When I closely observe the governance ethos and principles of Yogi Adityanath, I find a great reflection of his childhood and young days in it. During the research of my previous book on Yogi Adityanath, I got the opportunity to spend time with Savita Devi and late Anand Singh Bisht, parents of Ajay Singh Bisht, the pre-sanyas name of Yogi Adityanath. I also spent time with his siblings, his teachers, his friends and classmates and people in Gorakhnath Mutt. And having observed his work in these 4.5 years, I am able to reflect back on whatever I heard from the people who were close to him in his social, spiritual and political journey.
Savita Devi, his mother, told me about his love for cows while growing up; his teachers told me about his regular participation in school debates on social topics; his classmates told me about his habit to go out of the way to help his colleagues; his friends told me about his interest in the stories of freedom fighters and ancient Indian history. While I was leaving Uttarakhand after my research, his father Anand Singh Bisht stopped me and said: “You have seen my small old blue house in the village. As a forest officer that’s the only asset I have managed to build in my entire life. But my biggest earning is an honest chief minister son.” He had a great sense of pride in his tone while pronouncing this to me. His eyes were wet and voice choked. Anand Singh Bisht died in early 2020 at the age of 88.
As a parliamentarian, Yogi Adityanath was super-active in Parliament. For instance, in the 16th Lok Sabha, his last tenure as an MP, from 2014 to 2017 – he participated in 57 debates against the national average of 50.6, he asked 306 questions against the national average of 199 and he presented 3 private member bills against the national average of 1.5. If I compare this with Rahul Gandhi, in the same period, the Nehru-Gandhi scion asked zero questions, presented zero private member bills and participated in just 11 debates. Akhilesh Yadav, ex-Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who is a parliamentarian now also has a very dismal record in Parliament. In the period of 2019 to 2021, with 36 percent attendance and zero questions asked, Akhilesh Yadav remained the worst-performing MP from Uttar Pradesh in the 17th Lok Sabha.
So, when Yogi entered the Chief Minister’s Office of Uttar Pradesh, he shook the decades of slumber at the pancham tal. Yogi Adityanath, an ascetic nath panthi saint, brought the much-needed discipline to UP’s administration. He gets up before 4 am in the morning and works till late in the day and in the process inspires the whole bureaucratic machinery of Uttar Pradesh to give its best for the state. Uttar Pradesh’s bureaucracy which got habitual cabinet approvals through the circulation of the cabinet notes to the houses of cabinet ministers for their signatures before 2017, finally got a hands-on chief minister in Yogi Adityanath who was monitoring everything closely and meticulously. Yogi Adityanath not only monitored the work on files but also on the field. He became the first chief minister in the history of Uttar Pradesh to visit all the 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh, just in the initial 16 months of his tenure.
Yogi also broke the Noida jinx and visited the city multiple times during his tenure. There is a rumour in political circles in Uttar Pradesh that whoever visits Noida, loses his/her chair of the chief minister. Adityanath’s predecessor Akhilesh Yadav was so attached to his CM’s chair that he stayed away from Noida. Akhilesh did not even attend the Asian Development Bank Summit organised there in May 2013 where the then prime minister Manmohan Singh was the chief guest. Rumours about the Noida-jinx can be traced to 1988 when the then chief minister Veer Bahadur Singh lost power in Uttar Pradesh within days of visiting Noida. Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally lauded Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath for defying this Noida superstition and said that there is no space for blind faith in governance.
Data shows that Yogi was a very active member of Parliament during his five terms as an MP from Gorakhpur. In 1998, he became an MP at the age of 26 years, being the youngest member of the Lower House then. He has been in multiple parliamentary standing and consultative committees as an MP over 19 years — e.g. Committee on External Affairs, Home Affairs, Food Supplies and Public Distribution, Transport, Tourism & Culture, to name a few. He learnt his governance from the likes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani and his Guru and Parliamentarian Mahant Avaidyanath. Besides being an active parliamentarian, as the mahant of Gorakhnath Mutt, he also managed more than forty educational, medical and social institutions run by the Mutt like an efficient CEO. He got modern education in the college in Uttarakhand and a deep understanding of ancient Indic civilisation in Gorakhnath Mutt. The effective and efficient governance of today’s Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is the result of all of this and more.
This is noteworthy that Yogi nurtured his politics in very adverse times – when Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav ruled the state. All three of them tried hard to implicate Yogi Adityanath in false cases. In 2007, Mulayam Singh Yadav government tried to arrest him. In 2008, there was a fatal attack on his vehicle, which he barely escaped. Moreover, all along his journey as an MP for close to 20 years, media, especially the English media, never reported his wonderful work in his constituency or his active engagement on the floor of the Parliament. But nothing has deterred the fighting spirit of this nath panthi saint. All these experiences made Yogi Adityanath battle-ready for the big political stage of Uttar Pradesh.
