him. It purports to tell the story of the “upbringing of a young boy Ajay Singh Bisht, in the hinterlands of Uttarakhand, who grew up among cows, farms, mountains and rivers to later become a Mahant, a Parliamentarian and the Chief Minister.”

In college, Ajay became a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS. In his final year, in 1992, he contested a student-union election for the post of secretary. He was an independent candidate and lost miserably. “He was a simple student and was hardly active in student politics,” Arun Tiwari, who won that election and is now a member of the Samajwadi Party, told me. “There were nine candidates in the fray that year for the position of secretary. I don’t remember the exact number of votes that he received in the election. The number must have been very insignificant because he came sixth in the tally.”

It must have been a disorienting moment for Ajay. Just a short while after the crushing defeat, his life would change dramatically. Ajay graduated and shifted to Rishikesh, where he enrolled at Pandit Lalit Mohan Sharma PG College for a master’s degree in science. But he seems to have lost his focus.

“While he was in MSc first year,” Shantanu Gupta writes, “he started visiting Gorakhpur and meeting Mahant Avaidyanath”—then the head of the Gorakhnath Math. “After a couple of meetings Ajay was convinced about joining Mahant Avaidyanath at the Gorakhnath Mutt as a full time disciple.” Several of Ajay’s former collegemates that I spoke to, however, detected no inclination towards a monastic life at the time. Arun Tiwari, instead, saw Ajay drifting away from studies as he was bent on “finding a smooth life for himself.” To achieve this, Tiwari said, “he followed Avaidyanath, who was his distant uncle.”

“Although he was a member of the ABVP, he was largely disaffected and was unaware of the events of the time,” one of Ajay’s fellow students at Kotdwar told me, on condition of anonymity. “I was surprised when I heard he became a sadhu because at the time he was definitely not a person with any spiritual tendencies.” This person recalled that even when the Ram Mandir movement peaked, in 1992, “he was nowhere in sight. As far as I remember, he did not go to Ayodhya in December that year. It was only in 1993 that he suddenly drifted towards Gorakhpur.”

It is unclear what motivated Ajay to become a sadhu. “In 1993, he did go to Delhi in search of a job,” the collegemate said. “Though he failed in his effort, he did meet Avaidyanath, who was admitted to a Delhi hospital for some treatment. He served Avaidyanath for some time as an attendant and came back to Rishikesh after the mahant was discharged from the hospital. A few months later, he quietly shifted to Gorakhpur.”

This is presented with some variations in Gupta’s biography: Ajay was not a stranger to Avaidyanath when he met him in a Delhi hospital, he had earlier developed a penchant for the Ram Mandir movement and had even had a brief meeting with the Gorakhnath mahant, who told him that “he was a born yogi and was destined to come there one day.” The provenance of this account of Ajay’s journey to Gorakhpur is uncertain; Gupta gives no reference to any interview or document to substantiate his claims. But even Gupta writes that Ajay’s parents were shocked when they “found out from the newspaper about his sanyas.” They had assumed he had gone to Gorakhpur looking for employment opportunities.

In any event, Ajay left Rishikesh in November 1993 without disclosing much to anyone and arrived in Gorakhpur a despondent young man. He was a 21-year-old who had shown no spiritual bent to his collegemates until then and was cherishing vague hopes of a career in the temple.

On 15 February the following year, Avaidyanath anointed him as a sadhu, named him Adityanath and declared him his heir.

IN THE WINTER OF 2011, I visited the Gorakhnath temple to do research for a book on Ayodhya I was co-writing with a colleague. I was waiting to interview Avaidyanath when I noticed a slight and serious-looking man nearby. It was Adityanath, sitting on a wooden chair in the vestibule of the temple. He seemed occupied in reading some loose sheets of paper on his desk. To me, he hardly seemed old enough or strong enough to fit the image of a Hindutva firebrand. A middle-aged man who stood attentively a few feet away from him appeared taller and stronger in contrast. I placed my request to see Avaidyanath with Adityanath and tried to talk a little about his outfit, the HYV, but he said nothing. I did not persist, as my prime object was to interview his guru. The middle-aged man eventually took me to Avaidyanath’s first-floor apartment in a two-storey building adjacent to the temple.

The Gorakhnath temple derives its name from Gorakshanath, an eleventh-century mystic who travelled widely and is said to have authored a number of texts that constitute a framework for the Nath monastic order. The Gorakhnath Math has played a central role in right-wing politics since the British Raj, and Adityanath has inherited its legacy. Avaidyanath, and his predecessor and guru Digvijay Nath, presided over significant phases of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which has been vital to the growth of Hindu nationalism in the country. The beginning of the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, under Adityanath’s aegis, marks the culmination of a violent and destructive movement spanning nearly a century and overseen by three consecutive mahants.

