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The Monk Who Became Chief Minister: The Definitive Biography of Yogi Adityanath- Review

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Title: The Monk Who Became Chief Minister: The Definitive Biography of Yogi Adityanath

Author: Shantanu Gupta

Publisher: Bloomsbury 2017


Pages 127 Rs.299

The most impressive part of this “definitive biography” is that it is contained in about a page in Section 3 of the book, supported by around twelve pages of Section 4 which includes his birth, schooling, college et seq.

And if the title is intended to recall the Robin Sharma bestseller (The Monk who sold his Ferrari, published in 2003) the similarity ends right there. Sharma’s work was a brilliant attempt at fusing Eastern (read Indian) wisdom of the ages with Western perceptions of “success”; Shantanu Gupta’s work is a heavily hagiographic attempt at describing that wisdom embodied in a single person who was apparently “destined” to enter one of the worst spheres of human communal living. A religious-politician is an oxymoron anywhere and Gupta, understandably, is hard put to the task of painting a glorious picture of this quaint situation. It becomes the more difficult when we find that Bernard Shaw’s assertion about politics being the last refuge of the scoundrel is now re-written by leaders the world over as the FIRST refuge of the scoundrel. Can Yogi Adityanath prove Shaw wrong for once? There are around a billion people out there who nurse this hope, out of which 220 million belong to the Yogi’s own flock.

Uttar Pradesh, though not unique in such matters, faces issues in every sphere of life. Communal harmony, industrial development, employment opportunities, poverty, illiteracy, corruption and criminal activities gone beyond control coupled with decades of family/clan/caste-based governments, the State will take several lifetimes of cleansing… or it could take one absolutely ‘clean’ leader with obstinate determination. The humongous issues plaguing UP are easily comparable with the labors of Hercules. Is Yogi Adityanath that kind of leader?

Gupta seems to think so. But hasn’t he jumped the gun, perhaps?  19th March 2017 to the present day is but a blink in the span of time required for the cleansing of UP. And the biography has come out when all the good intentions are still at the stage of good intentions. Yogi Adityanath should have been given some time to show his achievements – or maybe Gupta wanted to be the first-in-line?

The Foreword is written by Dr. David Frawley, founder-director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, New Mexico – who is also known as Vamdeva Shastri. One wonders if, in the larger sense of the world-encompassing Vasudeva-Kutumbakam, Frawley would be a case of ‘Ghar Wapsi’ – and as a “Shastri” (and a Padma Bhushan, no less), would he be then a Brahmin? Be that as it may, Frawley starts the Foreword with a sentence that reminds the reader of the six blind men of “Indostan” who were also “to learning much inclined”: Yoga, he says, is the defining term for India. While we may agree with him when he says that Adityanath “has extensive government experience to run such a large state as UP”, one is wonderstruck by his observation that opposition to the new CM “extends to a few western publications that continue negative colonial narratives” … and then he goes on to say that Adityanath “may surprise his critics, uplifting the state …” Not only the critics, Dr. Frawley-alias-Shastri, everyone in the subcontinent is waiting, hoping for that miraculous surprise, after allowing the man to function so that those promises of surprises become a reality. But trigger-happy writers and publishers need to raise those hopes and expectations, prematurely.

Gupta, in his preface, says that the biography has “unseen pictures, unheard stories, and first-time interviews”. Giving him his due, it appears that Gupta has travelled into the interior of Uttarakhand to Masalgaon the birth-place of Ajay Bisht, to meet his parents and other people he grew up with. At work as the CM, the Yogi has a punishing routine for himself in his waking hours – and, certainly, the State needs that kind of a dedicated, hard-working leader. However, expecting the same from family-men (and women) would raise questions of sustainability. The Janata Darbars are certainly a very positive measure but Gupta’s strenuous efforts to justify Ghar Wapsi, Anti-Romeo Squads and Hindu Yuva Vahini are intellectually rib-tickling; his veritable treatise on the environmental pollution said to be caused by illegal slaughter houses is amusing. Gupta even has a few Muslim gentlemen sing praises of the Yogi CM.

The biography has a lot of information about the Gorakhnath Mutt and Nath Panth, the Mahant tradition of the Mutt, the role of the Mutt in the Ayodhya Mandir Andolan, and the history of Gorakhpur. What is painfully missing in this definitive biography is information about the central character and important events are mentioned almost en passant. Particularly, the selection of Ajay Bisht as the successor to Mahant Avaidyanath is so short (in time as much as printed space) it calls to mind the manner in which Conway came to be head of the Himalayan retreat in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, “Lost Horizon”. The same summary finality of selection by the Master, the same reluctant acceptance by the student: this level of self-actualization certainly deserved more attention.

The inevitable Zen question comes to mind: when Ajay Bisht was ready his guru appeared. UP is ready, has the Master appeared? Four-and-a-half months are inadequate to decide.