Many do not know that during his graduation in Kotdwar, Uttarakhand, Ajay Singh Bisht lost students’ union elections. But after that he never lost any elections in his life. Since 1998, Yogi Adityanath has won five consecutive Lok Sabha elections—even when BJP did not do well in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Yogi Adityanath won with exponential margins. Yogi always kept a close tap on the pulse of the people. For more than two decades, Yogi Adityanath organised regular Janata Darbars in Gorakhpur, where hundreds of people gathered daily to get their issues resolved. People not only from Gorakhpur but from many districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh came to him for help. Be it Neta ji’s government or Behen ji’s, his letter to the local officials worked wonders for the needy.
Today, as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the Janata Darbar has moved to 5, Kalidas Marg, Lucknow, the official residence of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. He does not finish his day before meeting hundreds of people and resolving their issues. His team back in Gorakhpur still attends people in the Mutt and solve their issues. This always keeps him connected to the people of Uttar Pradesh and their real issues and that reflects in his pro-people policies.
After becoming the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, when media asked him: Why a saint wants to enjoy the fruits of politics and power? Yogi Adityanath always replied that for him politics is mere a lever to serve people. Through Gorakhnath Mutt, he was serving people of eastern Uttar Pradesh and with CM-ship he got a bigger canvas. Yogi Adityanath always walked the talk that Chief ministership for him is not the tool to amass personal wealth and luxury but to serve the people of the state better. I will list a few examples.
The first file that came to Yogi Adityanath as he assumed office of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh was about the purchase of a new luxury vehicle for his movement. His officers explained him that it is the precedent set by previous chief ministers to start their tenures with a new luxury car bought with taxpayers’ money. Two of his predecessors — SP president Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati — had given the go-ahead for new luxury cars for themselves as soon as they assumed office. The government had acquired a Land Cruiser for Rs 1 crore (the cost at that time) for Mayawati during her 2007-2012 tenure, while Akhilesh ordered two Mercedes Benz for himself worth Rs 6.9 crore of taxpayers’ money. Yogi Adityanath had outrightly rejected the proposal of the estate department to purchase two Mercedes Benz SUVs for him and his fleet. Yogi cancelled the file at the first go and asked his officers to use the five-year-old vehicle used by his predecessor. He just requested for a small addition to the old vehicle — to add a saffron cover to his seat. For him, saffron denotes renunciation or disinterestedness, which represents his idea of politics — to be indifferent to material gains and completely dedicate himself to his work.
In contrast, Akhilesh Yadav, Yogi’s predecessor in Uttar Pradesh tried to do a lifetime personal wealth planning while being the chief minister of the state. In 2016, Akhilesh Yadav passed a law in Uttar Pradesh’s state Assembly for providing lifetime housing to former chief ministers. Fortunately, in 2018, the Supreme Court (SC) struck down the law brought by Akhilesh Yadav and he had to vacate the government residence. Even while vacating the government residence, Akhilesh Yadav brought a disgrace to the position of ex-Chief Minister as he left the government house allotted to him in a mess — with a damaged pool and missing taps.
In 1981, VP Singh, when he was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, enacted a law in Uttar Pradesh, that ensures that the state’s chief minister and ministers don’t pay any income tax themselves. As per the 1981 Act, the income tax of all the Uttar Pradesh ministers was paid by the Uttar Pradesh government, as a perk of being a minister. When Yogi assumed office in Uttar Pradesh, this 40-year practice of not paying taxes was continuing. It is noteworthy that ex-chief minister from BSP, Mayawati, is worth Rs 111 crore as per her affidavit for the Rajya Sabha polls in 2012 and ex-chief minister from SP Akhilesh Yadav, owns assets worth over Rs 37 crore together with his wife Dimple, according to the affidavit filed for the recent Lok Sabha polls. But neither Akhilesh nor Mayawati, bothered about Uttar Pradesh’s government treasury. Yogi Adityanath believed that when the common man pays income tax and contributes to national development, why not the chief minister and ministers of Uttar Pradesh? Yogi government has decided that ministers will start paying their own income tax, ending a four-decade-old practice of the state exchequer shelling out the amount annually for the Uttar Pradesh ministers’ income taxes.
Personal propriety and non-corruptibility are signature trademarks for politicians like Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath. Their politics cater to the people, who voted them to power and not to their own families. While researching for my previous book on Yogi Adityanath, I had to struggle hard to even reach out to the family members of Yogi Adityanath. Among his six siblings, someone is a school teacher in a village school, another one runs a small tea stall on the way to Neelkanth temple and one is a subedar in the Army.
In contrast, at the peak of his politics, Mulayam Singh Yadav had dozens of his direct family members at the helm of politics in Uttar Pradesh. Mulayam Singh Yadav himself been a member of Parliament several times and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for three terms. Akhilesh Yadav was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and multiple times MP from different seats in UP. Dimple Yadav, Akhilesh’s wife, was an MP from Kannauj. Aparna Yadav, wife of Neta ji’s another son Prateek Yadav, contested the 2017 assembly elections from the coveted Lucknow Cantt seat on the Samajwadi Party ticket. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s youngest brother, Shivpal Singh Yadav, was an MLA and minister in Uttar Pradesh. Shivpal Singh Yadav’s son Aditya Yadav was Chairman of UP Cooperative Federation.
