NEW YORK: (APP) Leading American newspapers have denounced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's choice of Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu hardliner, as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, saying the move reflects the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in India.
The New York Times headline of it's editorial about the elevation of Adityanath -- "Modi's Perilous Embrace of Hindu Extremists" -- and
The Washington Post's caption of an opinion piece -- "Meet the militant monk spreading Islamophobia in India" -- highlight the concern being felt here over the assumption of power by the "firebrand Hindu cleric."
In the editorial, the Times said: "The move is a shocking rebuke to religious minorities, and a sign that cold political calculations ahead of national elections in 2019 have led Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party to believe that nothing stands in the way of realizing its long-held dream of transforming a secular republic into a Hindu state.
"Adityanath has made a political career of demonizing Muslims, thundering against such imaginary plots as 'love jihad': the notion that Muslim men connive to water down the overwhelming Hindu majority by seducing Hindu women. He defended a Hindu mob that murdered a Muslim man in 2015 on the suspicion that his family was eating beef, and said Muslims who balked at performing a yoga salutation to the sun should 'drown themselves in the sea.'
"Uttar Pradesh, home to more than 200 million people, badly needs development, not ideological showmanship. The state has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. Nearly half of its children are stunted. Educational outcomes are dismal. Youth unemployment is high...
"But the appointment shows that Mr. Modi sees no contradiction between economic development and a muscular Hindu nationalism that feeds on stoking anti-Muslim passions.
"Modi's economic policies have delivered growth, but not jobs. India needs to generate a million new jobs every month to meet employment demand. Should Adityanath fail to deliver, there is every fear that he, and Modi's party, will resort to deadly Muslim-baiting to stay in power, turning Modi's dreamland into a nightmare for India's minorities, and threatening the progress that Modi has promised to all of its citizens."
In the opinion piece in The Washington Post, Nilanjana Bhowmick, an author, wrote: "Adityanath is a controversial and deeply divisive figure for his militant, misogynistic and anti-Muslim rhetoric. He has been a vociferous supporter of a campaign called Love Jihad, ostensibly to stop Muslim youths from marrying Hindu women, claiming, without evidence backing this up, that the intention was to convert them to Islam. His supporters have called for digging up Muslim women from their graves and raping them. In 2015, he said that if he was given the chance, he would install idols of Hindu gods in every mosque. In an undated video uploaded in 2014, he said, 'If [Muslims] take one Hindu girl, we'll take 100 Muslim girls. If they kill one Hindu, we'll kill 100 Muslims'.
"December will mark 25 years since a Hindu mob, led by the pro-Hindutva group Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its associates, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, had destroyed the historic Babri mosque in the temple town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh in order to build a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Rama. The Hindus claim the mosque was built on the rubble of a temple during the Mughal era. This year also marks 25 years that the BJP has been promising to build a Rama temple on the site. And the overwhelming win of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, where only caste-based regional parties have been known to prosper, along with the appointment of Adityanath is indication enough that many of India's lower classes have decided the time is now right to usher in their idea of change, and not the change that has traditionally been the prerogative and privilege of the elite and the middle classes.
"It also points at rising Islamophobia in India, aided and abetted by the far right and the elephant in the room ever since the unexpected win of Narendra Modi in the 2014 national elections. Adityanath's anointment as the chief minister of a state that has been a hotbed of communal tension for more than two decades suggests that this Islamophobia is taking deeper roots. Last year a mob lynched a Muslim man in a town called Dadri in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly slaughtering a cow, which Hindus consider sacred. Adityanath, who along with his supporters, worships the cow as the great matriarch, said the family of the man should face criminal charges. Leading up to the election, in the interior of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath reportedly promised people a Muslim-free India, if the Hindus forgot their caste and class bias and voted on the basis of religion for the BJP. And it seemed to have worked.
"The similarities between Modi and Adityanath are also pretty striking. Both of them are deeply polarizing figures in Indian politics. Modi's alleged involvement in riots in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 'although no court of law ever indicted him' had made him a pariah in national politics as well as within his own party. Adityanath, too, is reportedly unpopular within the party. And yet, the masses seem to love both because both Modi and Adityanath have been able to position themselves as custodians of the two most engaging symbols of Hinduism, the cow and the Ayodhya temple, which they managed to convince the masses are seemingly under threat from Muslim forces. The Ayodhya temple issue has been like the coal mine fires in Jharia, not visible but constantly burning just under the surface. The cow is fast becoming a national obsession, too. Adityanath's new website, in fact, is running a poll on whether cow slaughter should be punished severely; 98 percent of respondents think it should be.
"Modi's development promises have been on the backburner for a while now. The much-criticized demonetization exercise, too, had shaken his fan base. Adityanath is the Hindutva card he might have been saving for just such a rainy day."