Digvijay Nath headed the Gorakhnath temple from 1935 to 1969 and was one of the twentieth century’s most astute sadhus. He was responsible for transforming the monastery from what was once a religious place venerated by Hindus and Muslims alike, and one that mainly drew its followers from the lower castes, into a centre of Hindutva politics controlled by Thakurs. Digvijay joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, when its president was VD Savarkar—now an icon of the Sangh Parivar. Digvijay had urged Hindu militants to kill MK Gandhi just a few days before the latter was assassinated, and as a result he spent nine months in jail. After he was promoted to general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, he promised that, if the party came to power, Muslims would be subjected to a loyalty test. “It would deprive the Muslims of the right to vote for five to 10 years, the time that it would take for them to convince the government that their interests and sentiments are pro-Indian,” The Statesman reported him saying in June 1950.

Though a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Digvijay was always willing to look beyond his party. He collaborated with the RSS and its subordinate outfits, mostly by lending them patronage, to achieve his objectives. In 1949, he presided over the operation to surreptitiously install an idol of Ram in the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, setting in motion the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Avaidyanath took over as mahant after Digvijay died, in 1969. He contested elections on Hindu Mahasabha tickets until 1989, when he became the face of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and played a pivotal role in the escalation of saffron politics.

His speech at the 1989 Dharma Sansad, a meeting of sadhus organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, laid the foundation for a movement that made the demolition of the Babri Masjid almost imminent. The Statesman reported on 1 February 1989 that Avaidyanath said “that the Quran prohibited Muslims from constructing mosques on the holy places of other religions.” It quoted him as saying, “And telling us to construct the temple in another place to avoid conflict is like telling Lord Rama to wed another Sita to avoid war with Ravana.”

Things came to a head in 1992, with the destruction of the Babri Masjid. In the Liberhan commission’s report on the event, Avaidyanath’s name figured prominently in the list of people found culpable for leading to the country to the brink of communal disaster.

Avaidyanath had joined the BJP by this time—he was elected the MP for Gorakhpur in 1991, and again in 1996. Though he fought the elections for the post on a BJP ticket, he retained a degree of autonomy—a practice that Adityanath has maintained. Avaidyanath quit electoral politics soon after, making room for his protégé. In 1998, Adityanath became the youngest MP in the Lok Sabha.

Avaidyanath died in 2014, at the age of 95. Modi, who had become prime minister that year, said that he would “be remembered for his patriotic zeal and his determined efforts to serve society.”

Finally, Adityanath took on the mantle of mahant. His training under Avaidyanath had been robust, and he was already a four-time MP for Gorakhpur. He had started the HYV, in 2002, which had helped him develop his own militant power base over the past decade. While the group bolstered his image as a Hindutva firebrand across the state, Gorakhpur acted as his seat of power, from which he exercised hegemonic control over eastern Uttar Pradesh.

AFTER JOINING THE MATH, Adityanath spent a formative period mostly inside the institution, tending to cows, attending to his guru and getting entrenched in his new world. In the summer of 1996, Adityanath shed his tentativeness and appeared in public, using Maharana Pratap Inter College—an institution run by the Gorakhnath Math—to mark a fresh beginning. Students of the college had gotten into a quarrel with shopkeepers at the city’s Golghar market, and Adityanath came out strongly in their support.

“That was the first time I saw Adityanath,” Sunil Singh told me. “He appeared confident and determined to take up the cause of students. I felt really impressed by him.” Singh, an alumnus of the college, visited the campus to express his solidarity.

“The quarrel began on a trivial issue but it spiralled into a major confrontation between the two sides, resulting in the police chasing the students to their hostel,” Singh recounted. “When the tension was high, Adityanath entered the college hostel. His presence galvanised the students. They rallied behind him, and the police was forced to back off.”

Singh and his friends found their idol in Adityanath. The next morning, along with his friends Ashish Singh Shrinate, Amit Singh, Kumar Gaurav and Mayank Tripathi, Singh reached the temple to see Adityanath. Singh recalled that they found him “supervising some construction work in the gaushala”—cow shelter—“attached to the temple. On seeing us, he left his work and came over. He asked our names and castes and took us to his room in the santashram”—the lodgings for monks. “We had a long discussion about the political atmosphere of Gorakhpur and problems being faced by Thakurs.” Singh is also a Thakur.

Singh and his fellows started meeting daily, going out together to enrol more young people to their cause. “We also cleaned a patch of land near the gaushala and started playing badminton there,” Singh said. One thing that particularly struck him about Adityanath “was the special interest he was taking in understanding the condition of Thakurs in Gorakhpur.”

