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Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s newly minted chief minister, is the bad boy of Hindu nationalism

The 44-year-old Hindu priest Yogi Adityanath (left), an often acerbic critic of Islam, was appointed chief minister last weekend of India’s largest state. (PTI)

When he was campaigning across India in the leadup to his overwhelming victory in the 2014 general election, prime minister Narendra Modi often proclaimed that development, more than Hindu nationalism, would behis government’s priority.

Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya. Toilets first, temples later.

Indeed, throughout this spring’s local election campaigns in five states across India, Modi and his Hindu nationalist  Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) emphasized development, economic reforms and defended the November 2016 ‘demonetisation’ effort, all neatly summed up in the slogan — sabka saath, sabka vikas, essentially ‘all together, development for all.’

It worked: the BJP easily won elections in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, and it did well enough to form new governments in Goa and in Manipur. (In the fifth state, Punjab, the BJP has a negligible presence as the junior partner of a Sikh-interest party that last week lost a 10-year grip on power).

But the Modi brand of ‘toilets over temples’ seemed to change Saturday, when the BJP announced that Yogi Adityanath would serve as Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister.

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RELATED: Modi sweeps state elections in Uttar Pradesh
in win for ‘demonetisation’

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The 44-year-old Adityanath, a local priest who dresses in saffron robes, has been a member of India’s parliament since 1998, representing the Gorakhpur district in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

He will now lead a sprawling north Indian state of over 200 million people; indeed, a state more populous than all but five countries worldwide. Uttar Pradesh, sometimes marred by religious violence in the past, and it’s somewhat poorer than the average Indian state. In fact, its per-capita GDP is lower than every other state in India (except for impoverished, neighboring Bihar) and barely more than one-third that in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

Though many of the BJP’s supporters are motivated by Hindutva — the idea of bringing Hindu nationalism and Hinduist morals and precepts into government, the Modi wave of 2014 (and 2017) rests on the idea that Modi can implement the kind of economic reforms and development policy to make Uttar Pradesh more like the relatively prosperous Gujarat.

To that end, many Indian commentators expected the BJP to call upon an experienced statesman to head the new government in Uttar Pradesh. Home minister Rajnath Singh, who briefly served as the state’s chief minister from 2000 to 2002, or the younger communications and railways minister Manoj Sinha, both of whom are among the most popular and successful members of the Modi government, typically topped the list of potential leaders.

By contrast, Adityanath doesn’t have a single day of executive or ministerial experience. He is a controversial figure, to say the least. In his first day as chief minister, he spent more time talking about shutting down slaughterhouses, a top priority for Hindu nationalists who believe that cows are sacred creatures, than about the nuts-and-bolts policy details, despite promising that development would be his top focus.

In short, the new chief minister is the bad boy of Hindu nationalism, a man who’s been charged with crimes as serious as attempted murder, rioting and trespassing on burial grounds. He once claimed Mother Teresa was part of a conspiracy to Christianize India, threatened one of the leading Muslim Bollywood film stars and accused Muslim men of waging ‘love jihad’ against Hindu women. Among his more moderate provocations was a recent threat to place a statue of Ganesha in every mosque in Uttar Pradesh.  Continue reading Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s newly minted chief minister, is the bad boy of Hindu nationalism

India’s election results: Modi wave largest mandate since 1984

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The results are now (largely) in for what will certainly be one of the biggest election dramas of the decade.India Flag Icon

Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister, has led the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) to its best-ever victory. In India’s post-independence history, it’s the first time that the BJP — or any party — has won an absolute majority other than the  Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).

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RELATED: In-Depth: India’s elections

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Conversely, the Congress, the party of Indian independence and the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, has suffered its worst defeat in the history of independent India. After a decade of rule, party president Sonia Gandhi and her son, party vice president Rahul Gandhi, face a long wilderness in the Modi era.

