A Book on Adityanath - More a Politician Than a Sant
Nearly 40 years ago, I attended a seminar in Geneva where one of the participants was the renowned journalist David Brewer. He contribution was on the duties and responsibilities of a journalist – to inform the public debate whereby people can make an informed choice.In contrast the role of politicians is to represent the interest of their constituents.Therefore he had argued that it is imperative for the journalist to ensure that the politician does his/her job and if that calls for a perpetual adversarial relationship, so be it.
Nowadays, any second rate hack can make journalist pretenses. There are no universally accepted qualifications for a legitimate journalist and anyone who is in a position to write a column irrespective of the standards does claim to be a journalist . David Brewer had gone on to describe different types of journalists:
a. Activist journalist: Deeply committed to a cause and will fight those who oppose that cause and support those who are in favor.
b. Buddy journalist: Believes in being chummy with the politicians so much so that the news gets obscured.
c. Possession journalist: Completely possessed by a politician to the extent that he/she becomes a cheerleader.
d. Comfortable journalist: Will scratch your back as long as you scratch his variety.
e. Hunter journalist: Tracks politicians down relentlessly. Follow any trail. This journalist never gives up until they have their prey. They are driven and won’t believe the politician, even when the politician is telling the truth. The hunter journalist can often lack perspective and objectivity. Their contribution to enhancing the understanding of the audience is questionable.
f. Party member journalist: Will spend a lot of time rubbishing the political opinions of those with whom they disagree.
g. True journalist: As Brewer’s handout for the lecture says, “Free from party ties, has integrity and can’t be bought, is passionate about informing the public debate, seeks the truth, reports objectively and fairly, and includes multiple perspectives of even those they dislike. Is prepared to investigate all they hold dear. Sees nobody as being beyond reproach and is realistic about human nature. The true journalist seeks the truth.
Ever since Yogi Adityanath's ascent to the Chief Ministerial position in Uttar Pradesh , there have been a number of biographies of the man that have found their way into the market. I must confess that until Pradhan and Chandra's biography appeared on the stands a few days ago, I had been able to read only one viz the one by Shantanu Gupta (The Monk Who Became The Chief Minister). And I must admit I was deeply disappointed as it was an unapologetic hagiography.
The entire exercise was to project his subject as a repository of everything that is noble and represents rectitude of the highest order. One gets no insight at all as to how his subjects fits into the public role that he is meant to be playing and what are the seminal influences that have guided him thus far; Gupta was singularly unconcerned about the very public disquiet that was expressed on his elevation clearly because he does not give any legitimacy to to it.
I am therefore tempted to state that if Shantanu Gupta is going to be seen as a journalist, he would fall into the category of a "possession journalist."
Having perused the opinions of 'possession journalists'. I believe I was not alone in desiring another time on the same subject by preferably a 'true journalist.' And I can state with conviction that this volume by Sharat Pradhan and Atul Chandra does appear to be a very legitimate step in this direction.
Both the authors are senior journalists based in Uttar Pradesh and have been known to take on different successive governments whenever there has been a deviation from the democratic standards or an attempt to evade the responsibility for the consequence of their own actions. They seem to have done a commendable job.
I must also admit to my own personal interest. I am a native of the mofussil town that Adityanath comes from and am reasonably familiar with the ambience of the temple where the current Chief Minister has been residing for most of his adult life. I am also acquainted with many of the individuals who have been referred to in the book.
The book is definitely not a counter to the hagiographies that I have alluded to . It does make a point that Adityanath certainly has some charisma which has earned him a personal following which is quite removed from the following he already enjoyed when he joined the Gorakhnath Temple as a young monk.
It also goes on to state that many of the popular impressions that are floating about the man eg. his predecessor Avaidhyanath being his maternal uncle, does not have a basis in reality. The authors have traveled and interviewed many of Adityanath's kin in Uttarakhand and thrown light on his upbringing as well as the major influences during his formative years.
The authors also do make a point that despite his image of being rabidly anti Muslim and to some extent anti-Christian , his 'durbars' do have a fair representatives of those religions. Additionally they also make a point that he is personally untainted by any fiscal scandal.
Having stated that, they do not in any way pull their punches in describing several unfortunate events that are almost a direct consequence of faulty judgment or simple refusal to take a holistic view normally expected in a democratic framework because of his stubborn adherence to prejudicial positions.
Those of my vintage would easily recall at least half a dozen occasions when he took cudgels against the Bharatiya Janata Party itself and ensured the defeat of their candidates when they did not meet with his approval. I also seem to recall that at least on one occasion he had publicly claimed that he had never formally joined the BJP .It certainly is something we would have liked to have been advised on.
A balanced biography on the man was not only desirable but necessary not just because he is the Chief Executive of the most populous state in India but also because of his role as a head of a religious sect ; there are inherent contradictions between a person who is driven by religious convictions and a person whose commitment to democratic dictates takes precedence over every other priority.
