18/03/2017 6:57 PM IST | Updated 23/03/2017 11:27 AM IST

Hindutva Hardliner Yogi Adityanath Is The New Chief Minister Of Uttar Pradesh

Adityanath is a five time Lok Sabha member from Gorakhpur.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

One week after the Bharatiya Janata Party pulled off its biggest victory in Uttar Pradesh, BJP lawmakers unanimously chose one of the most polarizing figures in the state to be the chief minister: Hindutva hardliner Yogi Adityanath. BJP state president Keshav Prasad Maurya and the mayor of Lucknow, Dinesh Sharma, were chosen as the two deputy chief ministers. While Adityanath comes from a Rajput family, Sharma is a Brahmin and Maurya belongs to the OBC (Other Backward Classes).

The decision was made following a meeting of newly elected BJP lawmakers in Lucknow, with Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu in attendance. As negotiations proceeded inside the new Lok Bhawan secretariat building on Saturday, Adityanath's supporters raised slogans. "Desh mein Modi, Pradesh mein Yogi," they chanted. His hardcore supporters have time and again expressed their displeasure over the fact that Adityanath was not included in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet of ministers in 2014 and that he was not declared the chief ministerial candidate to start with. It was Modi who fronted BJP's campaign in UP.

In his first remarks after he was chosen as the CM, Adityanath said, "I am confident that the state will march on the path of development."

Adityanath, born Ajay Singh Bisht, is a five time Lok Sabha member from Gorakhpur in eastern UP and he is the head priest of the Gorakhnath temple. Adityanath, 44, was 26-years-old when he first became a lawmaker in 1998. He has never lost the seat from Gorakhpur.

Adityanath, who hails from the Garhwal district of Uttarakhand, has a graduate degree in science from Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University. He has listed his hobbies as "gardening, religious discourses, bhajans and touring religious spots" on his Lok Sabha page. His special interests are: "yoga and spirituality, campaigning for cow protection and promotion, Rashtra Raksha Abhiyan for social and national security."

Adityanath was one of the star campaigners for the BJP during the 2017 Assembly polls, raising divisive issues such as "Ghar Wapsi," "Love Jihad" and an alleged Hindu exodus from a Muslim majority town in western UP. He frequently made remarks to polarize Hindus against Muslims despite the Election Commission strictures and the Supreme Court directive against evoking religion while campaigning.

At a rally in Balrampur, he said, "If SP wins then there will be Karbala and Kabristan." At a rally in Sahibabad, he compared the alleged exodus of Hindus from Kairana to Kashmir in 1990. "If this country's majority, Hindus, are tortured, is it not an issue? But if a thorn pricks th e foot of someone from the minority community, it becomes an issue. This politics is strange," he said. At a rally in Bulandshahr, Adityanath praised US President Donald Trump forbanning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. "Similar action is needed to contain terror activities in this country," he said.

Adityanath is a staunch advocate of building the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. On the Dadri lynching, Adityanath said that Mohammed Akhlaq's family should be prosecuted for allegedly eating cow meat and that compensation to his family should be taken back.

The chief minister designate UP has several criminal cases pending against him including for rioting, attempt to murder, carrying deadly weapons, unlawful assembly and criminal intimidation. In 2007, he was arrested for trying to a condolence meeting of a man allegedly killed by a member of a minority community when communal tensions were boiling in Gorakhpur.

Adityanath has also railed against conversion and vowed reconversion back to Hinduism through the "Ghar Wapsi" drive. "Mother Teresa was part of the conspiracy to Christianize India. Hindus were converted in the name of doing service and then converted," he said, last year.

In 2015, when questions were raised about Yoga being imposed on minorities, Adiyanath said that those who want to avoid Yoga can "leave Hindustan." "Those who see communalism in doing Surya Namaskar, I appeal to them to go jump in the sea," he said.

Last year, Adityanath also compared Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Sayeed for voicing his concerns about intolerance. "Shah Rukh Khan should remember that if a huge mass in society would boycott his films, he will also have to wander on streets like a normal Muslim....I am saying these people are speaking in a terrorist language. I think there is no difference between the language of Shah Rukh Khan and Hafiz Saeed," he said.

Adityanath has founded a group called the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a right-wing group based in Gorakhpur, which is dedicated to spreading the message of Hindu supremacy. The group, which exerts considerable influence in eastern UP, was allegedly involved in the riots of Mau and Gorakhpur in 2005 and 2007 respectively. In 2015, the HYV offered all help "including guns" to the Hindus of Dadri's Bisada village where Akhlaq was lynched.

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