Here’s the latest on results, via NDTV:


The BJP, by itself, will hold 284 seats, which gives it an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा). Together with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it will hold 340 seats. That represents the largest mandate that any governing coalition has won since 1984, when Congress won over 400 seats under Rajiv Gandhi, who was waging the fight after his mother, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her SIkh bodyguards in the wake of Sikh riots.

It’s hard to describe just what a massive landslide this was, but this NDTV map of all 543 constituencies give you a good idea:

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Continue reading India’s election results: Modi wave largest mandate since 1984

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 6


Today, Indians in eleven states (and a territory) will vote in the sixth phase of its elections.India Flag Icon

In terms of seats, today’s phase of voting (in 117 constituencies) is only marginally less important than last week’s April 17 phase, in which 121 seats to the decided.

What’s more, after today’s voting, we’ll be well over the halfway mark of voting in all 543 constituencies of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा) — following today’s phase, we’ll be 195 constituencies away from the end of what’s been the largest, longest election in Indian history.

So where are the key points in today’s round of voting?

Tamil Nadu

The biggest prize is the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which elects all 39 of its Lok Sabha representatives today. It’s one of India’s most populous states, with over 72.1 million people, and it’s also one of India’s largest state economies, with its capital Chennai a primary manufacturing, services and financial hub.

Unfortunately for Narendra Modi, the frontrunner to become the next prime minister, and for Rahul Gandhi, who hopes to lead the current government to a third consecutive term in power, neither of India’s two national parties are expected to win very many votes here. Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 6

The path to India’s next government runs through Uttar Pradesh

India, Uttar Pradesh, Agra Man on bike with girl on trailer and man pushing from behind in front of Taj Mahal at sunset

It’s the most populous state in the world’s largest democracy.India Flag Icon

It’s the great heartland of Hindustan along India’s north-central border, home to the Taj Mahal, home to seven of India’s 13 prime ministers, and the traditional base of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has given India three prime ministers, and hopes to give India its next prime minister in Rahul Gandhi.

It’s Uttar Pradesh (which translates to ‘northern province’), and Narendra Modi’s path to becoming India’s next prime minister runs right through it.

A sketch of India’s most populous state

With 199.6 million residents, it’s nearly as populous as Brazil — and with 80 seats up for grabs in the 545-member Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the state is by far the largest prize in India’s parliamentary elections, which kick off April 7 and will be conducted in nine phases that conclude on May 12. Given the sheer size of the state, voters in Uttar Pradesh will go to the polls in six of the nine phases,** spanning virtually the entire voting season.

That means that Uttar Pradesh holds about one-third of the seats any party would need to win a majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower (and more consequential) house of the Indian parliament.


Though it lies in the heart of the ‘Hindi belt,’ which might otherwise make it fertile territory for Modi’s conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी), it won’t necessarily be the easiest sell for Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat since 2001.

In contrast to Gujarat, which is one of the wealthiest states of India, Uttar Pradesh is one of the poorest — it had a state GDP per capita of around $1,586 (as of 2009), less than 50% of Gujarat’s equivalent. Continue reading The path to India’s next government runs through Uttar Pradesh

Meet Arvind Kejriwal, the rising anti-corruption star of Indian politics

Arvind Kejriwal

Yesterday, the new government of Delhi’s national capital territory launched a new anti-graft hotline that received nearly 4,000 calls on its first day.India Flag Icon

In what was supposed to be the year of Narendra Modi’s easy rise to India’s premiership, it’s another brash new leader who’s making headlines instead — and not just in India, but worldwide.

It’s Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी), literally the ‘Common Man’ Party, which emerged as the key player in Delhi’s December regional elections as  an alternative to Modi’s conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and the governing center-left Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) of Sonia Gandhi, the party’s leader; Rahul Gandhi, her son; and outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh. 

