India’s governing party on Saturday appointed a firebrand Hindu cleric to lead the country’s most populous state, a turning point for a government that has steered clear of openly embracing far-right Hindu causes.
The choice of Yogi Adityanath — who has been repeatedly accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiments — to lead Uttar Pradesh, came as a shock to many political observers, who have become accustomed to the moderated public positions of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Adityanath has openly called for India to be enshrined as a “Hindu rashtra,” or Hindu nation, and supports the rebuilding of a temple to the Hindu god Ram, also known as Rama, on the site of a razed 16th-century mosque, a project that was halted after it incited bloody religious riots in the 1990s.
With the appointment, Modi “is unveiling a vision of benign majoritarianism,” said Shekhar Gupta, an editor and political talk show host. “That means it’s a Hindu country, that’s the fact, and we’ll be nice to you if you behave yourself.”
For Modi, the appointment represents a “final rejection of Nehruvian socialism, which almost gave the minorities a slightly exalted status,” said Gupta, referring to Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and independence leader.
Adityanath called his victory a step forward for Hindus.