Priest of Violence

Adityanath’s reign of terror

31 December, 2021

PARVEZ PARVAZ, a journalist and social activist, was passing by the Gorakhpur railway station when he noticed a big gathering near the statue of Maharana Pratap. It was the evening of 27 January 2007, and dusk had just fallen. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gorakhpur MP, Adityanath, dressed in saffron robes, was delivering an incendiary speech to rousing cheers. Parvaz was aware of tensions pervading the city because of a clash during a recent Muharram procession, in which a Hindu boy was injured and later died. “Seeing the charged atmosphere, I safely ensconced myself within the crowd,” he told me. The crowd was made up primarily of members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a youth militia Adityanath had founded five years earlier. Inconspicuous within the large gathering, Parvaz began to record the speech with a handheld camera he always carried with him.

Ek Hindu ke khoon ke badle aane wale samay mein hum prashashan se FIR darj nahin karwaenge,” Adityanath declared. “Balki kam se kam das aise logon ki hatya usse karwaenge”—In the future, if a Hindu’s blood is shed, we will not get the administration to lodge an FIR; instead, we will ensure he kills at least ten in return. The crowd erupted in cheers.

As soon as Adityanath finished his speech, Parvaz quietly returned home, but the city began to detonate. “A hotel just in front of the venue of the meeting was looted and vandalised even before Adityanath could finish his speech,” Sunil Singh told me. At the time, Singh was one of Adityanath’s most trusted lieutenants, serving as the HYV’s state president. He is one of the accused in the case. Singh had addressed the crowd just before Adityanath spoke. “The hotel was owned by a local Muslim,” he told me. “From there, the rioting spread to other parts of Gorakhpur.” At least two persons were killed and property worth crores of rupees was burnt.

The next day, despite injunctions from the district magistrate, Adityanath and his supporters marched towards Gorakhpur’s troubled areas. He was arrested along with over a dozen other HYV leaders. The arrest was timed such that the militia could not carry out its threat of burning down tazia towers—which Muslims carry on their shoulders as part of Muharram processions—on 29 January.