Kejriwal, at age 45 one of India’s youngest chief ministers, took office on December 28, leading a minority government that, somewhat ironically, enjoys the outside support of the INC, which controlled Delhi’s government between 1998 and last December’s elections.  Congress, which was running for a fourth consecutive term in power under chief minister Sheila Dikshit, was decimated — it not only lost its majority, but now holds just eight seats, after suffering from widespread corruption allegations.  Kejriwal actually ran in Dikshit’s New Delhi constituency and defeated her by a margin of 53.5% to 22.2% (state BJP leader Vijender Gupta received just 21.7%).

Though the BJP actually won the greatest number of seats (31 to the AAP’s 28), negotiations between the AAP and the BJP failed, and Kejriwal took up Congress’s somewhat surprising offer to back his government, thereby avoiding a new round of elections.  Unlike other regional parties in India, the AAP managed to take power on a broad coalition of supporters, not on the basis of representing certain religious or class-based constituencies — it attracted Muslims and Hindus, rich and poor, Dalit and non-Dalit, and especially India’s educated younger generation.

Kejriwal, a mechanical engineer by training and a former Indian Revenue Service official, started an NGO in 1999 called Parivartan, designed to provide tax assistance and other help to Delhi citizens.  But it was as an anti-corruption official that Kejriwal first caught fire in the national spotlight, and under the mentorship of Anna Hazare, worked to demand what would eventually become the Right to Information Act (RTI) in 2005, which required government bodies to reply to citizen requests for information within 30 days or face penalties, and which relaxes many previous exemptions from disclosure under the Official Secrets Act and other legislation.  RTI replaced the much weaker, toothless and exemption-ridden 2002 Freedom of Information Act.  

In 2011, Anna and Kejriwal succeeded in pushing the government to start the process for drafting a Jan Lokpal bill, an anti-corruption law that would create the Jan Lokpal, an independent citizen’s ombudsman commission that would have the ability to investigate corruption.  Though India’s parliament pushed through a Lokpal Bill in December 2013, it’s much weaker than the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill — for example, it doesn’t protect whistleblowers, it doesn’t provide for any real punitive actions or the ability to prosecute corrupt bureaucrats, and it doesn’t provide investigative independence to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation.  Kejriwal took the final leap into elective politics when he founded the AAP in November 2012 with the intention of contesting Delhi’s local elections.

Having now swept to power in Delhi (literally on the image of a broom ‘sweeping’ corruption away), Kejriwal wasted no time in announcing a 50% cut in power rates and free water to Delhi residents within hours of taking power.  He’s already working to implement the AAP’s anti-corruption agenda with the anti-graft hotline, and he’s pledged to introduce a Jan Lokpal bill specifically for Delhi soon.AAP broom

There’s good reason for Kejriwal to be in a hurry — with the AAP’s momentum spreading from Delhi to other parts of India, it could be in a position to make a splash in national politics with the upcoming elections for the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament, which are due before May 31.  That gives Kejriwal some time to lay the foundation for what the AAP might be able to accomplish on a grander scale, a down payment on what a national anti-corruption party could enact.

After a decade of rule under Singh’s Congress-led governments, Indian voters are weary with Congress .  Its prime minister-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi seems unexciting and disinterested.  Indians are displeased with Congress’s reform record and the state of India’s precarious economy.  Meanwhile, the AAP has highlighted a growing disenchantment over bureaucratic corruption.

Though Modi, the decade-long chief minister of Gujarat state, promises to lead a BJP government that will bring Gujarat’s high economic growth rates to the entire country, there are doubts both about the extent to which Modi’s ‘Gujarati model’ is responsible for his state’s growth and how (and whether) such a ‘Gujarati model’ could even be translated to a much more diverse national economy.  Moreover, the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat continue to blemish Modi’s record.  Though he recently spoke out for the first time disclaiming any role in the violence, the riots, which resulted in the death of over 1,000 Muslims, will continue to haunt Modi’s campaign and the notion that he can be a trustworthy prime minister for India’s religious minorities.

