Tag Archives: hindutva

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

JNU protests highlight failures of India’s Modi government

Protesters rally earlier this month at India's Jawaharlal Nehru University. (Getty Images/Chandan Khanna)
Protesters rally earlier this month at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. (Getty Images/Chandan Khanna)

Nearly two years ago, when Indian voters swept Narendra Modi into power, it was all supposed to be about development.India Flag Icon

Modi, the former Gujarati first minister, led the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) to a dizzying landslide on the promise that he would be the energetic 21st century CEO of India, Inc. He repeatedly emphasized that his administration would prioritize toilets over temples, that a Modi-led government would be far more interested in promoting economic growth, human development and policy reform than in policing the religious norms of the Hindu nationalists so influential in the BJP.

But by the standards of Modi’s own 2014 campaign, he’s failing.

His efforts to enact business-friendly land reform (essentially, giving the Indian government stronger rights to eminent domain) was curtailed by farmers, Rahul Gandhi and even opponents to Modi’s own right flank.

An attempt to enact a Goods and Services Tax bill, which would harmonize a single tax rate across India’s state borders, is also flailing (for now) in the upper house of the Indian parliament. Officially, the economy grew in 2015 by 7.5%, but there’s reason to doubt those numbers.

That makes the latest showdown between Modi and student protesters even more damning — a prosecution of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and five other students at Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University for ‘sedition’ after the students led a series of protests against over the 2013 execution of a Kashmiri man charged with a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.  Continue reading JNU protests highlight failures of India’s Modi government

Photo of the day: Obama meets Modi


The most incredible thing about US president Barack Obama’s most recent three-day trip to India, which began today, is that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi can pull off such a sincere welcome less than six weeks after citing Russia as India’s top defense partner, even as he and Obama would later announce a new US-India nuclear energy deal.India Flag Icon

Has any world leader had such a strong first nine months in office from a geopolitical strategic perspective?

Keep in mind that Modi, barred from the United States for nearly a decade due to his alleged role in the anti-Muslim riots in his home state of Gujarat, was not always particularly keen on strengthening relationships with the United States. Instead, on the basis of his work promoting Gujarat, it was always more likely that he would look to China, Japan, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, where he wooed investment to his own state. With his emphasis on turfing out the corrupt and ineffective leadership of the Gandhi family, and with relatively little commentary on India’s foreign policy, no one expected Modi to build so many bridges in such little time.

Within just nine months, Modi has been the guest of honor at a state dinner at the White House, and he packed Madison Square Garden, filled with tens of thousands of North Americans of Indian descent thrilled to hear from India’s most powerful leader in three decades. By all accounts, Modi and Obama have developed a strong working relationship, unique for an American president who isn’t particularly known for his chemistry with world leaders.

Today, however, Modi has the grin of a prime minister, who, despite a decade as a pariah throughout much of the West, now revels in being suited by everyone — not just the United States and Russia, but China, Brazil, Japan, Europeans, Africans. In foreign policy, Modi is running a positive-sum game. What other countries in the world could manage to nurture such close relationships, strategic and otherwise, with Russia and the United States simultaneously? (Serbia, maybe? The United Arab Emirates? The list isn’t incredibly long.)

Modi, whose social media use has been nimble, was quick to post a photo of his warm welcome for Obama early Sunday morning. But one look at his Facebook and Twitter feeds, which often border on the campy side, show that he doesn’t just delight in Obama — in 2015 alone, he’s featured shots with German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble,  Israeli agriculture minister Yair Shamir, Astrakhan provincial governor Alexander Zhilkin, Iranian presidential adviser Akbar Torkan, Canadian immigration minister Chris Alexander, Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski, among many (many) others.

What’s becoming clear is that while Modi has taken only a gradual approach to reforming India’s government, slowly introducing changes to make the bureaucracy more efficient, the theme of Indian pride is constant in the Modi approach to both domestic and foreign policy. Continue reading Photo of the day: Obama meets Modi

How the 2002 Gujarat riots became so important to the 2014 election


Earlier this year, when Narendra Modi, the frontrunner to become  India’s next prime minister, decided to run from Varanasi, a city that many in India consider to be India’s holiest, many of his supporters co-opted a Hindu chant, ‘har har Mahadev,’ a traditional greeting in Varanasi among Hindus.India Flag Icon

The chant praises the Hindu lord Shiva, also known as Mahadev, and it literally means, ‘rid us of pain,’ though it was once a battle cry of ancient Hindu kings.

Modi’s supporters co-opted the chant as ‘har har Modi,’ a turn of events that even left some Hindu scholars uncomfortable. Though Modi and other leaders in his party, the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) eventually called on supporters to desist, it’s become the most notorious ‘dog whistle’ in a campaign where religious tension is bubbling fervently below the surface.

It also confounded worries among India’s religious minorities that they might be second-class citizens under a Modi government. The overwhelming majority of Indians are Hindu, including nearly 80.5% of the Indian population, largely as a result of the 1947 Partition that created the Muslim-majority Pakistan. But 13.4% of India’s population is Muslim — another 2.3% is Christian, another 1.9% is Sikh and another 0.8% is Buddhist. In a country of 1.236 billion people, that translates to over 165 million Muslims, and that’s a fairly large group of folks that could feel threatened by a potential Modi government.

For many Indians, the key question of this year’s national elections has less to do with development or economics but rather about a series of riots in 2002 that left at least 790 Indian Muslims, and possibly up to 2,000 Muslims, dead.

Those riots, which took place in Gujarat, were one of the first crises in the administration of a new chief minister, Narendra Modi, just four months on the job. Modi had succeeded Keshubhai Patel, another BJP chief minister whose rule faltered after the loss of several by-elections and charges of mismanagement of the relief efforts from a devastating 2001 earthquake in Gujarat.

Twelve years later, Modi’s response to those riots and the lack of clarity over his responsibility for the bloodletting is at the heart of the national election campaign. Suspicion that Modi subtly encouraged the violence has dogged him ever since. Though he’s been technically absolved by the Indian supreme court, the Gujarati riots prevented Modi from receiving a visa to enter the United States in the mid-2000s and Modi himself has refused to apologize for the tragedy that took place on his watch. even as Modi has increasingly used his economic stewardship of Gujarat as the basis of his presidential-style campaign.

So what actually happened? And why has it become so central to the current election campaign?  Continue reading How the 2002 Gujarat riots became so important to the 2014 election