Apart from nepotism, corruption and lethargy got deep-rooted in Uttar Pradesh in previous regimes. Yogi Adityanath has adopted a zero-tolerance policy against corruption. People have heard pinks slips in private companies, but Yogi gave pink slips to 201 employees from 29 different departments. Another 417 employees, including Class-I officers, have either been suspended or terminated. Most of them were accused of non-performance or corruption. Yogi started a separate screening to weed out corrupt police officials. Special committees were formed to screen names of IPS, PPS (Provincial Police Services) and other corrupt officials who are to be given compulsory retirement. Local intelligence units were instructed to keep a close tab on corrupt cops and officials in Uttar Pradesh.
Yogi had the clear cognisance that his party has come to power in Uttar Pradesh after 15 long years. Very few ministers in the Yogi cabinet had the previous experience of being in the government. Yogi had a plan—he, along with his ministers and officers, spent the first month in office in learning each other’s department. Senior officers from each department were asked to present their department’s achievements in the past, challenges and plan for next 100 days. These presentations started in the evening and went till midnight on many days. In this process, the ministers got to know different ministries, the officers of the state, each other’s strength areas, and it helped the team to set the priority for the state. During these presentations, everybody got surprised by the amazing administrative understanding of Yogi Adityanath, his deep knowledge about budgetary processes, government procedures and his strong connect with a variety of issues on the ground. Yogi also organized a series of workshops on good governance and management at IIM Lucknow for his ministers and himself.
After assuming office, Yogi government realised that the state was running on many archaic laws made during the British era, which no previous government in UP bothered to touch. Yogi Adityanath always believed that Industrial development leads to employment generation and unnecessary laws and rules hamper ease of doing business and ease of living of people. In the first phase, Yogi government listed more than 1,000 archaic laws to be repealed and 600+ in the second phase16. Such laws include the Mirzapur Mining Act, King of Avadh State Act 1888, Avadh Taluqdar’s Relief Act of 1870, Avadh State Act of 1869, United Province Act of 1890, King of Avadh Validation Act of 1917, Improvement in Towns Act of 1850, Sales of Land for Revenue Arrears Act of 1845, Forfeited Deposit Act of 1850, Coroners Act of 1871, Local Authority Loans Act of 1914, Agriculturist Loans Act of 1884 and the Sikh Gurdwaras (Supplementary Act) of 1925.
Within the first couple of months in office, Yogi’s working style sent a loud and clear message that Yogi Adityanath means problem-solving and high-quality governance with zero tolerance to corruption. As the governance processes in Uttar Pradesh in the previous decade and a half had touched its nadir, Yogi had no low hanging fruits to pluck – So much so that, in the initial days, Yogi Adityanath had to issue special orders to ban chewing gutka and pan masala in office after observing paan stains all over the government offices in Uttar Pradesh. He had to issue a special order to government officers to come to office on time at 9 am, which they were not used to in earlier regimes. He had to strictly direct District Magistrates and Police chiefs of Uttar Pradesh to meet the public from 9 am to 11 am. The discipline was so loose in the state that Yogi had to issue a warning that he would call administrative officers, including district magistrates and superintendent of police, on their landline phone to know their location and check on them.
What followed in the next five years has silenced even the most ardent critics of Yogi. When I am writing this book in late 2021, Uttar Pradesh has become second in Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) ranking leaving many industrialised states behind. Under Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh has become the second-largest state of India in Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP), surging ahead of even industrialised states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
Uttar Pradesh has doubled the per capita income of its citizens – from Rs 43,000 per year in 2015-16, when the SP was in power, to Rs 95,000 year in 2021. Uttar Pradesh has worked towards moving its daily governance work to technology lead platforms like e-Office and e-Cabinet for efficiency, effectiveness and complete transparency. Yogi government’s movement towards technology is being recognized at the national level and UP won ‘E-Panchayat Puraskar 2021’ by the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj for maximum usage of technology in panchayats. UP government won the Computer Society of India’s (CSI) top CAI-SIG e-Governance Awards in 2020.
In 2021, Uttar Pradesh was adjudged the best state under ‘Smart Cities Mission’24. In 2020, UP government got the Emerging Start-up eco-system award by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry. In 2021, under Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh presented its first paperless budget in the state’s history. The way the Yogi government brought the state out of Covid from the first and second wave, WHO, IIT-Kanpur, Niti Aayog and the Bombay High Court praised Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath over Covid-19 management. In fact, Australian MP Craig Kelly got so impressed with Yogi Adityanath’s handling of Covid that he publicly requested for Yogi Adityanath to be loaned to Australia for some time to manage Covid in his country.
Edited excerpts from Shantanu Gupta’s new book, The Monk Who Transformed Uttar Pradesh, published by Garuda publications.
The author is a political commentator. Views expressed are personal.