On 27 January 2007, despite injunctions from the district magistrate, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath, delivered an incendiary speech urging revenge for the death of a young Hindu boy who had got caught in a clash between two groups in Gorakhpur during Muharram. In February this year, the Allahabad high court accepted the state government’s refusal to sanction the prosecution of its chief minister. On 20 August, based on a plea challenging that decision, the Supreme Court asked the Uttar Pradesh government to explain why Adityanath should not be prosecuted for the alleged hate speech. Days before the case comes up for hearing before the apex court, Sunil Singh, once Adityanath’s right-hand man and now in police custody, has claimed that the charge of hate speech is true.
“The meeting that evening happened in a charged atmosphere,” Singh recounted to me in a telephone conversation while being taken to court from the Lucknow Central Jail on 10 September. The gathering, which took place near the statue of Maharana Pratap at the entrance of the Gorakhpur railway station, was organised in the memory of the Hindu boy who had died, he told me. “I addressed the crowd just before Adityanath gave his speech. It is the video recording of that speech that has been submitted to the court. I was very much present on the spot.”
According to Singh, the violence began while Adityanath was still addressing the crowd. “A hotel just in front of the venue of meeting was looted and vandalised even before Adityanath could finish his speech,” he said. “The hotel was owned by a local Muslim. I am myself an accused in that case. From there, the rioting spread to other parts of Gorakhpur.”
Two people were killed and property worth crores of rupees was burnt in the riot that followed. On 28 January, the next day, Adityanath and over a dozen other leaders of the Hindu Yuva Vahini—a Hindu youth militia Adityanath founded in 2002—were arrested while they were marching towards Gorakhpur’s troubled areas. “I was also arrested along with Adityanath,” Singh said. “While Adityanath remained in the custody for 11 days, I was released after 66 days.”
At the time, Singh was one of Adityanath’s most trusted lieutenants, serving as the Hindu Yuva Vahini’s state president. Singh held the post until early 2017, when he was expelled for fielding electoral candidates from the Hindu outfit even as Adityanath explicitly denied that members of the organisation would be contesting elections.