Adityanath had started placing himself right in the centre of the region’s tense caste dynamics. “It sounds like caste-based discrimination, but it goes further than that,” Manoj Kumar, a senior journalist based in Gorakhpur, told me. “That was the time when the caste-based rivalries of two gangsters—Harishankar Tiwari, a Brahmin, and Virendra Pratap Shahi, a Thakur—ruled the roost in Gorakhpur. Even the Gorakshapeeth Math, Adityanath’s main source of strength, was known as a Thakur math.”

To become the supreme leader of a region of Thakur dominance, Adityanath needed to become the supreme Thakur leader first. In the 1996 Lok Sabha election, Avaidyanath had faced a serious challenge for the Gorakhpur seat from Virendra Pratap Shahi, who was contesting on a Samajwadi Party ticket and came second. The murder of Shahi, in 1997, by an emerging Brahmin gangster, Sri Prakash Shukla, appeared to be a setback to Thakur dominance in Gorakhpur, but it also offered Adityanath an opportunity to fill the void.

In the next Lok Sabha election, in 1998, Avaidyanath decided not to contest and let his heir become the BJP candidate. Though he won against the Samajwadi Party’s candidate—Jamuna Prasad Nishad, a member of the Other Backward Classes—the margin of victory came down sharply from that in 1996. The Samajwadi Party, with its support base among Muslims and the OBCs, seemed to be fast closing the gap to the BJP, leaving Adityanath with an uncertain political fate.

“It was against this backdrop that an overtly communal anti-Muslim politics began in Gorakhpur and neighbouring areas,” Sunil Singh said, rattling off a list of communally charged attacks under Adityanath’s leadership. “I was with him in almost all the incidents. There is hardly any case in which I am not an accused along with him.”

The most infamous of these incidents was the Panchrukhia case of 1999. “We were in Maharajganj when the news came that someone had removed a peepal sapling that had been planted by some local Hindus,” Singh said. “Those who removed it claimed that the spot where it had been planted was part of a Muslim graveyard. Adityanath immediately announced that he would rush straight away to Panchrukhia to plant the peepal sapling on the same spot again.” The announcement alerted the local administration, which swung into action. “We quickly reached the village, but, before we could complete our operation, the police came in and chased us out.”

Adityanath’s convoy sped out of the village, but was forced to a halt by Samajwadi Party workers under the leadership of Talat Aziz who had gathered on the village’s main road to court arrest. They were demonstrating against the deteriorating law-and-order situation under the state’s ruling BJP government. The confrontation quickly escalated from angry shouting to gunshots. Aziz’s security guard, a head constable named Satyaprakash Yadav, took a bullet in his face and fell, bleeding profusely. He later died. Scared, Aziz and other Samajwadi Party workers fled into the surrounding fields, leaving the road clear for Adityanath and his men to drive away.

Three hours later, the Maharajganj police registered an FIR naming Adityanath and 24 others as the accused in a long list of crimes, including attempt to murder, rioting, carrying deadly weapons, defiling a place of worship, trespassing on a Muslim graveyard and promoting enmity between religious groups.

The Panchrukhia incident turned Adityanath into a sensational figure in Gorakhpur, but it did not reverse the growing local support for the Samajwadi Party. In the Lok Sabha election held a few months later, in 1999, Adityanath’s victory margin over Nishad shrank further, to just seven thousand votes.

This scenario, which was aggravated further by the BJP’s defeat in Uttar Pradesh’s 2002 assembly election, appears to have inspired Adityanath to create a personal Hindu militia. The opportunity came within a week of the declaration of the election results. On 27 February 2002, 59 people died after a coach of the Sabarmati Express caught fire just outside the railway station at Godhra, a small town in Gujarat. The incident sparked one of the worst outbursts of anti-Muslim violence in recent Indian history, with the bloodshed especially concentrated in Gujarat. As the country reeled from images of what was its first televised pogrom—private news television had boomed in the last decade—Adityanath took the first steps to organising the HYV.

Within a year of the formation of the HYV, Gorakhpur and its neighbouring districts witnessed at least six major incidents of sectarian violence, apart from innumerable minor ones. The major ones took place at Mohan Mundera in Kushinagar district, Nathua in Gorakhpur district and the city’s Turkmanpur neighbourhood in June; Narkataha in Maharajganj district in August; and Bhedahi in Maharajganj and Dhanghata in Sant Kabir Nagar district in September. Though registered as a cultural organisation, the group was unabashedly aggressive. Its preferred tactic was to frame every argument and altercation between a Hindu and a Muslim in religious terms and turn it into a full-blown communal riot. Communal disturbances continued unabated in the following years as the local administration remained ineffective. “There have been at least twenty-two major riots in Gorakhpur and the neighbouring districts till Adityanath’s arrest in 2007,” Manoj Kumar, who chronicled the sectarian riots in the region, told me.

