Maths grad turned priest and MP

 India's ruling BJP leader Yogi Adityanath takes the oath as the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh during a swearing-in ceremony in Lucknow.
India's ruling BJP leader Yogi Adityanath takes the oath as the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh during a swearing-in ceremony in Lucknow.PHOTO: REUTERS

The new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, 44-year-old Yogi Adityanath, is known for his provocative rhetoric against minorities in India.

He has spoken of installing Hindu idols in mosques, accused Mother Teresa of a "conspiracy" to spread Christianity through charitable work, and urged Hindus to practise yoga while asking those who don't to get out of the country.

Always clad in saffron robes and sporting a shaven head, Mr Adityanath is the chief priest of the Gorakhnath Mutt temple in Gorakhpur.

He founded the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a right-wing youth organisation that is active in eastern Uttar Pradesh, and has been accused of inciting violence.

Nevertheless, his brand of right-wing politics has its share of supporters.

Though he has had run-ins with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership over his choice of candidates in elections, he remains relevant in the ruling party due to the massive support he enjoys in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Born Ajay Singh Bisht on June 5, 1972, he changed his name to Yogi Adityanath after becoming a monk.

The mathematics graduate from the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University renounced his family at age 21 to become a disciple of Mahant Avaidyanath, the head priest of Gorakhnath Mutt.

He was first elected to the lower house of Parliament in 1998 when he was 26. His constituents in Gorakhpur, a riverside town, have since re-elected him as their MP four more times.

"He became a sanyasi (monk) and he is a five-time member of Parliament. It's not easy to win such a large mandate," said Federal Minister Venkaiah Naidu.

"He is now the unopposed leader of the state in BJP."

As a politician, Mr Adityanath was the BJP's mascot, often hitting the headlines for his controversial statements.

In 2005, he declared that he would not stop until he had turned Uttar Pradesh and India into Hindu states.

He was also at the forefront of the "Love Jihad" campaign launched by right-wing groups against Hindu women eloping with Muslim men.

On his MP webpage, he lists yoga and protecting the cow, which Hindus regard as sacred, as among his special interests. He also runs two dozen educational institutes.

Nirmala Ganapathy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'Maths grad turned priest and MP'. Print Edition | Subscribe