So what damage might Kejriwal inflict on the status quo? Plenty.  Continue reading Meet Arvind Kejriwal, the rising anti-corruption star of Indian politics

14 in 2014: India parliamentary elections


6. India parliamentary elections, expected in May.

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In the spring, the country of 1.24 billion people faces a decision — either award a third term to a listless, relatively corrupt center-left government with uninspiring leadership or take a chance on a controversial center-right government that promises economic transformation, but which could inflame India’s Muslim population.

Before May 31, Indians must choose the entire membership of Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament — it currently has 545 members, but can have up to a maximum of 552.

On the left is the familiar Indian National Congress (Congress, or भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).  This is the party of Jawaharlal Nehru. And Indira Gandhi, his daughter. And Rajiv Gandhi, her son. And Sonia Gandhi, his Italian-born wife. And now Rahul Gandhi, their son.  With 206 seats, Congress is the largest party in the Lok Sabha today, and it leads the United Progressive Alliance, which holds a total of 226 seats.

After a decade in office, India’s first Sikh prime minister, economist Manmohan Singh, will step down no matter who wins the elections — and he’ll do so with an economy in the doldrums and a record of having achieved few of the economic and social reforms that Indians expected when he came to power in 2004.  Though he pushed through   reforms to liberalize India’s retail sector earlier this year and a law strengthening punishment for rape after the brutal gang rape and murder of a woman in Delhi in December 2012, Singh’s record as prime minister has been panned — much in contrast to his record as finance minister between 1991 and 1996.  GDP growth is expected to rise in 2013 to around 5% after falling for three consecutive years — from 10.5% in 2010 to 6.3% in 2011 to just 3.2% in 2012.  But that comes after the Indian rupee fell nearly 25% in value against the dollar throughout 2013 — and still remains around 13% lower than it was in January 2013.

Sonia Gandhi, Congress’s party leader throughout Singh’s administration, is expected to continue in that role, with her and her son Rahul (pictured above) leading Congress’s campaign.  But Rahul’s relatively lackluster performance on the campaign trail has led some commentators to wonder whether he really cares if Congress wins or loses in 2014.  Rahul recently tried to create some distance between himself and Singh, but it remains to be seen whether Rahul has the political skill to become India’s next prime minister.

On the right is the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी), which last held power between 1999 and 2004, when it lost a disastrous ‘India Shining’ campaign that seemed to disregard the majority of Indians who weren’t pocketing the gains of India’s economic boom at the time, despite GDP growth of around 8%.  This time around, the BJP has embraced Narendra Modi, the thrice-elected chief minister of Gujarat, home to one of India’s strongest regional economies.  He’s popular, not least of which because he’s seen as impervious to corruption, but he hasn’t explained yet how he would translate his Gujarati economic model to the entirety of India.  What’s more, he’s plagued by his role in controversial anti-Muslim riots in 2002 that left over 1,000 Muslims dead.  Modi’s role remains murky, but it was enough for the United States to deny Modi a visa in the 2000s.  It’s a handicap for Modi’s national ambitions, in light of a population of 176 million Muslim Indians who largely mistrust Modi, who got his political start in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing, Hindu paramilitary group.

Today, Modi seems like the odds-on favorite to become India’s prime minister, but he and the BJP face challenges.  It’s no secret that former BJP leader and deputy prime minister LK Advani has clashed with Modi in the past, and that Modi’s rise to become the nominal head of the BJP remains controversial.  What’s more, he starts the campaign with just 117 seats in the Lok Sabha.  The second-largest member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition, the Janata Dal (United) (जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)), a center-left party with 20 seats that controls India’s third-most populous state, Bihar, when that state’s chief minister Nitish Kumar pulled out of the NDA in June 2013 over differences with Modi.

