The Hindu Yuva Vahini, which was formed nearly two decades ago to spread the message of nationalism among youths but was almost dormant for the past few years, has become active again to canvass for its founder Yogi Adityanath in the Uttar Pradesh polls.
After the Bharatiya Janata Party declared Adityanath's candidature from the Gorakhpur Urban constituency, members of the youth organisation got into action, and have been fanning out up to booth level to garner support for him.
Working in coordination with local BJP leaders, Vahini members have been using social media too to highlight the development works of the government under "Maharaj ji" (as it refers to Yogi Adityanath).
The organisation that came into existence in 2002 had quickly gained prominence, particular in Gorakhpur, with a large number of youths becoming its part. Adityanath had formed the Vahini after falling out with the BJP.
The outfit has served as a power machine for Adityanath to influence poll outcomes in the assembly constituencies in the district.
Adityanath had ensured the victory of incumbent MLA Radha Mohan Das Agarwal in his maiden electoral battle as a candidate of Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha in 2002 from the Gorakhpur Urban constituency against the BJP's Shiv Pratap Shukla, presently a minister of state in the union cabinet.
It also played a vital role in Adityanath's victory in parliamentary elections from Gorakhpur five times since 1998.
The HYV describes itself as "a fierce cultural and social organisation dedicated to Hindutva and nationalism". Alongside cow protection, its stated objectives are “complete abolishment of the differentiation between touchable-untouchable and high-low, promote the harmonious development of society".
Over the years, the group has found itself embroiled in multiple controversies. In June 2017, its three members were arrested on allegations of rape and thrashing a police officer in Bareilly.
In May the same year, its members were also allegedly involved in lynching of a Muslim man in Bulandshahr for helping a Hindu girl elope. Some of its members also allegedly thrashed a Muslim couple in a courtroom on the suspicion of ‘love jihad' -- a term used by some to refer to interfaith marriage between a Muslim man and Hindu girl -- in Baghpat in 2018.
According to experts, the HYV's stance softened after Adityanath became the chief minister in 2017.
Since then the Vahini has focused more on social work and the elimination of untouchability and discrimination among Hindus. They had rendered services to the citizens during the Covid pandemic too.
"Hindu Yuva Vahini is a social organisation and is active for social cause as well as working for the election campaign of ‘Pujya Maharaj Ji' (Yogi) in Gorakhpur, along with canvassing in favoür of BJP candidates all over the state, ïts state general secretary Engineer PK Mall told PTI.
Adityanath is contesting the assembly elections for the first time from the Gorakhpur Urban, where he spent a long time since assuming sainthoot
The Gorakhnath temple of whom Adityanath continues to be the "mahant" (head) falls in this assembly segment.
He is serving as chief minister through the legislative council route presently.
Voting in the constituency number 322 (Gorakhpur Urban) is scheduled in the sixth phase on March 3.
Rishi Mohan Verma, City Convenor of Hindu Yuva Vahini Gorakhpur, said a list of workers who were active in election campaign of Maharaj ji (Yogi) in previous polls has been prepared and they will be given responsibility".
A committee of Vahini is being formed at booth level according to the voter list, he said.
According to political experts here, differences between the BJP and Yogi Adityanath had cropped up in the 2002 assembly elections.
Following this, Yogi fielded his candidates of Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha from Gorakhpur city, Pipraich and Mundera assembly constituencies of the district.
Shiv Pratap Shukla, then a cabinet minister in UP who had won four consecutive elections in Gorakhpur since 1989, was defeated by Mahasabha's Radha Mohan Das Agarwal. Shukla was pushed to number three on the Gorakhpur city seat.
In Pipraich, Mahasabha's Deepak Agrawal gave a tough fight to BJP-backed candidate Jitendra Jaiswal, then a state minister, to secure the second position.
Mahasabha's candidate in Mundera former MLA Bechan Ram could gather about 10,000 votes to finish fifth.
This move of Yogi had dealt a tremendous blow to the BJP in Gorakhpur and nearby areas. With the rise of this organisation, Adityanath had emerged as a major Hindutva face in Uttar Pradesh.
Ram Shankar Singh, a social worker in Gorakhpur, said that during that period, criminals and mafia were dominant in Gorakhpur, but under the patronage of Yogi, the activists of Hindu Yuva Vahini ended their dominance and changed the political equations of Gorakhpur.
Disagreeing with Singh, local resident Mahendra Mishra said that members of Hindu Yuva Vahini used to raise slogans like Gorakhpur Mai Rehna hai to Yogi Yogi kehna hoga (One will have to chant Yogi's name to live in Gorakhpur), sounds anarchy."
After Yogi became the Chief Minister in 2017, Sunil Singh, the state president of Hindu Yuva Vahini was arrested over a controversy. After being released from jail, Sunil Singh gave statements against Yogi and is now in the Samajwadi Party.
The current in-charge of the Hindu Yuva Vahini in Uttar Pradesh is Raghavendra Pratap Singh, a BJP MLA from Dumariaganj assembly constituency of Siddharthnagar district.