Former aide hits out at Adityanath; claims Lok Sabha nomination was cancelled at CM's behest

Courtesy Kamlesh Kashyap
18 May, 2019

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.

The HYV provided the muscle Adityanath needed to assert a strident Hindutva and was instrumental in polarising eastern Uttar Pradesh. As the organisation’s state president, Singh contributed to this task. In January 2007, Adityanath delivered an incendiary speech, following which riots broke out in the city. Subsequently, Adityanath and Singh were arrested, along with over a dozen members of the HYV, and later released. Last year, the state government refused to sanction the prosecution of its chief minister. A case challenging the state government’s refusal to provide sanction is pending in the Supreme Court.

Singh said that while the HYV helped the chief minister gain political dividends, he did not allow its members to fulfil their electoral ambitions. For the 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, a few members of the HYV, including Singh, asked Adityanath if they could contest on BJP tickets. “He refused. This was when we rebelled and left,” Singh said. He added that the HYV was put in cold storage after Adityanath was appointed the chief minister.

Over the next year, the conflict between Singh and Adityanath intensified. “Maharaj is scared of me and has been using the administration against me since last year,” Singh said. In May, he formed the Hindu Yuva Vahini (Bharat) with the rebels of Adityanath’s HYV. Two months later, Singh and some HYV rebels were arrested under various charges for their involvement in a minor skirmish. Singh was charged with the National Security Act and claimed that he was tortured in jail. In September 2018, while still in jail, Singh admitted to The Caravan that the 2007 Gorakhpur riots took place after Adityanath’s provocative speech.

Singh claimed that him contesting from Gorakhpur would have hurt the “BJP’s already slim chances of winning the election.” When he first tried to submit his nomination papers to Pandian, the district magistrate and returning officer of Gorakhpur, he pointed out that Singh had not filled some of the columns. Sanjeev Singh, Sunil’s brother and lawyer, said that Pandian asked them to resubmit the papers within four hours. According to Sanjeev, the next day, Pandian said that Singh had not signed a particular spot on the documents that he was supposed to and hence, his nomination was being rejected.

Pandian told me, “The law is clear, none of the columns can be left blank.” When I told him that Singh had alleged that his nomination was rejected because of political pressure, he replied, “I do not know anything about politics, I was just following the election procedure.” He added that Singh misbehaved when his papers were rejected. “He was shouting and screaming and created a nuisance,” Pandian said. Sanjeev subsequently filed a writ petition in the Allahabad high court challenging the cancellation of nomination. On 9 May, the court declined to intervene and dismissed the petition. “The judgment of the court shows that I followed the right procedure,” Pandian said.