India’s ruling party, the Hindu-nationalist BJP, has made significant gains in regional elections in every state other than Goa and won in Uttar Pradesh.
With 200 million people, Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state. In Uttar Pradesh the BJP did not identify ahead of the election who would lead the government there should they win and the campaign was led by Modi. After the election the BJP chose Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister. Adityanath has been linked to a number of anti-Muslim incidents.
For example, in 2015 Adityanath appeared on a platform alongside a speaker who called for Hindu men to dig up the graves of Muslim women to rape them. The former leader of a militant Hindu youth organisation, he has made anti-Muslim statements himself.
Milan Vaishnav, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says of Adityanath: “He is an extremist in terms of his speeches, a very proud rabble-rouser, and somebody who doesn’t have a claim to fame other than a dedication to a strident form of Hindu nationalism.”
Since Modi became Prime Minister in 2014 Uttar Pradesh has had a big hike in anti-Muslim violence; several Muslims have been lynched for allegedly eating beef. In Gorakhpur, where Adityanath was as representative in the state parliament for almost 20 years, the appointment has galvanised the local police to target young Muslim men. Police have been empowered to target people accused of sexual harassment. Under public pressure police have instituted a “crackdown” which has involved targetting mixed-religion relationships and scaremongering about Muslim men trying to “seduce Hindu women”.
Modi has up to now not put Hindu-nationalist policies at the forefront of his governance, but rather pushed policies linked to economic development and modernisation. The appointment of Adityanath lifts the mask on the nastier side of the Modi regime.