On the morning of 29 April, Sunil Singh tried to file his nomination for the upcoming Lok Sabha election to the Gorakhpur constituency in Uttar Pradesh. He was contesting as a candidate of the Hindusthan Nirman Dal, which was launched in February this year by Pravin Togadia, the former Hindu Vishwa Parishad leader. The next day, K Vijayendra Pandian, the district magistrate and returning officer of Gorakhpur, ordered the cancellation of Singh’s nomination on technical grounds. Singh said this was done at the behest of Adityanath, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Singh was formerly one of Adityanath’s most trusted lieutenants and had served as the state president of the Hindu Yuva Vahini—a Hindu youth militia that Adityanath had founded in 2002. He worked with Adityanath from 1988 till 2017, when they had a falling out after Adityanath refused to give BJP tickets to HYV members for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections held that year. “The chief minister was scared that I would cut into their Hindu vote bank and that’s why he got my nomination cancelled through the returning officer,” he told me.
Togadia and Singh both used to be allies of the Sangh Parivar, but have been at odds with its leaders for a couple of years. Togadia has accused the prime minister Narendra Modi of not working towards the cause of Hindutva and “appeasing” the Muslim community, and Singh agreed to become an approver in a criminal case against Adityanath. Had Singh been allowed to contest the elections, he would have had to fight Ram Bual Nishad, the candidate fielded by the coalition of opposition parties in the state, comprising the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal and Ravi Kishan Shukla, a popular Bhojpuri actor and singer, from the BJP. Singh believed that his nomination was rejected because Adityanath felt “threatened” by him as “I know all the tricks that helped him get elected and I can use those same tricks against him.”
Adityanath’s rise has been concomitant with that of the HYV, according to Singh. In 1998, Adityanath won the Lok Sabha election from Gorakhpur on a BJP ticket with a winning margin of more than twenty thousand votes. But in the 1999 Lok Sabha election, the margin fell to seven thousand votes, approximately. Singh said that after the election, Adityanath wanted a force independent of the Sangh Parivar because he felt “their cadre did not fully support him.”
He told me that creating the HYV helped Adityanath grow clout in the constituency. “In 1999, Yogi realised politics is not enough and that he needed polarisation too.” Singh said that Adityanath started speaking about Hindutva and vikas—development—and how “one is incomplete without the other.” Adityanath’s margin of victory increased with every subsequent election in Gorakhpur. Even when the BJP lost the general elections in 2004 and 2009, Adityanath won the constituency with 1.4 lakh and 2.2 lakh votes, respectively. When the party came to power in 2014, his winning margin exceeded three lakh votes.