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Modi’s bid to transform India into ‘Hindu nation’ adversely impacting Muslims: NYT

Sunday, July 16, 2017
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Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s current drive to transform India into a “Hindu nation” has drowned out his election pledge for development and economic growth, a leading American newspaper said in a dispatch focused on the rise of anti-Muslim politician Yogi Adityanath.

Reporting from New Delhi, The New York Times said that Modi’s push for Hindu nationalist agenda has shrunk the economic and social space for India’s 170 million Muslims.

In this regard, Times correspondents Ellen Barry and Sujhasini Raj said Modi’s choice of Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister was “astonishing”, pointing out that as leader of a temple known for its militant Hindu supremacist tradition, Adityanath had built an army of youths intent on avenging historic wrongs by Muslims, whom he has called ‘a crop of two-legged animals that has to be stopped’.

“Few decisions in Indian politics matter more than the selection of the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, because the post is seen as a springboard for future prime ministers,” the Times said.

“At the age of 45, the diminutive, baby-faced Adityanath is receiving the kind of career-making attention that projects an Indian politician toward higher office.”

Sadanand Dhume, an India specialist at the American Enterprise Institute was quoted as saying, “He (Adityanath) is automatically on anybody’s list as a potential contender to succeed Modi. They have normalized someone who, three years ago, was considered too extreme to be minister of state for textiles. Everything has been normalized so quickly”.

In March, the dispatch said, when the Bharatiya Janata Party won a landslide electoral victory in Uttar Pradesh, political prognosticators expected Modi to make a safe choice, Manoj Sinha, a cabinet minister known for his diligence and loyalty to the party. On the morning of the announcement, an honor guard had been arranged outside his village.

But by mid-morning, it was clear that something unusual was going on.

A chartered flight had been sent to pick up Adityanath and take him to Delhi for a meeting with Amit Shah, the party president.

At 6 p.m. the party announced it had appointed him as minister, sending a ripple of shock through India’s political class, according to the Times.

“They were shocked because Adityanath is a radical, but also because he is ambitious, even rebellious,” the dispatch said.

“As recently as January, he walked out of the party’s executive meeting, reportedly because he was not allowed to speak. Mr. Modi is not known to have much tolerance for rivals.”

The appointment “invests a certain amount of power in Yogi Adityanath that cannot be easily taken away,” Ashutosh Varshney, a professor of political science and international studies at Brown University, was quoted as saying.

“Modi has been either unwilling to stop his rise, or unable to stop his rise,” he said.

As a young man, the Times pointed out Adityanath’s passion was politics, not religion. One of seven children born to a forest ranger, Adityanath, born Ajay Singh Bisht, found his vocation in college as an activist in the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu organization.

“He was so engrossed in the group’s work that the first two or three times he was summoned by a distant relative, the head priest of the Gorakhnath Temple, he could not find the time,” he has said.

But religion and politics were fast converging, it was pointed out. Gorakhnath Temple had a tradition of militancy: Digvijay Nath, the head priest until 1969, was arrested for exhorting Hindu militants to kill Mahatma Gandhi days before he was shot.

His successor, Mahant Avaidyanath, urged Hindu mobs in 1992 to tear down a 16th-century mosque and build a temple there, setting off some of the bloodiest religious riots in India’s recent history.

When Adityanath announced his intention to join the temple, his father, Anand Singh Bisht, forbade it, he has said. But Adityanath left anyway. Years later, Bisht burst into tears at the memory.

Bisht did not learn that his son had become a monk until four months after the fact, he said. Bisht rushed to see his son at the temple, and found him transformed, his head shaven and his ear pierced in a painful ceremony.

“I said, “Son, what have you done?” I was shocked,” he said.

“That was my child’s desire and so he was there. Then I gave my permission to go ahead. I had no choice.”

Adityanath won a seat in Parliament, the first of five consecutive terms. Among his advantages was a new group he had formed: the Hindu Yuva Vahini, or Hindu Youth Brigade, a vigilante organization. The volunteers, now organized to the village level and said by leaders to number 250,000, show up in force where Muslims are rumoured to be bothering Hindus.

Vijay Yadav, 21, a volunteer lounging at Gorakhnath Temple in Gorakhpur on a recent day, said he had recently mobilized 60 or 70 young men to beat a Muslim accused of cow slaughter, according to the dispatch.

They stopped, he said, only because the police intervened.

“All the Hindus got together and the first slap was given by me,” he said proudly.

“If they do something wrong, fear is what works best. If you do something wrong, we will stop you. If you talk too much, we will kill you. This is our saying for Muslims.”

During the first five years after the vigilante group was formed, 22 religious clashes broke out in the districts surrounding Gorakhpur, a city in Uttar Pradesh, in many cases with Adityanath’s encouragement, the Times said, citing Manoj Singh, a journalist.

In 2007, Adityanath was arrested as he led a procession toward neighbourhoods seething with religious tension.

Even then, Singh recalled, the officer who arrested Adityanath stopped first to touch his feet as a gesture of reverence, it said.

Adityanath was released after 11 days, but the arrest seemed to jolt him.

He became more cautious, no longer directly leading followers into religious confrontations, Singh added.

For India’s frenetic 24-hour cable television world, Adityanath’s first months as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh were a windfall, it said.

Arriving in Lucknow, a city weary of a corrupt bureaucracy, he projected a refreshing toughness and austerity.

He warned officials that they would be expected to work 18 to 20 hours a day if they were to keep their jobs, and inspectors and bureaucrats were said to be too afraid to ask for bribes.

His first orders were unabashedly populist.

The police were dispatched in “anti-Romeo squads” to detain youths suspected of harassing women. Inspectors shut down dozens of meat-processing plants, a major source of revenue for area Muslims, for regulatory problems.

Vishal Pratap Singh, a Lucknow-based television journalist, noted that Adityanath was a “totally changed man on camera,” careful to avoid comments offensive to Muslims.

Still, Vishal Singh said, his ratings are sky-high, and the reason is obvious.

“Like Modi, he speaks for the Hindus,” he said.

“Within his heart, he is a totally anti-Muslim person. That is the reason he is so likable.”

Neerja Chowdhury, an analyst, was cited as saying that Adityanath has two years to establish himself as an effective administrator.

“Remember, he is 20 years younger than Modi, and he is a known doer, so if he manages to deliver on some fronts, he would then become a possible candidate in 2024,” she said.

“India is moving right,” she added. “Whether India moves further right, and Modi begins to be looked upon as a moderate, I think that only time will tell.”