The new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, is someone who has given an entirely new dimension to the word ‘yogi.’ People like me belong to a period which saw yogis as ascetics, people who dwelt in a world of spiritual contemplation, who established a profound relationship with the entire universe based on understanding and compassion. But I realise that the universe has undergone a sea change.
We have a lot of yogis, babas, sadhus, and what not, along with their female counterparts who have redefined the nomenclatures. Take our latest hero, Yogi Adityanath. He has been elevated to the highest post in the state though a traditional yogi would not have touched such a position with a barge pole. His supporters in the state shouted slogans such as: “If you want to say in India, you have to chant ‘Yogi, Yogi. Those who refuse to say it will not stay in India.” So we have an entirely new yogi who is dividing the nation into two clearly disjoint groups: pro-Yogi and outcasts.
“If they kill one Hindu, we will kill hundreds of them,” Yogi Adityanath declared in one of his many incendiary speeches. One of the prime accused in the 2007 Gorakhpur riots, the yogi faces many criminal charges including defiling a place of worship, attempt to murder, arson, rioting and criminal intimidation. If this man can call himself a yogi, then you and I can consider ourselves gods.
Words, however, acquire the meanings we give them. A sizeable population of UP has given the word ‘yogi’ a new meaning. Yogi Adityanath is a leader who can decimate perceived enemies with the ease of digging up a barren land with a bulldozer. One of his chelas urged a crowd to dig up the dead bodies of women belonging to a particular community (the dominant perceived enemy in UP) and rape them. The yogi sat on the stage listening to that speech with the indifference that only yogis who have acquired the highest degree of enlightenment can.
But callous indifference is not the detachment that Lord Krishna wanted Arjuna to learn though we are soon going to have that advice taught to our children as the Gita is going to be prescribed as a compulsory textbook in schools.
Heroes do not make history, as historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto pointed out in his classical book Civilizations. History makes heroes. India stands today at a crucial juncture of its history. There is not a single leader with a great vision for the country. Left to themselves, people made their own idols out of the vacuum. Out of sheer chaos.
The easiest solution for any problem is to blame someone. Leaders like Yogi Adityanath did just that. Many other leaders of his party who had already done just that went on to occupy eminent positions in the country. Secondly, the rabble love violence. Violence is the most facile means of exorcising the inner demons. Every frustrated man would love to kick at least his dog if not his wife in order to feel more at ease with himself. The frustrated rabble love to assault and rape, rape even the dead-and-buried bodies. When the looting, arson and rapes are carried out like a religious ritual with a yogi leading the purification ceremony, the devotees can sit back and think that the enemies are vanquished and that they can begin anew now. Tragically, no such new beginnings went far at any time, in any place, in history.
Far-reaching vision belonged to yogis and other great ascetics as well as philosophers. Not to conquerors. Conquerors inevitably suffer from myopia. They have all been marauders of one type or the other. India at present perceives itself as a conqueror. Conqueror with a difference. The real difference lies in the new meanings that old words have acquired.