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Smart father's 'simple' son battles a Yogi

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RADHIKA RAMASESHAN IN GORAKHPUR   |   Published 14.04.09, 12:00 AM

In the battle here between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP, it’s the saffron candidate who’s abusing Brahmins with an epithet mocking their sacred thread.

Three-time BJP MP Yogi Adityanath — a leading monk, Ram temple hawk and an accused in the 2007 Gorakhpur riots — is a Thakur and stridently anti-Brahmin. If his campaign asks Muslims and Christians not to vote for him and “defile” the voting machines, it also jeers at the Brahmins’ traditional symbol of chastity.

So it’s perhaps natural that the BSP’s Brahmin face, Satish Chandra Mishra, should pick a fellow caste man to take on the Yogi.

Vinay Shankar Tiwari is no commissar, though — in the rough and tumble of Poorvanchali (eastern Uttar Pradesh) politics, he is indulgently called the “simpleton” son of a “smart, self-made” father.

The BJP is trying to remind voters that the father, Hari Shankar Tiwari, was Gorakhpur’s “original mafia don” but this has had little impact. “The son’s soft-spoken and not involved in anything seedy,” said Farrukh Shah, muttawali of the Imambara estate.

Tiwari, a businessman, has mounted a challenge far stronger than sceptics had imagined. “It’s a Brahmin-Thakur war that was waiting to happen,” said businessman and former student leader Dinesh Tripathi.

Mishra’s formula may not work in a lot of places because the Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh in general seem pretty annoyed with Mayavati. But even if Tiwari loses, the margin could be so close that Mishra may deservedly count Gorakhpur as one of his successes, analysts say.

Adityanath is expected to succeed the current Mahant of the powerful Gorakh Peeth — which helped pilot the Ram temple agitation — and therefore enjoys enormous prestige. It was this aastha (trust) factor that had papered over the caste cracks so far. But suddenly, an uncomfortable question is being asked: is this diminutive figure in saffron a genuine holy man or a sham one?

“Why did he weep in Parliament only when he was arrested (over the riots); why not for the children who died of encephalitis? Where was he when the villages were flooded?” asks Shailesh Ojha, Tiwari’s media manager.

Other Brahmins such as Venkateshwara Tripathi are irritated that the Thakur-controlled Peeth has named over a dozen of its charity endowments after Rajput king Rana Pratap.

“Why have they forgotten Meera Bai, Kabir, Surdas or the illustrious names from the region such as Premchand, Firaq Gorakhpuri (a Hindu who used this pseudonym) and Ram Prasad Bismil?” he asked.

The Yogi, who earlier hardly campaigned in his constituency, is suddenly all over the place, propagating his “good work” and Hindutva. “In the past few days, we have emphasised his development activities more than Hindutva in response to people’s expectations,” his campaign manager Shesh Nath Yogi admitted.

Political observers believe that in the end, aastha will trump caste. After all, Gorakh Peeth is no ordinary Math — it was patronised by the Nepal monarchy and to this day, the erstwhile Nepal king is the first to offer khichdi to temple deities on Makar Sankranti.

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