The legend of Gorakhnath and the new political avatar in UP

As Yogi Adityanath completes one month as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, a look at the legacy of the Gorakhnath mutt and its rising ‘son’.  

By Akrita Reyar | Updated: Apr 20, 2017, 08:50 AM IST

Jaag Machindra Gorakh Aya, Gorakh Aya… have been fabled lines oft-repeated when telling and retelling the fascinating stories related with sage Gorakhnath.

Originally known as Guru Gorakshanath, the mystery behind the mystic is as timeless as the man himself. Believed to have lived in 11th century, he is said to have been sighted in different centuries and states and known to have met different saints belonging to varied time periods.

A worker of miracles and a representative of Saivite faith, he could raise people from the dead and assume bodies of his choice. He has been made immemorable in folklore through stories– whether it is the love story of Hir and Ranjha or those related with Bhagat Puran Singh and Matsyendranath.

He could fly across borders, get magical potion from nether world of snakes, possessed miraculous healing powers and soon gathered a large following across races and castes not just in India but also in large numbers in Nepal.

Not surprisingly, a major temple of his Nath monastic faith was established in Gorakhpur in North India, very close to the Nepal border. And though Gorakhnath temple became a major religious headquarters, unlike most mutts established in the Shankaracharya tradition, it did not and does not have a Brahaminical lineage with head priests having been mostly non-Brahmins.

Over the years, the temple continued to be a Siddha peeth and followed Saivite practices, concerning itself mainly with religious, cultural and social activities.

The change came mainly on the turn of the 20th century when the temple mahant Digvijaya Nath joined the Congress in 1921 and began participating in the Independence movement. However, Gandhi’s non-violent movement did not hold much appeal for him and he switched to Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 where he openly opposed Gandhi and in fact is believed to have controversially rallied support against him.

The head priest of Nath peeth also made a religious manoeuvre to spearhead an essentially Vaishnav Ram Janmabhoomi movement in Ayodhya in 1949. It was after his highly publicized 9-day Ramcharit Manas recitation that the idols of Gods were placed in the Babri mosque. In 1967, he jumped into politics and got elected as an MP from Gorakhpur. His disciple Mahant Avaidyanath continued in his footsteps and got elected as an MLA and subsequently as an MP from the same constituency, later as a BJP representative.

Yogi Adityanath has inherited this legacy. As much as a firebrand as his predecessors, he too belongs to the Thakur community and had political ambitions from a young age. He first contested and won an election in 1998 at the young age of 26 and has been returned as an MP ever since then.

It is believed that the lower margin in his second victory had shocked the head priest so much that it was then that he decided to shift gears and adopt a more radical avatar. Much of his charisma now stems from his far-right Hindu appeal, his oratory skills and ability to use divisive politics to his advantage. Having launched the Hindu Yuva Vahini, he is believed to have been involved in communal riots in 2005 and 2007 and polarised people on sensitive issues.

Though Adityanath had not been on the best of terms with the BJP and leaders like Amit Shah, the rising star of the saffron party led the Yogi to make peace for future prospects. The social imprint of Gorakhnath mutt – its two dozen schools, colleges, hospitals and poly-tech institutes – only helped matters.

The apex achievement and opportunity has come in the form of the 44-year-old Yogi Adityanath becoming the chief minister of the most populous state of the country. His first month itself has been controversial with illegal slaughter houses being clamped down upon, anti-Romeo squads roaming streets and his equating triple talaq with the attempted disrobing of Draupadi.

However, the CM is also trying to reinvent himself. Claiming to be the leader of the entire state, which includes a substantial minority, it is yet to be seen whether the saffron clad Yogi will keep a check on himself when it comes to provocative statements on Pakistan and making comparisons between Hafiz Saeed and Shah Rukh Khan.

What will be particularly interesting is his strategy considering that the voting pattern of this election is now out in public domain, and it seems only 2% Muslims voted for the BJP, contrary to the perception that the community voted for Modi in the name of development. Obviously, despite populist statements, the message that BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate carried a sting.

The Chief Minister, who was in his erstwhile incarnation know as Ajay Singh, will also face a litmus test when it comes to the Ayodhya issue, considering that Gorakhnath Mutt has been one of the first and most vocal proponents of building a Ram temple. The emotive issue Ayodhya is common to all Hindus and not just the upper segment.

It goes without saying that Yogi will want to keep playing the 'Vrihad Hindu' card as well to keep support from all segments firmly behind him – tact that Gorakhnath mutt leaders have cultivated over the years with its low caste affirmative politics. The cow protection strategy, on the contrary, is meant to keep the upper caste aligned.

The moot point at this juncture however will not just be of consolidation – it is of roadmap and delivery. The Yogi CM has got his task cut out clearly. Uttar Pradesh, despite its advantage of size, continues to languish on all development metrics such as education, healthcare and infrastructure. Even in terms of economic growth, it registered 3.38% growth, lower than the national average of 4.66%.

Modi entrenched himself in Gujarat post spate of divisive politics and communal riots of 2002, but at the end it was development and delivery that kept him in his chair.

It may do Yogi Adityanath a whole lot of good, if he took a leaf out of Modi stylebook of politics.