Hindutva Personified

Hindutva Personified


Yogi Adityanath, the new chief minister of India's Uttar Pradesh state, is a popular priest and a powerful politician.

He is also Hindutva personified.

Adityanath is given to polarizing and divisive rhetoric, and he's been accused of numerous inflammatory acts. These include, as chronicled by Indian Express, leading a "purification drive" to convert Christians to Hinduism and inciting communal riots. It's unsurprising that a hardliner like Adityanath harbors ties to some highly unsavory institutions and individuals. He is the founder of an organization, Hindu Yuva Vahini, which is accused of sparking anti-Muslim riots. Most horrifying of all, according to India media reports he once shared a stage with a speaker who implored the crowd to rape dead Muslim women.

The appointment of Adityanath may signal the BJP's decision to move its social agenda to center stage. It also underscores how the BJP's political strategy has evolved over the nearly three years it has held power at the center.

Back in 2014, Narendra Modi and the BJP were swept into power on a mandate to pursue economic reform. During Modi's first few months as premier, the advancement of Hindu nationalist causes took a back seat to economic growth policies.

And yet, by 2015, Modi's economic reform plan was suffering setbacks. Members of the BJP's rank and file-including the Patel clan in Modi's home state of Gujarat-staged protests decrying their lack of job opportunities. And then, in November 2015, the BJP experienced a humiliating defeat in the Bihar state election.

Up to that point, the BJP's social agenda hadn't exactly been neglected; witness the BJP's efforts to expand beef bans and to give more television airtime to the RSS. And yet there was reason to fear that the government would try to appease a restless, worried party base by intensifying its focus on Hindu nationalistic causes.

But then a funny thing happened this month-the BJP suddenly got its mojo back and scored a resounding victory in the Uttar Pradesh state election. As a result, the tables have turned. Instead of tapping into Hindutva to energize a demoralized party base, an emboldened BJP can now seek to expand its social agenda from a position of strength.

From a purely political perspective, appointing Adityanath is a stroke of genius. He is a highly successful politician-as evidenced by the five elections he's won as an MP. For Modi and the BJP, elevating one of Uttar Pradesh's most popular politicians to the top spot is a move that will play well among constituents.

And yet, Adityanath's ascension to power in India's largest state raises troubling questions about the country's future political trajectory-not to mention legitimate concerns about the well being of its many million non-Hindus.


Michael Kugelman is the deputy director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. @michaelkugelman