The HYV’s incendiary campaigns paid rich electoral dividends for Adityanath. In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, he won the Gorakhpur seat even as the BJP was roundly defeated countrywide. His victory margin jumped exponentially, to over a hundred and forty thousand votes.

The shock of 2007—when he went to jail and later wept in the Lok Sabha—initially appeared to have made Adityanath politically wiser and more temperate. For a period, he generally refrained from personally leading mobs and participating in attacks on Muslims in the manner he used to do earlier. Adityanath stuck to making inflammatory speeches and participating in token actions alone, while his Hindu militia did the rest of the job. With this strategy, he was voted back into the Lok Sabha with an even bigger margin in 2009.

When Narendra Modi began his campaign for the 2014 general election, Adityanath and his militia—with its deep organisational presence in most of eastern Uttar Pradesh—played a pivotal role. After the BJP’s victory and Modi’s elevation, the HYV launched a campaign to force the BJP to project Adityanath as its chief ministerial candidate for the state’s 2017 assembly election. But he could not have his way, and the BJP entered the election without any chosen figure for the post. On the eve of the polls, Adityanath faced a minor setback. The growing political ambitions of HYV leaders led to a split in the militia when some of its members, including Sunil Singh, were not chosen as electoral candidates by the BJP. The rebels fielded their own candidates in over a dozen seats but lost.

By now, Adityanath was the most polarising figure in Uttar Pradesh.

THE WEEK PRECEDING THE BJP’S DECISION on who it would install as the next chief minister was filled with nervous activity. Since 11 March, the day the votes were counted, Lucknow had reverberated with rumours and controversy as intense negotiations seemed underway within the party. Manoj Sinha was considered the frontrunner for the post. When the crown fell on Adityanath’s head, even close observers were surprised.

But just as Adityanath reached the height of his success, his past caught up with him. The Allahabad High Court, acting on a petition filed by Parvez Parvaz, had passed an order on 10 March 2017—a day before the counting of votes—asking the state government to apprise it of the status of the 2007 case involving Adityanath’s inflammatory speech in Gorakhpur. As soon as he became the chief minister, he found on his table a request from the state police seeking sanction to prosecute him in the case.

Parvaz had pursued the case for a decade. “In the beginning, I felt it would end in catastrophe,” Parvaz told me, in 2017. “I had to sell whatever property I had so that I could pursue the court battle, which seemed unending. But I had concrete evidence against Adityanath, and that sustained me even in the depths of despair.”

In the beginning, the police refused to file an FIR on the basis of the evidence Parvaz had gathered. He moved court. It had been only after the high court’s intervention that he could file an FIR at the Cantonment police station in Gorakhpur, in September 2008. Later, the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department enquired into the allegations and found enough merit in them to prosecute Adityanath and four of his accomplices. One of the charges suggested by the CB-CID was under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code—“promoting enmity between different groups”—which required government sanction for taking cognisance of the offence. On 10 July 2015, therefore, the crime branch of the state police sought permission from the home department of Uttar Pradesh for the prosecution of Adityanath and the others. The request remained pending for almost two years as Akhilesh Yadav, the chief minister until the Samajwadi Party was routed in the 2017 polls, continued his father Mulayam Singh Yadav’s policy of appeasement towards Adityanath.

Now that he was the chief minister, it was a great deal harder for Adityanath to evade a wider public scrutiny of his actions. The months that followed made it obvious that self-preservation still remained his main guiding motive—he managed to dispose of his own case without trial.

On 11 May 2017, the state government informed the high court via an affidavit filed by the chief secretary, Rahul Bhatnagar, that it had refused sanction for the prosecution of Adityanath and others named in the FIR. Based on this, the Allahabad High Court rejected Parvaz’s petition on 22 February 2018. Along with his co-petitioner, Asad Hayat, he now moved the Supreme Court.

On 4 June 2018, before the Supreme Court could deliberate on the appeal, Gorakhpur’s Rajghat police station registered an FIR in which Parvaz and his friend Jumman Baba were accused of rape. According to Manoj Kumar, who reported extensively on the case, the accusation did not hold water. Kumar argued that the station officer of Rajghat, Ashutosh Kumar Singh, who conducted an enquiry into the alleged incident, had himself found the case to be full of holes. “In his report, he pointed out that the spot where the crime allegedly happened was a crowded place and that, even at the time of the occurrence of the crime, the area was bustling with people,” Kumar told me. “He also mentioned that the locations of the two accused at the time when the rape allegedly happened were at places that were far away from the spot of occurrence of the crime. The SO, therefore, recommended in his report that the FIR be expunged.”

