The Hindu Yuva Vahini or HYV is a militant Hindutva vigilante group founded by Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh and mahant (head priest) of the Gorakhnath Math temple in the city of Gorakhpur.
What makes the Hindu Yuva Vahini so dangerous is that it has operated as the personal militia of a politician and religious cleric, Adityanath, who may be the future prime minister of India.
Why the HYV Matters
The Hindu Yuva Vahini is not the first expressly militant Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) group. It has been long preceded by the Bajrang Dal, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS. The RSS as well as its other affiliates, including India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, also have a history of involvement in arson, murder, and rape in pogroms targeting Muslim communities going back decades.
Adityanath represents a new, more dangerous type of Hindu nationalism that fuses religious authority, political power, and violence. In contrast to other Hindu nationalist leaders, he possesses a power base independent of the RSS.
The rise of Adityanath and his HYV reflects the emergence of what many observers call “competitive Hindutva” — where Hindu nationalism is now the default, centrist ideology in India, and a broad range of political actors in the country deploy it in pursuit of voter support.
Since Adityanath’s ascent to the position of chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2017, the activities of the HYV have reportedly been curtailed and folded into the BJP. But aides from Adityanath’s vigilante group now serve as his staff as chief minister. And the group was reactivated in the leadup to state elections in Uttar Pradesh this year, canvassing for Adityanath. Its events continue to serve as platforms to incite violence.
At a Hindu Yuva Vahini event in December, Suresh Chavanke, the editor of a Hindu nationalist TV channel, administered an oath in which people pledged to “kill to make India a Hindu rashtra (nation).” In February, Raghvendra Pratap Singh, a BJP legislator who runs the Hindu Yuva Vahini, said he would “destroy” those who insult Hindus. And last month, a local Hindu Yuva Vahini official threatened to remove loudspeakers from mosques. The group also continues to act as “informers” reporting Hindu-Muslim couples to the police.
If Adityanath’s political ascent within the BJP hits a ceiling, he could easily remobilize the militant cadres of the Hindu Yuva Vahini. But right now, Adityanath is deploying the power of the state to brutalize its Muslim populace and render them second-class citizens.
The History of the Hindu Yuva Vahini
The origins of the Hindu Yuva Vahini go back roughly two decades. Adityanath won re-election to his legislative assembly seat in 1999 with a thin margin. In 2002, soon after the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, Adityanath changed the name of Gau Raksha Manch — a “cow protection” group he established in 1998 — to the Hindu Yuva Vahini, aiming to broaden his opportunities to leverage anti-Muslim sentiment.
The rebranding enabled Adityanath to exploit a broader range of anti-Muslim dog whistles and conspiracy theories, such as “love jihad” and launch a so-called “ghar wapsi” or “homecoming” campaign to convert Muslims to Hinduism.
The Hindu Yuva Vahini proved to be an effective tool for Adityanath, helping him consolidate the Hindu vote and paving the way for resounding wins in 2004 and 2009. Adityanath recruited young unemployed men and petty criminals as his footsoldiers.
The HYV’s ideology, as scholar Christophe Jaffrelot notes, can be traced back to Digvijay Nath, one of Adityanath’s predecessors as head priest at the Gorakhnath temple. Digvijay Nath espoused a militant Hindu nationalism but maintained a distance from the RSS and its affiliates. He called for suspending the voting rights of Muslims and hailed the assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Hindu Yuva Vahini Violence
Violence has been at the heart of the Hindu Yuva Vahini’s activities.
Journalist Dhirendra Jha notes that there were at least six religious riots in the Gorakhpur area in the year after the HYV’s founding and nearly two dozen over the course of the five years after its establishment. In one of these attacks, an imam was killed. In 2007, Adityanath incited a riot in Gorakhpur and his followers destroyed the shrine of a Sufi saint. When Adityanath was arrested, his footsoldiers rioted across the city of Gorakhpur, setting mosques and the homes of Muslims ablaze, killing at least ten people.
In 2016, Hindu Yuva Vahini militants set fire to the homes of Muslims in the village of Padruna, attempted to rape the women in the area, and set one man on fire. The next year, members of the group murdered a Muslim man whose younger relative eloped with a Hindu girl. The group also reportedly retains links to Hindu mafia figures like Brijesh Singh.