The BJP thrived in a set of state assembly elections in November and December 2013 in a wide swath of north-central India — it retained Madhya Pradesh (India’s sixth-most populous), retained Chhattisgarh and gained Rajasthan (India’s eight-largest).  But it lost its sole foothold in India’s south when it lost control of the government of Karnataka in May 2013.  There’s also no indication that the BJP can make inroads in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, where it placed third in February 2012 state elections behind two UPA-friendly parties, the Samajwadi Party (समाजवादी पार्टी, Socialist Party), which holds 22 seats, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP, बहुजन समाज पार्टी), which holds 21 seats.  In West Bengal, India’s fourth-largest state (and one of its poorest), chief minister Mamata Banerjee has a lock on politics after her center-left All India Trinamool Congress (সর্বভারতীয় তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস) took power in 2011, defeating the even more communist Left Front (বাম ফ্রন্ট), which also has a strong influence in Kerala in India’s southwestern corner.  Both parties belong to neither the UPA nor the NDA after Banerjee pulled her party out of the UPA in 2012.

Yet another worry is the recent rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (आम आदमी की पार्टी), a new party that rose to prominence in Delhi’s state elections in December and that leads Delhi’s new minority government with outside support from Congress.  Whether you think the Aam Aadmi Party marks a cynical brand of populism or an important moment in the fight against corruption in Indian government, its leader (and new Delhi chief minister) Arvind Kejriwal is a suddenly unexpected key player in India’s national elections.

Taken together, it could mean Indians deliver more votes to third parties in 2014 to either Congress or the BJP — but whether they do so in a way that could actually transform Indian governance is less certain.

Photo credit to AFP / Prakash Singh.

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BJP’s Modi begins Indian election campaign in an incredibly strong position


It’s nearly a year before Indians will go to the polls in the world’s most populous election, but Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi looks ever more like the man with the easiest path to become India’s next prime minister.India Flag Icon

Eleven months is a long time in the politics of any country, so there’s no guarantee, and even if Modi winds up as prime minister, it will be after a long-fought slog.  But the decision last week of the conservative Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, or भारतीय जनता पार्टी) to anoint Modi as the leader of its 2014 parliamentary campaign makes Modi the indisputable, if unofficial, leader of the BJP efforts to regain power after what will be a decade-long hiatus in opposition.

Modi faces plenty of obstacles, too, within his own party and the wider National Democratic Alliance coalition, of which the BJP is the largest participant.

But the fundamental fact is that Modi is now the BJP and NDA standard-bearer and he’ll playing offense against the governing Indian National Congress (Congress, or भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).  A tired prime minister Manmohan Singh will likely leave office in 2014 after a decade of missed opportunities, above all having presided over an underperforming economy.  Moreover, the likely Congress standard-bearer, Rahul Gandhi, seems a hesitant and reluctant leader, even as the party moves more fully toward consolidating under his leadership.  Whereas Modi, after a decade in regional government, personifies a triumphant hunger to gain power and jumpstart India’s economy, Gandhi personifies the listlessness of a fourth-generation scion of a political dynasty that’s been intermittently in power since India’s independence in 1947.

That doesn’t mean that the residual power of the Gandhi family brand of the rougher edges or internal strife within the BJP and the NDA won’t scuttle Modi’s chances — polls show that Congress remains relatively unpopular and that, Indian voters aren’t quite completely sold on the BJP, the ‘saffron party’ nonetheless remains in a very good position to benefit from Congress’s expense.

The 2014 election will determine the membership of the Lok Sabha ( लोक सभा), the 552-member lower chamber of the Indian parliament.  The governing United Progressive Alliance holds 226 seats, of which Congress itself holds 203 seats; the NDA holds 136 seats, of which the BJP itself holds 115 seats.  The Third Front, a coalition of communist and other leftist third parties, holds 77 seats, and the so-called Fourth Front, which is dominated by the Samajwadi Party (Socialist Party) based in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, holds 25 seats.   Continue reading BJP’s Modi begins Indian election campaign in an incredibly strong position