After the SO submitted his report, Parvaz asked in a Facebook post who was trying to frame him in a false case at a time when he was engaged in a legal battle against “Purvanchal’s communalists.”

Later that month, the SO’s report was rejected by Gorakhpur’s senior superintendent of police, Shalabh Mathur, who ordered a fresh investigation into the case. Parvaz was arrested on 25 September on the basis of this second investigation. “He and his friend were tried in the district court, which sentenced them to life imprisonment in July 2020,” Kumar said.

Appeals are pending in both the cases—before the Supreme Court in the hate-speech case against Adityanath, and before the Allahabad High Court in the rape case against Parvaz.

I sent multiple interview requests to Adityanath but did not receive a response.

ADITYANATH HAS TRIED TO USE VIOLENCE as a political solution to most problems he has encountered as chief minister. Months after assuming office, as criticism of the deteriorating law-and-order situation in the state was becoming more shrill, he made it plain that his administration would not be bound by constitutional checks. In a television interview, he declared, “Agar aparadh karenge, toh thok diye jaenge”—If you commit a crime, you will be bumped off.

What followed was a spree of police “encounters” across the state—a whopping 432 of them in the very first month of the exercise. Over a year later, on August 2018, a sting operation by India Today TV pointed to an ugly truth about some of these encounters. The exposé suggested that some police officials were implicating innocent civilians in false cases and shooting them down in staged confrontations in exchange for bribes and promotions.

This created a tremendous stir, but Adityanath remained unperturbed. The state administration was quick to order the suspension of three sub-inspectors who were caught on hidden camera offering their services. The government also ordered an inquiry against those who spilled the beans. But there was no effort to further probe what the compromised cops had revealed, or to investigate possible “excesses” in other encounters.

What happened instead was further intensification of these encounters—unofficially dubbed “Operation Langda,” as most of those injured in the encounters were shot in their legs. Months after the exposé, Adityanath went to the extent of highlighting this violence as a major accomplishment of his government. Ahead of Republic Day in 2019, the state’s chief secretary asked district magistrates to publicise the slogan “Ab Tak 3,000”—a reference to the number of police encounters that had taken place since Adityanath took over.

Ayyub Qureshi, one of the victims of “Operation Langda,” had to suffer this kind of “encounter” twice. He was shot in his right leg the first time, and in his left the second. A resident of Khatauli, in Muzaffarnagar district, Qureshi is not sure the police will not “encounter” him a third time. “Previously, there was no case against me, and I was quietly running my dairy business,” he told me. “Trouble began around the middle of 2019, when my tenant brought a buffalo calf and kept it in my dairy farm. He promised that he would take it away the next a day. I permitted him. In the night, a police team raided my dairy, and, declaring that I had stolen the calf, they seized it and arrested me. I pleaded that the calf was brought by my tenant, but they did not listen to me. I could not prove it because my tenant had run away.”

A case of theft and cruelty against animals was filed against him, and his life took a horrific turn. The police started regular visits to his dairy farm to take him to the police station for questioning on cases he said he could not even have known of. “Once they took away my buffalos and returned them only after I paid Rs 1.5 lakh,” Qureshi said. “As their harassment increased, I started to stay away most of the time. This affected my dairy business. Despite it being the only source of income for my family, I had to wind it up.”

By the end of 2019, as the number of encounter cases in Uttar Pradesh surged, Qureshi’s mother, not knowing how to protect her son, wrote a letter seeking justice and sent it to everyone she could think of. This included the president, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Modi, Adityanath and senior police officers of the state and the district. “Because of police harassment, Ayyub has lost his livelihood,” the letter read. “The entire family and Ayyub’s children are on the brink of starvation, and the police regularly visit my locality and often announce that that this time they would encounter Ayyub before taking him to jail.”

It was to no avail. “Instead of taking any corrective measure, the police picked me up on 5 October 2020 on charges of killing of a cow, which had happened somewhere in Meerut,” Qureshi said. “They took me to a desolate place where they knocked me down and shot me in my left leg below the knee from point-blank range.” He got bail about a month later, but on 1 March 2021, before the first wound had even healed, he was arrested again, this time on charges of stealing a motorbike. “Once again, they took me to a desolate place and shot me in my right leg below the knee. Now I don’t go anywhere and stay at home all the time. Once I thought of writing all that has happened with me to the NHRC, but my family members discouraged me saying that we won’t get justice while Yogiji is the chief minister.”

In October 2021, three human-rights group released a joint report titled “Extinguishing Law and Life: Police Killings and Cover up in the State of Uttar Pradesh.” It describes Uttar Pradesh as “an active theatre” of encounters and counts 8,472 police encounters in the state since Adityanath became chief minister. “As a result of this, 146 men have been killed and another 3,302 have been injured with bullets,” the document states. In detailing their investigations into 17 encounter killings, the three rights groups show how the state government has circumvented safeguards laid down by the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission, and expose the complicity of the NHRC in turning a blind eye to this.

