The priest who started his political career as the Member of Parliament from the Gorakhpur Constituency, Uttar Pradesh for five consecutive terms since 1998 and 19-years later became the Chief Minister of the largest state of India-Uttar Pradesh. He is Mahant Yogi Adityanath a.k.a Ajay Singh Bisht.
He is a priest and politician with a ‘firebrand Hindutva (Hindu nationalism)’ image. A star campaigner for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state. Adityanath is also the Mahant or head priest of the Gorakhnath Math, a Hindu temple in Gorakhpur, following the death of his spiritual ‘father,’ Mahant Avaidyanath in September 2014.
Yogi Adityanath was born as Ajay Singh Bisht into a Garhwali Rajput family on June 5th, 1972 in the village of Panchur, in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand (formerly in Uttar Pradesh).
His father Anand Singh Bisht was a forest ranger. Ajay Singh completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Srinagar, Uttarakhand.
Ajay Singh left home around 1990s to join the Ayodhya Ram temple movement. He came under the influence of Mahant Avaidyanath, the chief priest of the Gorakhnath Math, and became his disciple. Subsequently, he was given the name ‘Yogi Adityanath’ and designated as the successor of the Mahant Avaidyanath. While based in Gorakhpur after his initiation, Adityanath has often visited his ancestral village, establishing a school there in 1998.
Adityanath renounced his family at the age of 21 and became a disciple of Mahant Avaidyanath, then the head priest of Gorakhnath Math. He was promoted to the rank of Mahant of Guru Gorakhnath Temple, following the death of Mahant Aavaidyanath on 12 Sept 2014. Yogi Adityanath was made Peethadhishwar of Gorakhnath Temple amid traditional rituals of the Nath sect on 14 September 2014.
Adityanath was the youngest member of the 12th Lok Sabha at 26. He has been elected to the Parliament from Gorakhpur for five consecutive terms (in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections).
After his first electoral win, Adityanath started his own militant youth wing Hindu Yuva Vahini, which has been known for violent activities in the Purvanchal region in eastern Uttar Pradesh but was instrumental in Adityanath’s meteoric rise.
Adityanath was the star campaigner of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) before he was announced the Chief Minister of the state.
- In January 2007, an altercation occurred amidst a Hindu group and Muslims during a Muharram procession in Gorakhpur which led to the hospitalisation of a young Hindu, Raj Kumar Agrahari. The District Magistrate made it clear that Adityanath should not visit the site as it may inflame tensions. He initially agreed but after Agrahari died, he disobeyed the magistrate and travelled to the site with a group of his followers. Adityanath started a non-violent dharna on the site. However inflammatory speeches were made and some of his followers set fire to a nearby Mazar (Muslim mausoleum).
- In 2005, Adityanath led a ‘purification drive’ which involved the conversion of Christians to Hinduism. In one such instance, 1,800 Christians were reportedly converted to Hinduism in the town of Etah in Uttar Pradesh. He said, “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state).”
- In March 2011, the documentary film Saffron War – Radicalization of Hinduism accused Adityanath of promoting communal disharmony through a Virat Hindustan rally in rural Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath shared the stage during a hate speech in which an unidentified speaker urged the Hindu audience to dig up the graves of Muslim women and rape the corpses. Recording of this event went viral on social media in March 2015.
- During the intolerance debate in the Indian media in late 2015, Adityanath compared actor Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed. He said:
“Shah Rukh Khan should remember that majority population of the Country made him the Star, and if they boycott his films, he will also have to wander on streets. It is unfortunate SRK is speaking the same language that of Hafiz Saeed.”
- On 3 January 2016, a day after the terrorist attack on an Indian air force base in Pathankot allegedly by Pakistani terrorists, Adityanath said:
“The Pathankot attack has once again proved that Satan could change for the better but Pakistan cannot”
- Adityanath has praised the US President Donald Trump’s decision to enact a ban on citizens from 7 Muslim-majority countries entering the United States and has called for India to adopt similar policies to tackle terrorism.