Will this radical nationalist monk be India’s next divisive leader?

Opinion by Rana Ayyub, Global Opinions contributing writer. Original article here.

Adityanath’s talent for stoking communal polarization while hiding behind a market-friendly facade is right out of the Modi playbook, and many see him as the leader who could carry the torch to establish Hindu supremacy in India. But in many ways, Adityanath is even more dangerous than Modi. He doesn’t even bother to camouflage his disdain for Muslims.

Uttar Pradesh has approved “love jihad” laws criminalizing religious conversions by marriage with jail terms of up to 10 years. Adityanath, 48, openly hates the Taj Mahal because, in his view, it does not represent Indian culture (since it was built by Mughals, and Muslims in the country are seen as their lineage). In 2020, he announced that Muslims who chose India as their home during the partition in 1947 did no favor to the country. He further stated that his party did not belong to the “biryani” eating tribe, another anti-Muslim slur.

He has had journalists arrested under sedition laws for publishing reports critical of his administration, including the botched investigation into the gang rape of a lower-caste girl by upper-caste men. The saffron-clad leader is the founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a nationalist organization for Hindu youth who started cow vigilantism (also known as cow protection using violence) that has led to the lynching of Muslims in the state. The Yuva Vahini also led an “anti-Romeo” squad that opposes any public presence of young unmarried couples and celebration of things like Valentine’s Day.

Adityanath faced dozens of investigations for provoking anti-Muslim riots, giving hateful speeches, and even planning murders and kidnappings. But many of these investigations went cold or were withdrawn after he assumed power.

Under Adityanath’s rule, Muslims live under the constant threat of violence and discrimination. Just ask Uvaish Ahmed, 21, who was imprisoned in November for marrying a Muslim woman, quashing his dream to join the Indian army. In December, 14 members of a family were arrested under the fascist anti-religious conversion law in the state. Also, last year the police in Uttar Pradesh opened fire on Muslims protesting the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. More than 30 people were killed and the properties of hundreds of Muslims were confiscated for protesting.

As Modi continues to tighten his authoritarian grip on India, Yogi Adityanath becomes more divisive, radical, dangerous and volatile. But this has only made him the favorite of many, who see what he has done in Uttar Pradesh as a model for the country.

The country’s democracy is going through one of its most fragile phases. Just last week, the 21-year-old climate change activist Disha Ravi was arrested for supporting the farmers’ protest. Indian democracy under Modi is already being mutilated almost beyond repair. He has targeted students, journalists, critics, Muslims, people of lower castes and lately, the mostly Sikh farmers who are fighting for their dignity.

And now India faces the prospect of Adityanath succeeding Modi — and we have ample reason to fear what he will do to prove that he can accelerate the process of turning India into a Hindu nationalist nation.

That should be of grave concern not just for Indians but also for the international community.

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