Official propaganda, amplified by a major section of the mainstream media, has pretended that these encounters have generated incredible enthusiasm among the masses and filled lawbreakers with terror. On the ground, however, there is nothing to show that they have acted as a deterrent. Instead, the entire state machinery, right from the top, has acted with grave prejudice and enabled violence outside the bounds of the law.

This is particularly true with regard to crimes against women. Such crimes, especially rapes and gang rapes, have become the order of the day in Uttar Pradesh. The most notorious examples include the gang rape and murder of a 17-year-old Dalit girl in Unnao, where the main perpetrator was the BJP leader Kuldeep Singh Sengar, and the alleged rape of a college student in Shahjahanpur by the former BJP leader Chinmayanand (he was acquitted after the complainant recanted her accusation in court). There has also been the gang-rape and murder of a young Dalit woman in Hathras, whose body was hurriedly cremated by the police against the wishes of her family, and the murder of a Dalit gang-rape victim and three members of her family in Prayagraj. In all these cases, the Adityanath government has at best appeared to be dragging its feet, and at worst standing with the perpetrators.

“Apart from frequent crimes against women, there have been several instances of innocents being killed in police encounters,” Rajiv Yadav, the general secretary of Rihai Manch, a human-rights and politico-legal advocacy group in Uttar Pradesh, told me. “These encounters have led to a complete erosion in civil and human rights. The governance model that Adityanath has developed rests on the belief that law enforcement is not a measure for ensuring justice but a means to impose harsh punishments for crimes the government claims have been committed, regardless of whether they have actually been committed or not.”

ON 11 DECEMBER 2019, the Modi government rammed through the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Massive protests sprang up all over the country. In Uttar Pradesh, they were met with a brutal clampdown. Muzaffarnagar was one of the worst affected areas.

“After Friday prayers on 20 December, people from across the city assembled at Meenakshi Chowk to mark their protest against the CAA,” Mohammad Intasar, a local resident, told me. It was a peaceful protest and, after a few rounds of sloganeering, the crowd started dispersing. All of a sudden there was stone-pelting, and it was not clear where the stones had come from. The police claimed that the stones had been thrown by the protesters, but the protesters pointed to the BJP leader Sanjeev Baliyan and his men, who were conspicuously present alongside the police. In any case, the police fired teargas shells and conducted a lathi charge to disperse the crowd. By 5 pm, calm was restored in the area.

Around 11 pm, the police moved on the homes of Muslim residents. “Police came in groups of nearly two hundred men and began vandalising properties of people,” Intasar said. “They entered my house after breaking open the door and ransacked everything: my car, window glasses, furniture, kitchen. They destroyed everything they could lay their hands on.” Intasar added that hundreds of other houses across Muzaffarnagar were also ransacked that night, and “there were also cases of inhuman brutalities by the police.”

The police attempted to cover up these assaults. Eyewitness reports and CCTV footage of the havoc they cause started filtering in only later—in one video, recorded on the night of 20 December, policemen are seen vandalising properties. It was apparent that the police assaults had a political motive: to fill Muslims with so much terror that they would give up their constitutional right to peaceful protest. The pattern was repeated in several other parts of the state, including Meerut, Kanpur, Lucknow and Bijnor.

By the end of December, at least nineteen people had died in the police crackdown and ensuing violence, mostly due to bullet injuries. Over a thousand people were arrested and more than five thousand placed in preventive detention. On 27 December, Adityanath issued a triumphant message from his official Twitter handle: “Every rioter is shocked. Every troublemaker is astonished. Witnessing the stern attitude of the Yogi government, everyone is silent.”

But protests kept flaring up through the beginning of 2020. At Bilariyaganj block, in Azamgarh district, peaceful anti-CAA protesters were subjected to a police crackdown and also charged under draconian sedition laws. “Around noon on 4 February 2020, women began gathering at Maulana Jauhar Ali Park as they wanted to hold a Shaheen Bagh-like protest,” Mohammad Tahir Madni, a respected Islamic scholar based in Bilariyaganj, told me. “Within hours, top district officers reached the block office along with busloads of police forces. First, they asked me to use my influence to persuade women protesters to vacate Jauhar Ali Park. I talked to the protesters, and they agreed to return home if a written assurance was given to them that permission for protest would be granted to them for some other day. The administration refused to give a written assurance and talks failed.”

