Born as Ajay Singh Bisht in Garhwal of the then undivided Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath had a dramatic entry in public life in Gorakhpur some 23 years ago.
It was early summer in Gorakhpur when a group of students had a brawl with a local cloth merchant, who took out his revolver at the college youths. Next day, a young priest was leading a huge rally of protesters on the streets of Gorakhpur, picketing the residence of the then Superintendent of Police.
This priest-turned-leader was Yogi Adityanath, who shot to fame in Purvanchal politics as angry young man.
INITIAL YEARS IN GORAKAPUR
Yogi Adityanath completed his graduation in science from Uttarakhand, At 22 in 1994, he was initiated by his guru Mahant Avaidyanath, who was the head priest at Goraksh Nath temple in Gorakhpur.
Those were the years when Purvanchal was trying to slip out of the grip of musclemen politicians Harishankar Tiwari and Virendra Pratap Shahi.
Yogi Adityanath appealed to the imagination of upper caste students. They saw him as a successor of Mahant Digvijaynath, who was from Gorakhpur and played pivotal role in the Chauri Chaura incident in 1921, which forced Mahatma Gandhi to call off his non-cooperation movement. A police station had been torched by a mob supposedly led by Digvijaynath, who later became the head priest of Goraksh Nath temple.
Yogi Adityanath's popularity soared further when his guru anointed him as his successor at the Goraksh Nath Math, which he has been heading since demise of Mahant Avaidyanath in 2014.
With the blessings Avaidyanath and riding on his influence in Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1998 and got elected for the first time with margin of over 26,000 votes.
Yogi Adityanath has not lost an election since. The five-time Lok Sabha member is yet to get elected to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly.
COW PROTECTION MOVEMENT
Soon, Yogi was seen championing the cause of cows in Gorakhpur. He founded Hindu Yuva Vahini, which according to him is reformist outfit and works for betterment of villages and protection of cows.
Yogi Adityanath calls himself a gau-sevak (servant of cows) and works at the gaushala (cowshed) maintained at Goraksh Nath Math. During the Assembly election, Adityanath promised to shut down all the illegal slaughterhouses in Uttar Pradesh and to ensure that no cow is killed in abattoirs across the state.
Hindu Yuva Vahini has been in controversy over the years. It is accused of fomenting communal trouble in Purvanchal. Adityanath, himself, faces several criminal cases including those of murder, communal riots, hurting religious sentiments and attack on religious places.
But, as the activities of Hindu Yuva Vahini increased in Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath's popularity soared and so did his winning margins election after election. In 2014 general elections, he won Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat by more than 3 lakh votes.
PURIFICATION AND CONVERSION DRIVES
Year 2002 was a turning point in Yogi Adityanath's political career as he emerged as a strong hardliner Hindutva leader. He was made an accused in the 2002 Mohan Mundera incident at Kushinagar district, where nearly 50 homes of Muslims were torched after a Hindu girl was allegedly raped. Opposition parties pointed fingers at Yogi Adityanath. But, he was not made an accused.
In 2005, Yogi Adityanath launched a 'purification drive' to re-convert Christians to Hinduism. Later, he claimed that he reconverted more than 5,000 people at Etah in UP. The same year, Yogi and his Hindu Yuva Vahini were accused of instigating communal violence in Mau.
RISE THROUGH CONTROVERSIES
In 2007, Yogi Adityanath launched a 'non-violent agitation' after a Hindu boy was killed when some miscreants opened fire during Moharram procession in Gorakhpur. He led a march and gave a speech vowing delivering justice despite prohibitory orders. He was arrested but his popularity touched new heights in Gorakhpur.
Later, Yogi Adityanath broke down in the Lok Sabha relating his arrest. The then Mulayam Singh Yadav government had suspended the senior police officials of Gorakhpur after the incident.
Yogi's Hindu Yuva Vahini launched retaliation after his arrest. Wide-scale violence took place in Gorakhpur, where two people lost their lives.
In 2014 parliamentary polls, Yogi Adityanath's image and influence added to Modi wave in BJP sweeping Uttar Pradesh. His contribution in Uttar Pradesh was such that many expected that Yogi would be rewarded with a cabinet berth at the Centre.
Next year, when intolerance debated was raging on social media and other platforms, Yogi Adityanath compared bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan with 26/11 terror attack accused Hafiz Saeed.
Yogi further challenged those who voiced their opposition against Surya Namaskar, the ancient morning exercise. He asked such people to 'leave India'.
During the UP Assembly election campaign, the BJP used him as star campaigner in second half of the seven-phased polls as the theatre of electoral politics shifted towards eastern part of the state.
With Modi camping in Varanasi for the final two phases, Yogi's supporters made it sure that Purvanchal delivers maximum seats to the BJP to take it past 300-mark on its own.