PAURI, UTTARAKHAND: As Yogi Adityanath, 44, took oath as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister on Sunday, in a village in neighbouring Uttarakhand 600 km away from Lucknow, families were glued to the television.
In 1972, Yogi Adityanath was born Ajay Singh Bisht in this village, Panchur. His ancestral home has been brimming with relatives and friends for days.
The day they learnt that Yogi Adityanath was to become Chief Minister, no food was cooked in the house.
"I had gone to cut grass in the fields when we received the call. I dropped everything and came home. We watched TV and didn't cook any food in excitement the whole day. We only realised when people started coming home that we had to arrange sweets," said Shashi, Adityanath's older sister, one of his six siblings.
She doesn’t remember exactly when Ajay, who left home for Gorakhpur at 22, became Adityanath. "All I recall is my brother telling father as a child, 'you remained within the four walls of your house but I want to serve society'," she said.
Years later, Anand Singh Bisht has advice for his son. “To serve the people one has to enter politics and I am happy my son has l been doing that for so long. The association that he has had with Hindutva and communalism, he has to give up and he has done that. Modiji has a vision for Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, and there should be no discrimination," said Mr Bisht, who retired as a range officer in the state forest department over a decade ago.
Added a maternal uncle, “When I met him recently, I told him that he must steer clear of communal sentiments in his new role. He assured me of that.”
Mahendar, Adityanath's youngest brother, remembers him as an elusive figure in his childhood, but someone always fiercely politically inclined. "He (Adityanath) was almost a decade older to me; when I grew up he was already in Gorakhpur. Whenever he came home he would tell us to study," Mahendar shares.
Ajay Bisht completed school in Pauri, studied further in Rishikesh and then went to Kotdwar for his bachelor’s degree in math. At this stage, he was drawn to local student politics of the ABVP or Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the outfit linked to the BJP. He also set up the Hindu Yuva Vahini.
"In Kotdwar, while doing his BSc, other students would come to him for tuition. He gradually began influencing them with his ideas and his persuasiveness. Then he went to do his MSc in Rishikesh where he met Avaidyanathji. One day he (Avaidyanath) told me, 'You have four boys, give one to me'. I told him my son was already his", said Yogi Adityanath’s father.
Those who know Adityanath, a five-time MP, claim he has always been a sage and politician rolled into one, from an early age. "What has always worked in his favour is his ability to administer and organise people, and his strong beliefs, grounded equally in spiritualism, nationalism and patriotism. Modi is the only other leader who exemplifies this," said his friend Shashidhar Uniyal.