Rajasthan CM selection: How strong is the Balaknath factor?

From MP to MLA to chief minister of Rajasthan? If the buzz is to be believed, Mahant Balaknath is certainly among the frontrunners

Even if the 40-year-old Mahant Balaknath doesn't make the final cut, he is strongly tipped to become a cabinet minister (photo: @anupamnawada/X)
Even if the 40-year-old Mahant Balaknath doesn't make the final cut, he is strongly tipped to become a cabinet minister (photo: @anupamnawada/X)

Prakash Bhandari

Barely 18 hours after clinching victory in the Rajasthan assembly elections from Tijara segment in the Alwar Lok Sabha constituency, Mahant Balaknath Yogi drove to Delhi for a tumultuous welcome from his party in the Lok Sabha, of which he is a member from Alwar constituency, a seat he will now have to give up.

One of the first to greet him outside Parliament was veteran Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who jokingly told reporters, "Arey Rajasthan ka naya CM ban raha hai na (he's the new CM of Rajasthan).

Chowdhury's remark was seemingly offhand and in jest, but behind the banter may lie a grain of truth. At the time of writing this article, Balaknath is certainly among the frontrunners for the chief minister's post in the desert state. Though he has to contend with such powerful co-contenders as two-time former CM Vasundhara Raje, Union law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, Union railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, and former MPs Kirodi Lal Meena and Diya Kumari.

In public, the native of Haryana has made all the right noises. "I never claimed I would be chief minister. I was sent by the party to contest the Vidhan Sabha elections. My first duty is with my people in Alwar constituency, and I have served them with all my might. I will take on any responsibility the BJP gives me. I have nothing more to say,” he has been quoted as saying.

The likes of Raje, Shekhawat, and Meghwal are more experienced and qualified to take over as chief minister than the 40-year-old Balaknath, but even if he doesn't make the final cut, he is strongly tipped to become a cabinet minister.

Alwar is the gateway to Rajasthan from Delhi and Haryana, and the district is a thriving industrial hub, particularly for the automotives sector. Part of the National Capital Region (NCR), the constituency is dominated by Meo Muslims and the Yadav community, to which Balaknath belongs. Before him, his mentor Mahant Chandnath represented Alwar in the Lok Sabha, but died of cancer in 2017, two years before the end of his term as MP. The byelection caused by his death was won by Dr JS Yadav of the Congress.

“He is a kanphatiya sadhu, meaning a saint whose ear (kan) is pierced and a ring dangles from the earlobe, which identifies him as head of the Asthal Bohar math in Haryana. The kanphatiya sadhus are respected among the Yadavs not just in Rajasthan, but also Haryana and Uttar Pradesh," said Narendra Singh Rathor, a long-time resident of Alwar who is closely related to the district's erstwhile royals.

Like the Lok Sabha seat, Balaknath has also taken over the math in Haryana's Rohtak from Chandnath. The math currently runs a university, colleges and schools in Rohtak, and Balaknath was groomed by his mentor to oversee all of it.

Born in Kohrana village in Behror sub-division on the Jaipur-Delhi highway on 16 April 1984, Balaknath was handed over at the age of six by parents Subhash Yadav and Urmila Devi to the chief of an ashram in Neemrana, run by Baba Khetanath.

Khetanath’s disciple Baba Brahmanath sent the young Balaknath to the Rohtak ashram, where he became a disciple of Chandnath, who gave him the name he sports today. As the eighth mahant of the Nath sect. Balaknath was anointed by Mahant Chandnath on 29 July 2016, officially declared his mentor's successor in a ceremony attended by Yogi Adityanath — soon to become chief minister of Uttar Pradesh — and godman-entrepreneur Baba Ramdev.

In the mandatory affidavit filed before the assembly polls, Balaknath submitted that he is a bachelor and an undergraduate, having studied until Class 12. But there are no further details in the affidavit about his education.

Like his mentor, Balaknath was drafted into politics by the BJP to cash in on his popularity among the Yadavs. In fact, Chandnath was one of two surprise candidates whom the party fielded prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The other was Swami Sumedhanand Sarswati.

Though a Jat from Haryana, Sumedhanand was actually born in Punjab. Having studied Sanskrit, he was an active leader of the Arya Samaj in Delhi. When he was fielded from Sikar in Rajasthan, there was initial opposition from the Jat community, but he still defeated fellow Jat Pratap Singh.

Both godmen were introduced into electoral politics by Baba Ramdev, who exerted his considerable influence within the BJP to field the two godmen from Haryana in two Rajasthan constituencies. Sumedhanand was re-elected in 2019, while Balaknath defeated the scion of the Alwar royals and former Union minister Jitendra Singh.

When the BJP decided to field five Lok Sabha MPs and a Rajya Sabha MP in the assembly elections this time, Balaknath was pressed into service along with Diya Kumari, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Narendra Kumar, Devji Patel, Bhagirath Choudhry, and Dr Kirori Lal Meena.

Chosen to represent Tijara, which has about 80,000 Meo Muslim votes, about 50,000 Yadav votes, and around 30,000 Gujjar votes, Balaknath was reportedly reluctant to contest owing to the high number of Meo votes, preferring the Yadav-dominated Behror segment instead.

In the end, the battle for Tijara was fierce, with over 86 per cent polling, and significant polarisation. While the Meo Muslims voted heavily for Congress candidate Imran Khan, Balaknath eventually won by over 6,000 votes.

During the contest, while Balaknath was never directly projected as a future chief minister of Rajasthan, the sentiment seemed implied when Yogi Adityanath campaigned for him and called him "a great friend".

The relationship between the two men goes back several years, though Adityanath is much more experienced in politics, having been an MLA in the UP assembly and also a Lok Sabha MP before becoming chief minister in 2017.

Balaknath’s election campaign was also heavily influenced by Baba Ramdev, who sent a team of workers from Rewari in Haryana to spread the word that Balaknath would be the second godman to become chief minister of a state after Yogi Adityanath.

Therefore, no matter what Balaknath himself says in public, the fact remains that his team has successfully planted his name in the media.

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