“Tera vaibhav amar rahe Ma, hum din chaar rahen naa rahen”—May your splendour remain immortal Mother, whether or not we live long lives. This proclamation, along with the words “Hindu Yuva Vahini,” circumscribe an image of a Hindu goddess perched upon a lion and holding the Bhagwa Dhwaja, the saffron flag. Set against a predominantly white and saffron background, this image constitutes much of the introductory page to the website of the Hindu Yuva Vahini. Below the image is a brief descuription, also in Hindi, of the Yuva Vahini: “A fierce cultural and social organisation dedicated to Hindutva and nationalism.” At the bottom of the page is a button that reads “enter.” Upon clicking on it, I was led to a page with an image of the Yuva Vahini’s “mukhya sanrakshak,” or chief guardian, Yogi Adityanath—the five-time Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur, chief priest of the Gorakhnath Math, and newly-appointed chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Beyond this second page lies a vast array of materials, including: the organisation’s view of Indian history, a compendium of media coverage of its events, and the Yuva Vahini’s constitution.
Adityanath founded the Yuva Vahini, a youth organisation known for its history of arson and communal violence, in 2002. Since his appointment as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, there has been a frenzied interest in both the politician and the outfit that he has been heading for 15 years. Over the years, the media has covered the typically divisive rhetoric and activities of Adityanath and the Yuva Vahini. While this has helped put together a picture of the man and his organisation, perhaps equally, or at least further illuminating for that purpose is the Yuva Vahini’s constitution, spanning three pages, and readily available on the organisation’s website. An examination of this constitution offered a glimpse into the brand of Hindutva that Adityanath, and, by extension, the Yuva Vahini endorses. It also provided an insight into the outfit’s meticulously-organised internal structure.
That Hindutva constitutes a core component of Adityanath’s political project is not a matter of surprise. In a 2005 speech he said, “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu rashtra.” In February 2015, he said during a speech in Varanasi: “When the Hindu samaj goes for darshan of Vishwanath then Gyanvapi mosque taunts us. If that’s how it is, give us permission, we will install Gauri, Ganesh and Nandi in every mosque.” The Yuva Vahini’s constitution is revealing, additionally, of the particularities of his conception of Hinduism and Hindutva.
“The meaning of Hindu is Vedic, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Naga, and other adherents of Hindu culture,” the constitution reads. Several Hindu nationalists have previously referred to their faith’s affinity with Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism among other belief systems, based on what they perceive as ideational overlaps. However, the appropriation of all these faiths as components of “Hindu culture” is a much greater, and untenable—or at least unproven—assertion.
Further on, the Yuva Vahini’s constitution goes on to evince not just the horizontal axis of Hindu nationalism—of appropriating non-Hindus into Hindutva—but the vertical—of co-opting oppressed castes. (As I had noted in my story for The Caravan, this is an approach that the Yuva Vahini had also adopted to gain the support of the Rajbhar community in the lead up to the UP elections.) One of the objectives of the organisation, listed on the third page of the constitution, reads: “For the integration of and mutual good faith within the massive Hindu society, through the complete abolishment of the differentiation between touchable-untouchable and high-low, promote the harmonious development of society.”
Few would dispute the virtues of nurturing a harmonious society, and many would support the abolishment of the caste system. Of note, however, is the reasoning that the Yuva Vahini offers for this desired abolishment. The caste system should end, its constitution says, “for the integration of and mutual good faith within the massive Hindu society” and so that society can develop harmoniously. It does not recognise that the caste system should end because it is unjust and an affront to the values of the Indian Constitution, given the manner in which it degrades and dehumanises individuals. (During an interview that he gave before the assembly election results were announced, in March 2017, Adityanath, it should be noted, said, “Castes play the same role in Hindu society that furrows play in farms, and help in keeping it organised and orderly.” “Castes can be fine, but casteism is not,” he added.)
The other aspect of particular interest in the Yuva Vahini’s constitution is its reflection of the organisation’s assiduously defined internal structure. Over the past few years, I have researched several extra-legal structures of governance—entities that take on developmental and judicial functions even though they do not fall under the government—including Khap Panchayats. Rarely however, have I come across an extra-legal structure with such a rigorously-defined internal organisational structure.
The Yuva Vahini, its constitution explains, consists of four categories of members: chief patron (Adityanath himself); lifetime members; active members; and those who are made members through a special invite. A member’s affiliation to the organisation may be terminated under five circumstances, including in the event that “an allegation of working against the objectives and interests of the organisation is proved.”
The Yuva Vahini also comprises an executive committee of 25 members, who hold positions ranging from the chairman to a media-in-charge. The constitution delineates, at length, the rights and responsibilities of these different office bearers. The tenth out of the 13 points on the chairman’s right and duties, for instance, states that the chairman should “acquire movable-immovable property for the organisation and maintain the property.” The general secretary must, in addition to tending to his—most members of the Yuva Vahini tend to be male—five other duties, “send the related information from the executive gatherings and prepare the minute book, etc.”
The constitution of the Yuva Vahini is a startling document for the brand of Hindutva it articulates, and the internal structure of the organisation it showcases. It would be difficult to find any other high-level political leader in the country who has founded an organisation that seeks a Hindu Rashtra as blatantly, and is structured like a mini-corporation. This fact is part of what makes Adityanath, now one of the most empowered individuals in the country, unique in the Hindu nationalist universe.
While it is possible to argue that the Yuva Vahini’s internal structure may well be an indication of Adityanath’s potential for successfully leading the state, this would be an optimistic view. Running a cadre of a few hundred young men is different from running a state of 20 crore people—that too one facing enormous developmental challenges.Of concern is the possibility that the Yuva Vahini, already well-structured, and organisationally robust, will scale-up its activities in the state now that it is freshly empowered with Adityanath’s elevation. With Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, we will, in all probability, witness a deepening in the state of what the historian Romila Thapar has called “syndicated Hinduism”—the rigidifying of an otherwise multifarious faith along the preferences of the upper-castes, often for a political purpose.
The constitution and internal structure of the organisation that Adityanath founded 15 years ago arguably indicate the core of his thinking and mode of working. Despite the misplaced guarantees of some observers that he will now metamorphosise into a more inclusive leader, we have no reason to believe that, going ahead, these principles and structures will not remain in force under the newly-appointed chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.