Sunil Kashyap

Ajay Singh Bisht, is popularly known as Yogi Adityanath, took oath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh today, at the Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow. In the run-up to the ceremony, office bearers of the BJP, on written instructions from the party, organised pujas at temples across the state. The incumbent chief minister reportedly invited over fifty priests and seers personally, including prominent members of the Ram Janmabhoomi trust, which is overseeing the construction of the temple in Ayodhya, as well as priests from Varanasi, Mathura and Vrindavan.

Adityanath is the first chief minister of the state in 37 years to retain power after completing a full term. In his first term, Adityanath—the head priest of the famous Gorakhnath Math—became a poster-boy of Hindu right. His second term will see the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, as well as the centenary celebrations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological parent.

A BJP worker described the day as “a Hindu festival.” Satanand Maharaj, a priest and resident of Mathura-Vrindavan, said, “Yogi ji’s oath ceremony is a matter of pride for us. It is a matter of pride for the whole of India. This ceremony is also a matter of pride for the followers of Hindutva all over the world.” He added, “Yogi is a Hindu king of today who reigns in the hearts of Hindus and will continue to do so.”

In addition to thousands of its party workers, the BJP invited hundreds of othersaints and mahants—head priests—of prominent temples to the ceremony as well. In a 20 March letter, the BJP’s state general secretary Govind Narayan Shukla had outlined the preparation required for the swearing-in ceremony. He instructed workers at district levels to conduct prayers for two hours on the morning before the swearing-in, and to organise public-service programs at Hindu places of worship.

In the 12-point letter, Shukla invited party workers at the district and the mandal level to the ceremony, in appreciation of the BJP’s ground workers and their contribution to its success. The letter instructed district party heads have to make a list of workers to be sent for the program. Shukla’s letter also asked that the respective members of parliament or the legislative assembly, or the district organisation, arrange cars for travel to Lucknow, where the ceremony was held.

Alok Gupta, a senior journalist for the channel SaharaSamay, noted the differences between the Adityanath’s first and second swearing-in. In 2017, the BJP had campaigned without a chief ministerial face, instead riding on Modi’s popularity. Adityanath was chosen for the post after the results, and was sworn in at the Smriti Upvan with limited guests. This time, he is being sworn in at a cricket stadium. “A swearing-in festival is being celebrated in all the districts and villages of Uttar Pradesh,” Gupta said.

In his letter, Shukla had given instructions to send two workers from each district a day in advance. Healso asked district party heads arrange for hoardings and posters of the program to be put up in major squares and markets of all the districts. He asked party workers to invite “social activists, writers and litterateurs, professionals, doctors, engineers, saints and saints of religious monasteries and temples including prominent leaders of the social class of the districts” to the inauguration. Gupta noted that saints, priests and holy men were given pride of place at the grand ceremony in Lucknow. “The BJP would anyway start its programs by blowing a conch shell”—a Hindu ritual signifying an auspicious beginning—“but this time, monks and sanyasis were also invited.”

I spoke to Rakesh Kumar, a BJP member who is also part of the party’s Backward Cell Working Committee in Meerut. Kumar was also heading to Lucknow to attend the event. “For us, this swearing-in ceremony is a celebration. Our party is celebrating it as a Hindu festival all over the state,” he said. “After so long, a political party has come to power in the state for a second time. Our Hindutva agenda has always been top priority and from now on, the preparations for 2024 have also started.” Kumar added that the grandeur of the ceremony would work to draw more Hindus into the BJP fold. “We want to connect as many Hindus as possible with this ceremony. The more they join, the more our party will benefit. All the district committees have been instructed to bring all their workers here. The party wants that each of its workers should feel how hard they have brought victory to the party. It’s in their honour.”

According to Satanand Maharaj, the priest from Mathura, Yogi’s rise brought respect and prestige to Hindus. Referring to the swearing-in, he said, “It is a matter of pride for all of us as well as for those mahatmas who live in pilgrimages and temples and propagate sanatan dharma.” Maharaj believed that Yogi’s win in 2017 and now will embolden Hindus. “There was a time in India when people, like in today’s Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal, were afraid to say ‘Jai Shri Ram!’”—Hail Ram. “But today in Uttar Pradesh they are fearlessly speaking Jai Shri Krishna and Jai Shri Ram.” Maharaj added, “Now we are moving towards Hindu Rashtra and if Lord Shri Ram wishes, then by the year 2027, Hindu Rashtra will be certain.”

Maharaj told me that all the prominent saints of Mathura have been called to the swearing-in. Mathura city, believed by some to be the birthplace of the deity Krishna, has long been considered a politically important site for the Hindu right-wing. He said, “All those saints who are devoted to Lord Shri Krishna and Shri Ram and to the nation, all those saints have been called and my name is also in that. By the grace of Lord Rama, we will all reach and consider ourselves fortunate to participate in this historic program.” He continued, “This is not a swearing-in but a declaration of the Hindu Rashtra.”

Sunil Kashyap is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

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