LUCKNOW: As he prepares to move from his Gorakhdham Math to the seat of power in Lucknow, Yogi Adityanath will leave a lot behind. Reputedly, his love for Nandini is supreme and non-negotiable. But the separation is not to last too long, for she will soon join him at 5, Kalidas Marg.
Nandini is Yogi Adityanath’s favourite cow among the herd of 500 lodged in the gaushala of Gorakdham. She’s a 12-year-old red Sahiwal whom he reared since she was a newborn calf. Among the lore emanating from Gorakhpur since the 44-year-old bachelor became chief minister is the bon mot that he feeds Nandini himself without fail before dawn every day. “Yogi won’t touch of morsel until he has fed Nandini with his own hand. It is a part of his routine round the year through all seasons,” says Sunil Rai, chief supervisor of the gaushala.
Volunteers at the math tell tender tales. As soon as Adityanath enters the cow shed, Nandini and the herd rush to him. “Chhote Maharaj feeds her himself, showing her a lot of affection. When CM saab is away in Lucknow, the animals miss him. They may not be able to express themselves but they feel his absence,” adds Virendra Singh, a volunteer.
Cow and nationalism
Cow love is not unique to chief ministers in the Hindi heartland; Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad kept heifers in their official residences, although Akhilesh Yadav himself was more a parrot lover. But for the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, cows are not just a nod to a caste tradition but the centerpiece of a brand of politics that his party is keen to pursue. It is a part of Adityanath’s political identity, which was the reason he was chosen to drive the cultural nationalism project of the BJP. So, far from making the cows of Gorakhnath Math an odd aspect of his identity, Adityanath is revelling in bringing it front and centre.
Gau seva is an uncompromising part of Yogi’s daily routine and volunteers narrate it eagerly. The young holy man’s day apparently begins at 3 am with a stiff regimen of pranayam and an elaborate pooja consisting of six sets of aartis in each of the 12 temples within the math. He then goes over to the gaushala to feed Nandini and the herd jaggery, wheat roti and milk while speaking lovingly to them.
“Yogiji Nandini ko sabse adhik prem karte hain,” says Man Mohammad, the caretaker of the gaushala.
The two-acre gaushala lodges several breeds including Gujarati, Nandini’s Sahiwal, Desi and Gir. They prodcuce over a hundred litres of milk a day but not a drop of it is sole but used in the temple’s rituals and distributed as ‘prasad’ among the devotees.
Muslim in the mix
Man Mohammad is the Muslim in the mix, living a life the cultural nationalism project would allow to the nation’s minorities. He is a devout Muslim and wears saffron like the other volunteers. He has been serving at the math since he was 10, having followed his Inayatullah into the service of Adityanath’s precursors, Mahant Digvijaynath and Mahant Avidyanath.
Mohammad is a bachelor like the volunteers in the temple and is paid a nominal salary plus food and clothing. He offers namaz and follows Islamic practices and is loved for his love of the cows.
“I can’t think of going anywhere else. This is my home. Yogiji has given me ample love and a respectable life,” says Man Mohammad.
So there you have it, a scale model of the project it is Adityanath’s task to execute: the saint, the cow, and the loyal lieutenant.