Narendra Modi looks on as Yogi Adityanath (extreme right) takes oath as Uttar Pradesh chief minister in Lucknow on Sunday. Picture by Naeem Ansari
Lucknow, March 19: New Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath was today compared to the Pope and declared a future Prime Minister by his admirers and aides on his home turf of Gorakhpur.
At his oath-taking in Lucknow, cries of "Har Har Yogi" competed with the standard "Har Har Modi" as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a host of Union ministers and other dignitaries looked on.
A group of 200-odd saffron-clad monks chanted "Jai Shri Ram" after every word of the oath that Adityanath uttered, creating a surcharged atmosphere and perhaps providing a glimpse of how the state might be run over the next five years.
In Gorakhpur, 300km to the east, a seer from Haridwar who had come to celebrate Adityanath's political elevation had to look beyond the continent to find a fitting analogy for the yogi's pre-eminence.
"This place where Yogiji lives (Gorakhnath Math) is like the Vatican," Mahant Manvendra told The Telegraph over the phone. "Today he is chief minister of the state; in future he would be leader of the country."
An aide to Adityanath was more explicit. "The Prime Minister may have chosen Yogiji as chief minister so he (Modi) can sail through the 2019 general election by continuing the polarisation of votes, but Yogiji may grow bigger than Modi by 2024," he said over the phone, asking not to be identified.
Some 900km away to the northwest, in Adityanath's home village of Panchur in Uttarakhand, his father Anand Singh endorsed the prediction.
"He'll now be serving India's most important state but soon he'll be at the Centre, serving the entire country," Singh told reporters as he watched his 44-year-old son's swearing-in on television.
Even some Union ministers weren't averse to bracketing Adityanath with Modi.
"For me, the best news of the century are Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister and my younger brother Adityanath taking over as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh," Union minister Uma Bharati, a sadhvi herself, told reporters in Delhi.
A galaxy of VIPs attended the swearing-in at the Kanshi Ram Smriti Upvan. Apart from Modi, there were BJP national president Amit Shah, party veteran L.K. Advani, Andhra Pradesh chief minister and BJP ally N. Chandrababu Naidu, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and over a dozen Union ministers.
None came from the Bahujan Samaj Party: Mayawati has accused the BJP of stealing the election by rigging the electronic voting machines.
Adityanath and deputy chief ministers Keshav Prasad Maurya and Dinesh Sharma took the oath of office with 22 other cabinet ministers and 22 ministers of state.
Suresh Rana, an accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, and Swati Singh, wife of Dayashankar Singh who had used abusive language against Mayawati, were sworn in as junior ministers.
Although the BJP had not fielded any Muslim candidate, former cricketer Mohsin Raza, who had supported a Ram temple in Ayodhya last week, made it as a minister of state.
Adityanath's selection as chief minister despite his streak of rebelliousness and lack of administrative experience underlines the BJP's compulsions in Uttar Pradesh as well as the monk's popular following and his ability to hold the party hostage to his ambition.
Adityanath had shown his penchant for defiance as far back as 1991 when, as a teenaged member of Sangh student arm ABVP, he had contested independently for students' union president at Garhwal's Kotdwar Degree College after being refused the official nomination. He came fifth.
Since 1998, when the five-time MP joined politics, not a single Assembly election has passed in the state without him arm-twisting the BJP into handing tickets to his henchmen and admirers.
Despite getting dozens of his nominees on the list, he had openly chided the party leadership in 2007 and 2012 because some of his recommendations had been rejected.
This time, the BJP fielded about 30 of his nominees, including 12 members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, Adityanath's private army of cadres that has been accused in several cases of communal violence.
Yet 10 Vahini members, who were snubbed, contested the election on Shiv Sena tickets against BJP candidates, with Adityanath merely issuing a token warning.
Many politicians visit Adityanath regularly at his Math to keep him in good humour. Over 3,000 pilgrims, including hundreds of Dalits, come every day.
Math sources said Adityanath had taken over the conduct of the daily rituals from his guru, Mahant Avaidyanath, more than 20 years ago.