Madni was forced to make two more attempts to intervene that evening, but he failed as the district administration would only give verbal assurance. “I then returned to the block office and informed the district officials about the failed talks,” he said. “I was asked not to leave the place. Soon, I was informed that, along with my friends who accompanied me, I had been put under detention.”

Late that night, the police swooped in on the protesters. They sprayed them with water amid the cold and fired teargas shells, dispersing women protesters while picking up over a dozen men. An FIR was filed the next day and all those taken into custody were charged with sedition. Madni was depicted as the “instigator and leader” of a “riotous mob” that had gathered at Mansoor Ali Park, while others in custody were listed as the main rioters under his command. The use of the sedition law ensured that all of them remained in jail for almost four months.

EARLY IN 2021, Uttar Pradesh, with its already weak health infrastructure, was is no way prepared to handle the second wave of COVID-19. There were grave shortages of oxygen, ventilators and beds in intensive-care units throughout the state. But instead of making the state ready for the second wave of the pandemic, which seemed imminent, Adityanath’s focus was primarily on panchayat elections to be held in April. Ordinarily, panchayat elections are not high on the list of priorities for political parties. But the message that this election would send was to be managed because it was being held less than a year before the 2022 assembly polls—a fact made obvious by Adityanath’s all-out effort to tilt the results of the panchayat polls in favour of the BJP.

For similar reasons, the opposition parties also came out in strength. There was little regard for social distancing during campaigning. Coronavirus cases exploded in Uttar Pradesh in the second week of April, with the campaign going full blast, and by the end of the month the state was reeling.

Thousands of schoolteachers and other government employees who had been sent on election duty were infected, and a significant number of them died. Adityanath’s government denied this for a long time, and only relented after employees’ and teachers’ associations threatened to strike if their demands for compensation to the victims’s families were not met.

Adityanath’s handling of the second wave exemplified not just his slack grip upon reality but also his government’s hostility towards it. When reports of patients and hospitals scrambling for oxygen cylinders started making headlines, his office tweeted that there was no shortage of beds, oxygen or ventilators in the state. He asked his officials to take action under the National Security Act against individuals who spread “rumours” and propaganda on social media and tried to “spoil the atmosphere,” and also to seize their property.

His threats and denials did not work. Instead, they looked like cruel jokes when dumped bodies started floating in the Ganges. Adityanath’s behaviour ran counter to all civilised views of political conduct and offered a grim picture of what was going on in Uttar Pradesh.

“We might never have heard of this tragedy but for the weather,” Om Gaur, the editor of Dainik Bhaskar, wrote in a moving piece for the New York Times. “Rains in early May swelled the Ganges, tossing corpses up to the river’s surface and onto its shores. They washed dirt from the banks, exposing the bodies buried there. The rains also laid bare the government’s colossal failure to strengthen rural health care or ensure adequate vaccine supplies—or take responsibility for its shortcomings.”

On 8 November, addressing a public rally in Rampur, Adityanath congratulated himself on his government’s management of the COVID-19 crisis, calling it the “best in the world.”

LOOKING AT THE WAY ADITYANATH has sought to govern, the only thing that can be said with certainty is that he fundamentally does not want change; he wants only power. Just as the HYV served him as an instrument for capturing state power, the police force is now serving him as an instrument to enable his domination of Uttar Pradesh.

The Adityanath government has failed to bring about any tangible improvement in the material conditions of much of the state’s population. In the NITI Aayog’s new index on health, education and standards of living, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand are the states with the highest proportion of people who are multidimensionally poor. The state’s gross domestic product had a compound annual growth of only 1.95 percent between 2017 to 2021, the years under Adityanath’s reign. In comparison, the compound annual growth rate between 2012 and 2017 was nearly seven percent.

Adityanath is neither the first nor the last chief minister to not have a strong grip on economic concepts and the workings of government. Generally, in such situations, leaders overcome their handicap with the help of advisers. But Adityanath’s peculiar form of self-absorption makes him ill-suited to close working relationships with advisers, bureaucrats and even his ministerial colleagues.

“He doesn’t trust most of the ministers and party MLAs,” a senior minister in the Uttar Pradesh government told me. “Perhaps he has never considered himself part of the team.” Even though Adityanath won all his elections on BJP tickets, the minister said, he never felt at home in the party. “Always, right until he became the chief minister, he believed that he alone should take all decisions for Purvanchal and that the party must obey him in the region. With the help of his Hindu Yuva Vahini, he fiercely guarded his bastion not only against the SP and the BSP but also against the BJP leaders. That is why, even though he heads the BJP government, he has not been able to develop complete faith in the party’s MLAs and ministers and is generally suspicious of most of them.”

