Yogi Adityanath, head priest-apparent of Gorakhpur's powerful Gorakhnath temple, has been Bharatiya Janata Party MP from the area constituency since 1998. The 39-year- old Garhwal University graduate has emerged as an influential politician and controversial Hindutva proponent in eastern Uttar Pradesh, even challenging his own party leadership. His Hindu Yuva Vahini, an outfit with a record of communal violence, has brought him notoriety and criminal cases in its wake, and a short stint in jail, forcing him in recent years to re-invent himself: he now promotes a more moderate Hindutva, provides succour to poor Muslims and restrains himself from hitting the streets. He recently spoke to Smita Gupta in his Gorakhpur office on the BJP's decline in UP. Excerpts:
Kalyan Singh's exit from the BJP depleted its votes, as his OBC base deserted the party. Is the BJP trying to recreate the forward-backward combination in these elections?
We once had the entire Hindu society's support. (Former Prime Minister) V.P. Singh's attempt to divide society on caste lines gave a fillip to nationalistic sentiment and we did well in 1991. In 1993, the Samajwadi Party–Bahujan Samaj Party contested elections together. Our seats decreased. In 1996 that coalition broke and the BJP extended support to BSP supremo Mayawati, and paid a heavy price for that historic decision — some Dalit communities which were with us moved to Ms. Mayawati. In 1997, when the BSP withdrew support to the Kalyan Singh government, the BJP inducted criminal elements to save the government, tarnishing its image. Then in 1999, if Mr. Kalyan Singh had not been pushed out, we would have done better in 2002. It's been a steady decline in U.P. —176 seats in 1996, 88 in 2002, 51 in 2007.
By inducting Baburam Kushwaha [the ex-BSP family welfare minister expelled on corruption charges] and moving [former Madhya Pradesh chief minister] Uma Bharati to U.P., will the BJP win back the OBC vote it lost with Kalyan Singh's exit?
You can't compare the two. Baburam Kushwaha's induction damaged us. It's not a question of an individual, but of principles. There has been a fall in standards in the BJP. If you don't abide by your principles, people lose faith in you. Uma, on the other hand, is an important leader, who played a significant role in nationalistic awakening. But she's been brought in too late. Six months ago, our graph was rising, but we failed in our campaign to present ourselves as the alternate to the BSP, and Mulayam Singh Yadav rapidly occupied that space.
In the last elections, as well in this one, you have had differences with the BJP leadership on getting tickets for your candidates?
I don't have any candidates: on the contrary, our State president Surya Pratap Shahi has “fielded” candidates against official BJP candidates. In 2007, I was asked for a list, which was leaked to the press. That was shameful. This time I have stayed away from recommending candidates; I have only said I won't campaign for any corrupt or criminal candidates. Mr. Shahi as BJP State president can campaign for his candidates — Chandrashekhar Pande, Shambhu Chowdhury and Pawan Kedia — all contesting on other party symbols.
Is there a connection between the RSS and the Anna Hazare movement, as Congress leader Digvijay Singh has alleged?
Any agitation that focuses on corruption is good; it creates awareness in society. If it had been linked to a political alternative, it would have yielded better results. The BJP could have taken advantage of it, and emerged as the alternative to the BSP – instead it inducted Baburam Kushwaha. No one takes Digvijay Singh seriously, but if the RSS and Anna Hazare got together, it would be good.