I shall not delve into history but I am of the vintage to remember what happened to one of my very favorite countries viz Cyprus . When the country acquired independence from the British , the head of the Greek Orthodox Church viz Archbishop Makarios was elected the Head of the State which was hardly surprising ; about 80 percent of the population of the country was of Greek extraction while the remainder had Turkish origins. Makarios certainly did not enjoy the confidence of the Turkish Cypriots and apparently made no effort to. He was quite content that the demographic advantage he enjoyed would ensure his position. Instead Turkey intervened on behalf of their Turkish ethnic kin and the country as well as the capital city.Nicosia remained divided after more than 40 years of Turkish intervention.
The United Nations has not accorded legitimacy to Northern Cyprus that stands occupied but the fact does remain that the Greek-Turkish rivalry goes back several centuries and the system the country adopted post independence was bound to lead to a disaster which did happen.
Religious practices by their very definition very often call for an abandonment of democratic principles. I have myself penned a few articles on the contradiction between religion and democracy. And it stands to reason. After all, when most of us work out our personal code of conduct , which in a believer is through a religious prism, we are mostly unconcerned whether they would be endorsed by the majority of the society .
For that reason alone, there shall always be legitimate questions on the democratic commitment of a person whose proclaimed primary identity is religious . There have been exceptions of course , but they remain just exceptions. In the past 100 hundred years , mostly when a proclaimed cleric has assumed power , there have generally been erosion of democratic structures. For that very reason, it is important to understand the man who has been handed such an onerous responsibility.
The authors have done a very commendable job in explaining the political process of his elevation where political considerations took precedence over all other considerations. It was essentially a nomination by the party hierarchy as Adityantah was not a member of the Legislative Assembly.
However when the party had announced its decision, nearly everybody fell in line; this of course does not say much for inner party democracy but even the most amateur politics watcher in India would know that BJP is not the only political formation that lacks this democratic virtue. The preceding government had lost a great deal of credibility and are of course in no position to complain on this count.
The authors have very rightly devoted considerable pages to apprise the readers of the history and nature of the Gorakhnath Peeth and its fundamental tenets as enunciated by Guru Gorakhnath. Guru Gorakhnath was one of the foremost religious preachers in Indian history and his writings, which are freely available today, make it very clear that he was completely opposed to the caste system;in fact his precepts are indistinguishable from those of Rumi, Kabeer and Guru Nanak. The authors then again present a largely unknown but important facet that many of the Gorakhnath followers have historically been from the Muslim community ;they interviewed a number of them who still are.
This again is in stark contradiction to many of the utterances of the present Chief Minister in which he has stated position that even committed BJP supporters have found difficult to defend in entirety because prima facie they appear to be blatantly anti Muslim. They have reduced somewhat since he took up this constitutional position but as the authors state that concerns expressed by many from the other religions -including those from ex Armyman Colonel Fasih whose forbears were staunchly nationalistic are understandable .
The authors then go on to explain that the deviation from the fundamental teachings of Guru Gorakhnath had already started in Mahant Digvijaynath's time when he had joined the saffron brigade. This continued with his successor Mahant Avaidhyanath who followed his predecessor to the Parliament and played a very active part in Hindu politics. Adityanath has built up on the base he had inherited.
The authors also elaborate on the problems that have arisen during Adityanath's stewardship of the state and how some very unsavory incidents have raised strong concerns among even those who were staunchly opposed to the previous government. Like all the previous occupants of this office , Adityanath does seem to have a lot of unsavory characters around him who have attempted and many a time succeeded in diverting the government from the democratic principles and this is generating a great deal of anxiety.
And this coterie does not exclusively come from the political class -some civil servants have also been caught up in positions that have eroded some confidence in the police apparatus and civil administration.
The conduct of the ADG Police Prashant Kumar and the District Magistrate was, to put it mildly, deeply extraordinary and unsettling. And when a video went viral of the Senior Superintendent of Police Vipin Tada attempting to coerce a widow of a young man brutally murdered just a few hours earlier not to lodge a complaint made many literally puke. As of now, this errant SSP has not been acted against and many believe that this is because he is the son in law of a very prominent BJP leader and MP plus the brother in law of a very voluble BJP spokeswoman.
The text is lucid and prose is easy to comprehend. There are of course a few minor factual errors that have crept in but the narration does not hinge on any of those. The reader is left with a much better understanding of the subject and the religious order that he has been appointed to head. And that I believe was the main purpose of the exercise. Adityanath emerges here as a committed full time politician rather than a religious preacher of consequence.
There is a discussion on whether he would be catapulted to the prime ministerial position post Modi but that I believe is premature. I have in my very long life seen the responsibilities of office mellow down dozens and perhaps that may happen to him as well.
Dr Ashok Jahnavi Prasad is a retired medical Professor.