If the Ayatollah or the Imams are to rule Iran, can be a matter of discussion and debate, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, if a religious leader forms a government, be it a state government, in a secular country, then that certainly is just not normal. This country with the secular label is India, known as the largest democracy in the world.
The secular image of this largest democracy began to pale basically when Narendra Modi, a political leader of the hindutva ilk, became prime minister. And now the young Hindu priest Adityanath Yogi, known to be a Muslim-hating Hindu zealot, has become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Had Uttar Pradesh be a separate country, it would have been the fourth most populous in the world (Bangladesh is the eighth most populous).
Just four days after Europeans breathed a sigh of relief at the defeat of anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders, liberals around a world took note with concern that an extremist Muslim-hating priest became the chief minister of India’s largest state. He has not even spared the sainted Christian Mother Teresa, accusing her of trying to change India through religious conversion. There are several cases against him, accusing him of murder, spreading fear and inciting riots.
Editorials in international newspapers like New York Times, Washington Post and Guardian have termed this election as a backward journey for India. We have long and unpleasant experience of the religion-based politics of which the West is so concerned. It was such politics that divided this subcontinent. And religious politics normally is not restricted within borders, as we witnessed in the spillover from the Babri mosque destruction. When a party like Jamaat was patronized by the government in Bangladesh, India was unhappy. There are some that just might feel the same way about India.
Adityanath’s political past is cause for concern. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the only party that did not make in clear in their Uttar Pradesh election campaign who their possible chief minister would be. The prime minister lured the backward population of the state with promises of development. But then he stunned everybody by selecting the priest of Gorakhpur temple Adityanath to head the state.
Communal riots in Gujarat had to an extent questioned Modi’s political career. But he took up divisive religious policies as his political ideology. Adityanath is simply an even more orthodox model of Modi’s political trend.
Uttar Pradesh has a significant role in India’s central politics. Of the 545 Lok Sabha seats to form the central government, 80 are from this state. The state also has an important role in maintaining communal peace and harmony in India. The deadly riots which took place in India about 25 years ago, sprung up from the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir conflict. At the outset of Modi’s rule, it was in this place that violence was sparked off over the eating of beef. Taj Mahal, the symbol of the Mughal rule, is located in this state.
Speaking to the Guardian, Milan Vaisnav of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Adityanath was only an expert in agitating the public and devoting himself to extremist Hindu nationalism. Adityanath accused the Muslim youth of ‘love jihad’, wherein Muslim young men allegedly were conspiring to covert Hindu girls and thus reduce the Hindu population. According to the New York Times, Adityanath supported a Muslim being beaten to death in 2015 for eating beef. He even told Muslims to drown themselves in the sea for not bowing and paying obeisance to the sun god at sunrise.
In a state on 24 March, Amnesty International asked Adityanath to withdraw his anti-Muslim statement. Amnesty earlier had asked the same of US president Trump. The statement made by Adityanath in 2014 to which Amnesty had objected, and which they had on video, was that if a Muslim boy enticed a Hindu girl, then they would take 100 Muslim girls. “If they kill one Hindu man,” he said, “we will kill 100 Muslim men.” Amnesty said that Islam hatred spread since Modi won the elections in 2014 and now Adityanath’s victory in Uttar Pradesh indicated that this hatred had spread further.
Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump greeted Modi on his party’s win in Uttar Pradesh. And like Trump, Adityanath also wants restrictions on the entry of Muslims into India, “to keep out terrorists”.
Uttar Pradesh’s win now sends out reverberations that Modi will win the 2019 election too. Mentioning this in its editorial, New York Times said Modi’s BJP now believes there’s no stopping their cherished dream of turning India from a secular state to a Hindu one. The Indian government did send a rejoinder to this editorial.
BJP’s confidence is boosted by the fact that India has no substantial political party as its opposition. There seems little chance of the regional parties forming a formidable alliance either. This will increase pressure and control of the extremists on BJP. The Guardian says that the minorities may have to depend on the goodwill of the majority. There is evidence of this already in Uttar Pradesh. All the livestock slaughter houses have been shutdown. The police have to pay more attention to young lovers than actual crime. Within 24 hours of Adityanath coming to power, a Muslim former state lawmaker was killed by extremists.
Why is there so much concern about the minorities in the world’s biggest democracy and a country that claims to be secular? Muslim’s constitute one-fifth of Indian population. That is of the 130 crore population, about 26 crore are Muslim. Yet of the 545 members of Indian parliament, only 22 are Muslim. Not one of them is from BJP. In Uttar Pradesh too, BJP has no Muslim representative.
The issues of peace and stability will rise repeatedly. But even enforced peace will not be sustainable if the minorities have to survive by appeasing the majority. It is true that people’s mandate in favor of orthodox hindutva politics cannot be denied, but it is hoped that Indian liberal remain alert about maintaining India’s character, upholding the constitutional guarantee for the minorities and ensuring international human rights standards. As a neighbouring country, we cannot keep our eyes closed too long. Just as the rise of religion-based politics in our own county is dangerous, it is dangerous in other countries too.