After saffron-robed monk Yogi Adityanath took office as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP refuted allegations that his choice reflects a strong shift in course to push India as a Hindu nation.
“Everyone who is prejudging the decision is doing it at their own peril – these arguments were also used in the case of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli told news agency Reuters. Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu added, “It is very unfair to criticise Yogi Adityanath without giving him a chance.”
Yogi Adityanath, a 44-year-old firebrand ascetic with a history of agitation against Muslims, was elected by state lawmakers as their leader on Saturday. Elected five times to parliament from Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, he pledged yesterday to uphold PM Modi’s slogan of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development for all).
“Almost three years down the line there is no departure from ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’; there is no let up in providing governance.
But stunned observers have said that placing the monk in charge of India’s most-populous state is a marked departure from the platform of development for all on which PM Modi rose to national power in 2014 and then won UP with the biggest majority for any party in the state in 40 years.
After the ceremony, PM Modi tweeted: “Our sole mission and motive is development. When U.P. develops, India develops.” His party has repeatedly stressed on the weekend that the government does not make any distinction between citizens on the basis of religion.
The BJP fielded no Muslim candidates in Uttar Pradesh, where the community makes up 19 percent of the population. In the campaign in Uttar Pradesh, party leaders including the PM were accused of making anti-Muslim statements to polarise Hindu voters.
“Modi and the BJP had promised the poor of India good times to come,” said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, editor of the Economic & Political Weekly. “When they fail to create jobs, revive the economy or lift investment, they are going to fall back more on the majoritarian agenda.”
PM Modi, in his victory speech after the Uttar Pradesh triumph, had called for the creation of a “New India” by 2022, effectively staking a claim to a second term at the general election that is due to be held in two years.
Reuters said an unnamed source close to the powerful Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the BJP’s ideological mentor, said Adityanath will undergo a complete image makeover to repackage him as a moderate reformer.
Adityanath has in the past accused Muslim men of waging “love jihad”, or a love war, to entrap Hindu women and convert them to Islam. He drew a reprimand from election authorities for exhorting Hindus to convert 100 Muslims for every Hindu that adopted Islam.
Further, he disclosed in his 2014 election affidavit that he faced criminal cases including attempted murder; intimidation; promoting religious enmity; defiling a place of worship; rioting; and trespassing on burial places. Although judges have taken cognisance of three cases against Adityanath, no formal charges have been filed.