Hardline priest sworn in as head of India’s Uttar Pradesh state

Yogi Adityanath accused of attempted murder and inciting violence against Muslims

Yogi Adityanath (centre), head of India’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),   is offered sweets after his election  as chief minister of  Uttar Pradesh. He was hand-picked by India’s prime minister Narendra Modi. Photograph: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

Yogi Adityanath (centre), head of India’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is offered sweets after his election as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. He was hand-picked by India’s prime minister Narendra Modi. Photograph: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

 

A hardline Hindu religious leader was sworn in on Sunday as head of India’s most populous and politically significant northern Uttar Pradesh state.

Yogi Adityanath, facing charges of attempted murder and inciting violence against Muslims, took the oath of office in the provincial capital Lucknow after his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a landslide victory in provincial elections last week.

The 44-year-old was hand-picked by prime minister Narendra Modi, who attended his swearing-in ceremony, despite protests from opposition parties and Muslims, who constitute about 20 per cent of the state’s population of more than 204 million,

If it was independent, Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to India’s parliament, would be the world’s fifth most populous country.

“I have immense confidence that this new team [headed by Adityanath] will leave no stone unturned in making Uttar Pradesh [northern state] into Uttam Pradesh [excellent state],” tweeted Mr Modi.

Hindu colour

Mr Adityanath, who always dresses in the Hindu colour of saffron, is the head priest of Gorakhnath Mutt, a temple in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Other than a charge of attempted murder, he faces investigation for creating disharmony between Hindus and Muslims and for insulting Islamic religious places.

The priest vociferously supports cow protection, opposes the eating of beef, which is considered unholy by Hindus, and has praised US president Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban on a group of Muslim-majority countries, saying India needed to emulate such an embargo.

He has called upon all Muslims who oppose yoga, practised largely by Hindus, to either leave the country or drown themselves in the sea.

The yogi also accused Mother Teresa of being part of a conspiracy to “Christianise” India by converting gullible Hindus to her faith; and in 2005 he led a “purification” drive by converting Christians to Hinduism.

‘Polarisation’

Opposition Congress Party leader Manish Tewari criticised Mr Adityanath’s appointment, saying it was a “harbinger for greater polarisation”.

The BJP’s electoral triumph in Uttar Pradesh – it won 312 of 403 assembly seats – is seen by analysts as a harbinger for Mr Modi and the BJP in the 2019 parliamentary elections, as they are strongly favoured to win another five-year term in office.

Securing Uttar Pradesh was crucial for Mr Modi, who campaigned tirelessly and almost singlehandedly carried the vote.

“The BJP believes that Yogi Adityanath and his chauvinistic agenda will advance their 2019 election strategy of consolidating the majority Hindu votes to ensure their return to power,” said political analyst Seema Mustafa.