New Delhi: Awanish Kumar Awasthi, the IAS officer appointed as the Uttar Pradesh government’s representative on the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust (Ram temple trust) Wednesday was at the forefront of the state’s crackdown on anti-CAA protesters two months ago.
The Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in UP announced Awasthi’s name Wednesday, stating that he and Ayodhya district magistrate Anuj Kumar Jha will be members of the Ram temple trust announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 5 February. The Ayodhya DM is an ex-officio appointee to the trust, but Awasthi has been handpicked by the UP government.
The Union home ministry had stated in its notification that all the members of the trust, including IAS officers, will have to be “practicing Hindus”.
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Yogi’s ‘right-hand man’
Awasthi is a 1987-batch officer of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, is known in administrative circles as Yogi Adityanath’s “right-hand man”.
An officer from UP who did not want to be identified told ThePrint that Awasthi was DM of Gorakhpur in 2002-03, early on in Adityanath’s career as Lok Sabha MP. It was then that the politician and religious leader grew fond of the officer.
“Now, he is practically the man behind key decisions that the CM makes,” the officer said. “He is not very controversial, but he is very much the ‘practicing Hindu’ the government was looking for.”
In 2017, when Adityanath took charge as UP CM after the BJP’s massive electoral victory, Awasthi, who was then serving as a joint secretary in the Union social justice ministry, was called back to the state ahead of time.
Since then, Awasthi has been given charge of key portfolios in the Yogi administration, like home, information and tourism. In all these departments, he serves as the additional chief secretary.
Awasthi is married to popular folk singer Malini Awasthi.
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Role in anti-CAA protests
Awasthi played a key role in the Uttar Pradesh government’s crackdown on the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in December last year.
As additional chief secretary of the home department, it was Awasthi who had asked all telecom operators and internet service providers to temporarily suspend SMS and mobile internet services in December.
The notification issued by Awasthi said the suspension was necessary to prevent the “possible misuse” of SMS, WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook to “disturb peace and tranquillity of the city and create further law and order situation, and in order that normalcy may return”.
The protests turned most violent in UP, with over 20 people losing their lives.
Awasthi was also one of the top officials who suggested that the UP government could ban the Popular Front of India (PFI), a radical Kerala-based Islamist organisation.
After the UP government arrested PFI’s Uttar Pradesh head, Wasim, along with 16 workers for allegedly instigating violence in the state, Awasthi, without saying that there would be a ban, had said: “With the arrest of members of this organisation in Meerut, the situation is clear. At present, the Uttar Pradesh Police intelligence and the state government are keeping a close watch on all the suspicious activities of this organisation.”
Kumbh Mela controversy
In 2018, Awasthi had announced that after the National Anthem is played in movie theatres, the logo of the Kumbh Mela, which contains temples, seers, a kalash (earthen pot) and a swastika, will be shown by cinema halls. This would make people grasp the importance of the religious festival, he had said. But the announcement had caused controversy.
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