Gorakhpur: On the Hindutva high table, saffron has gone missing.
The Hindu Yuva Vahini’s saffron flags would be omnipresent in a usual Gorakhpur election. Ironically, as the Maharajji of Gorakhpur is the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, the Hindu Yuva Vahini has disappeared from the streets.
Founded in 2002, the Vahini was a militia force that revelled in taking the law into its own hands, sparking communal tension here and besting up government officials there, accused of fomenting riots and setting houses on fire.
Today, it has quietly disappeared. It still, however, exists on paper.
Pramod Mall, the Vahini’s Uttar Pradesh state general secretary, explains what has changed. “Earlier we had governments busy in appeasing minorities, subjugating Hindus, enjoying corruption. We had to struggle for justice,” he says. “But now we have such a great government it’s for all to see. The Hindu Yuva Vahini now gets its work done silently through democratic means because the government listens to us.”
Neutralising the parallel force
This transition from violent agitations to an ‘appreciation’ of democracy hasn’t been smooth, though.
As Yogi Adityanath became chief minister in March 2017, the Hindu Yuva Vahini initially tried to expand all over the state. Its members were found allegedly beating up a Muslim man for having consensual sex with his (Muslim) girlfriend in April 2017; lynching a Muslim man in June 2017 and intimidating a government official.
After all, the Vahini founder was now the chief minister, and its members wanted to enjoy the essence of power in Uttar Pradesh: The freedom to boss over the police station. For instance, a man detained for questioning in July 2018 was freed after the Vahini protested outside the police station.
This was seen as a problem by both the BJP and the RSS. For one, a lumpen force becoming a law into itself would hurt the BJP government’s image. This was true not just for the Vahini but also for the BJP and RSS workers who needed to be reined in. For the BJP-RSS-Vahini cadre, it was a shock when the Yogi government had a BJP office-bearer in Gorakhpur arrested in October 2017 for taking Rs 50,000 to get someone released from jail.
Second, the BJP and RSS were both wary of Yogi using the Hindu Yuva Vahini to become a political force independent of them in the state. That is exactly how he managed to blackmail the BJP into being appointed chief minister, many believe, including his former aide Sunil Singh.
Yogi Sewaks no more
It appears to have been a fair bargain. Yogi got the CM’s chair and neutralised the Hindu Yuva Vahini in return. Its membership was frozen, its members asked to remove “Yogi sewak” from their motorbikes, its flags removed and replaced with those of the BJP.
“Yogi used the Hindu Yuva Vahini as a ladder to climb to the top and now he has kicked it aside,” says Singh.
He was Yogi’s closest aide, literally his shadow, for 22 years. But Yogi couldn’t get him a BJP ticket in the 2017 assembly election and he quit. He must regret having rebelled at the wrong time. If only he had foreseen that Yogi would become chief minister.
He proudly talks of all the crimes he has committed to fly the Hindu Yuva Vahini flag high over the skies of Uttar Pradesh. He says he has 42 cases against him as part of his work with the Vahini. After he rebelled against his guru, the Yogi Adityanath government has had another seven cases filed against him. He recently got out of jail after spending six months under the draconian National Security Act (NSA).
He has met and pled with Yogi several times to be forgiven and taken back but Yogi doesn’t need him anymore. He publicly described him as a dustbin. Yogi doesn’t need Singh anymore, for he doesn’t need the Hindu Yuva Vahini anymore. He has a full state administration to himself.
At the Gorakhnath temple, where Yogi Adityanath is the head priest, there is a Karyalaya, an office. Earlier this used to be the office of Yogi the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha MP but now it is the “camp office” of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. It is run by Dwarika Tiwari, who’s taking a nap on a Sunday afternoon, as diligent local TV reporters wait to interview him.
An official says Hindu Yuva Vahini members are not allowed to directly plead their case with government officials. They must come to this camp office and express their concerns. As for Singh, he was fired because he was using the organisation’s name to make money, the official says.
Singh has started a new outfit, Hindu Yuva Vahini Bharat, and has taken away some of the Vahini cadres. Others have just given up their dreams to broker peace between people and police. They must now look for other means to gather local power and make cash.
The neutralisation of the Hindu Yuva Vahini was one of the reasons why the BJP lost the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypoll in 2018. “The candidate then was not able to take along the Vahini workers with him,” says the official at the chief minister’s camp office.
‘Abhi Modi ka socho’
Nothing has changed since then. The Vahini remains conspicuous by its absence. Ravi Kishan, the Bhojpuri filmstar who is the BJP candidate from Gorakhpur, is neither from the Gorakhpur Math nor from Gorakhpur district. There’s fear that the large number of Nishad voters could vote for the gatbandhan’s Nishad candidate.
At Ravi Kishan’s election office, a BJP worker says they’re going around telling people to forget caste and local issues in the parliamentary election. “Us sab ke baarey mein Vidhan Sabha chunav mein soch lena. Abhi Modiji ka socho. (Think of those things in the 2022 state assembly elections. For now, think of Modi.)”
Ravi Kishan should be able to sail through but thanks more to Modi than Yogi, yet the margin of victory may not be much to write home about. If a Bhojpuri filmstar comes to Gorakhpur and wins with a handsome margin after the Hindu Yuva Vahini has been practically dismantled, what will remain of the slogan, “Gorakhpur mein rehna ho ga, tou Yogi Yogi kehna ho ga (Only those who chant Yogi’s name can live in Gorakhpur.)”