According to the minister, Adityanath does not have faith in most of his government’s bureaucrats either. “His vile temper and his habit of frequently using abusive language scare well-meaning civil servants and advisers,” he said. “They prefer to remain silent instead of speaking their mind because they are never sure whether they would be snubbed if they open their mouth.” On the basis of his experience, the minister added, “I can tell you that that is the way bureaucrats save themselves—if they realise that the boss is bad-tempered and unpredictable, they become quiet. This kind of situation often leaves Yogiji dealing with the crisis alone or in consultation with a handful of sycophants, including a few police officers.”

Speculation surged during the summer of 2021 that Modi was trying to remove Adityanath, or at least attempting to clip his wings. The speculation became intense in June, when several top BJP and RSS leaders made visits to Lucknow and held meetings with Adityanath and important ministers. Though the party described these meetings as a “routine exercise” in the run-up to the assembly elections, it was evident that all was not really well in Adityanath’s equation with the BJP high command.

That the rumours had some basis was confirmed months later by a senior member of the RSS. “In June, there were some serious efforts to curtail his authority,” the RSS member told me. “The aim was not to remove him from the post but to make him share some of his power with some identified colleagues. But those efforts were immediately halted when it was realised that Yogiji was more than determined not to let control of events slip away from him.”

There was also another rumour—that, in the event of the BJP winning the forthcoming assembly election, Adityanath would not be given a second chance. “The rumour tended to create uncertainty in the minds of our supporters with regard to the fate of Adityanath after the assembly election,” the RSS leader said. “This threatened to damage the prospects of the BJP and required immediate clearing of the air by the top leaders of the party.”

In October 2021, Amit Shah told a gathering in Lucknow, “If you want to make Modiji PM again in 2024, then in 2022 you will have to make Yogiji CM once again. Then the country’s development can move forward. Because, without development of UP, the country cannot develop.”

To reinforce the message of unity, Adityanath tweeted two photographs on 21 November of him and Modi taking a stroll together. Modi was shown talking intently to Adityanath while resting a hand on his shoulder. Adityanath also posted a brief verse: “We have set off with a vow, dedicated our body and soul, determined to make the sunrise, go higher than sky and make a new India.”

These measures were important for both the BJP and Adityanath. But they also revealed that Adityanath had crossed the first major challenge without much hassle. Those who were out to sideline him had themselves declared him the party’s chief-ministerial face, perhaps because of their compulsion to preserve the appearance of collegiality at election time.

“One of the reasons for the failure of Modi and Shah in cutting Yogiji down to size was that the Sangh does not view Yogiji in the same way as it used to do earlier,” the RSS leader said. “Until he became the chief minister, Yogiji was more of a trouble for the Sangh because he appeared to be pursuing independent, and often parallel, political ambitions.” But things had changed in the last five years. “He has tried hard to integrate himself with the Sangh Parivar. And the Sangh has applauded him for his endless stress on Hindu religious symbols in the political sphere and his brutal qualities while dealing with Muslims. So, while the BJP leadership was in two minds on the question of Yogiji, a major section of the Sangh was already looking at him as the face of the next UP elections.”

Every move by the party is now a tactical one, aimed at securing another electoral win in 2022. Adityanath himself signalled the opening of the campaign days after Shah’s declaration. On the eve of Diwali, in Ayodhya, he said his government was building temples with money that earlier governments spent on “building the boundaries of qabristans”—Muslim graveyards. “The public showed those people who love qabristans their place,” he went on. “They today see us spending money on building temples and taking Indian culture forward.”

In the battle of public perceptions, Modi faces a challenge from Adityanath, who has the advantage of being an initiated yogi—an ascetic for whom saffron is not just the colour of his political banner, as it might be for other BJP leaders, but also of his sectarian identity. PTI

The fact that he chose Ayodhya for the opening was significant. In 2017, in the run-up to that year’s assembly election, he had made careful symbolic use of Ayodhya too. “The hurdles on the path of construction of a grand Ram temple will be gradually removed, and its construction will soon start in Ayodhya,” he had declared. After becoming the chief minister, he started celebrating “Deepotsava,” a mega carnival of lights, in Ayodhya every year on the eve of Diwali. Adityanath demonstrated that he would stick to his tried and tested practices, and would cohttps://caravanmagazine.in/politics/adityanath-reign-of-terrorntinue to use communal polarisation to win elections.

The success of Adityanath is the success of the ideological milieu in which he, Modi and the Sangh Parivar operate. He is seen as the ultimate product of the attitudes and complexes that have shaped the RSS and its exclusionary vision of a Hindu Rashtra. Adityanath’s actions reflect a combination of the religious and political attitudes of the Sangh, while his speeches contain all the biases that keep the ideological mothership going.

Clearly, Adityanath is not afraid to use old ideas. They have benefitted him greatly in the past.

Dhirendra K Jha is a contributing writer at The Caravan.

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