The priest-turned-politician is not someone who minces his words.
A five-term Lok Sabha MP, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yogi Adityanath, who was sworn-in as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, is a fiery Hindutva mascot and has developed a reputation of being controversy’s favourite child over a period of time.
Adityanath, 44, a priest-turned-politician, is known for his provocative speeches and mass following across the state and never shies away from making controversial remarks, be it about Islam or Pakistan.
Clad in his trademark saffron-coloured robe, Adityanath, a Gorakhpur MP, has been seeking greater power and is expected to give a push to BJP’s Hindutva-wrapped agenda of development with the emergence of a separate powerbase for the party in eastern UP.
Born Ajay Singh, the diminutive shaven headed politician who heads the Gorakhnath Mutt, is known for his powerful oratory, though most of his speeches hinge on divisive lines and has been in the forefront in keeping the communal politics alive in the country.
Adityanath, who is a strong votary of construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, drove BJP’s Hindutva campaign in eastern UP in the just concluded assembly polls in the politically crucial state where it won three-fourths majority.
Adityanath has rebelled against his party on several occasions, but because of the sway he holds over the ‘Hindu’ voters, the BJP apparently could not ignore his ‘leadership qualities’.
He had floated Hindu Yuva Vahini, a right-wing outfit, in 2002. Ever since, the HYV has been largely instrumental in his meteoric rise -- from a student leader to five-time MP.
Right from comparing Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed during the intolerance debate in 2015 to asking people to leave India if they don’t practice surya namaskar in 2015, the yogi has been unabashed about his provocative views.
Playing the religious card during the pre-poll campaign, the firebrand leader had said that issues like ‘love jihad’ and ‘Kairana Hindu’ exodus have always been on his party’s agenda.
He had also said that the hurdles on the path of construction of a grand Ram temple will be gradually removed and its work will soon start in Ayodhya.
Born on June 5, 1972, Adityanath was the youngest member of the 12th Lok Sabha at 26. He has been elected as an MP from Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections.
In 2005, Adityanath allegedly 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 UP.
In January 2007, an altercation involving a Hindu group and Muslims broke out during a Muharram procession in Gorakhpur which led to the hospitalisation of a young Hindu, Raj Kumar Agrahari.
The district magistrate had 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 then started a non-violent dharna on the site.
However, inflammatory speeches were made and some of his followers even set fire to a nearby mazar (Muslim mausoleum).
Curfew was imposed by the local police, but Adityanath broke it and was subsequently jailed.
He was arrested and remanded for a fortnight on charges of disturbing peace. His arrest led to further unrest and several coaches of the Mumbai bound Mumbai-Gorakhpur Godan Express were burnt, allegedly by protesting Hindu Yuva Vahini activists.
The tensions escalated to riots across Gorakhpur leading to the burning of mosques, homes, buses and trains.
During the intolerance debate in the media, Adityanath compared Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed.
He had 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.”
That he is not someone who minces words while expressing himself was manifested when he came out full throttle for yoga in the midst of controversy over the issue saying that those who oppose surya namaskar can leave India.
He also made a request that those who see communalism in even Sun God should drown themselves in the sea or live in a dark room for the rest of their lives.
On January 3, 2016, one day after the terror attack on an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, Adityanath blamed the assault on Pakistan, claiming, “The Pathankot attack has once again proved that Satan could change for the better but Pakistan cannot.”
Adityanath has had a chequered relation with the BJP leadership for more than a decade. With the emergence of a separate powerbase in eastern UP, he has been seeking greater power, causing further conflicts.
In December 2006, Adityanath had organised a three-day Virat Hindu Mahasammelan at Gorakhpur, during the same period when the BJP was holding its national executive meet in Lucknow.
The 2007 elections saw a conflict between Adityanath and the BJP leadership - he wanted more than hundred seats in this region to go to candidates selected by him, but the party leadership would not agree.
Subsequently, a compromise agreement was reached, possibly with inputs from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and eight of his candidates were fielded.
In March 2010, Adityanath was one of several BJP MPs who started defying the party whip on Women’s Reservation Bill.
Adityanath is the Mahant (head priest) of the Gorakhnath Mutt, a Hindu temple in Gorakhpur, following the death of his spiritual “father,” Mahant Avaidyanath in September 2014.
Though known more for his rightist Hindu politics, it is to his credit that people in Gorakhpur, especially around the temple, hold him in high esteem irrespective of whichever caste or community they belong to.
Even Muslims around the temple are given “protection” by the yogi.
Yogi Adityanath comes from a Rajput family. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Science from Uttarakhand.