Three days after a “firebrand Hindu cleric” was appointed as chief minister of India’s largest state, eyes were already on the slaughterhouses.
On Saturday, India’s governing party, BJP, appointed Yogi Adityanath, the 44-year-old priest turned politician, to be chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Adityanath has called for India to be a Hindu nation (according to a recent census, the country is 80 percent Hindu and 14 percent Muslim) and supports the construction of a Hindu temple on the site of a razed 16th-century mosque (which, given that he is now chief minister, may well happen). On Tuesday, just three days after his appointment, it was reported that butchers and meat traders are already concerned about the consequences of Adityanath. Only five slaughterhouses operate in UP legally (slaughtered meat is a point of contention in India, where cows are largely sacred and violence has been carried out against Muslims over suspicion of carrying beef).
Sadanand Dhume, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said he wasn’t sure whether illegal or all slaughterhouses will be targeted. “But either way, it’s clear that the party is not shying away from a cultural agenda,” he said. Irfan Nooruddin of Georgetown University believes the slaughterhouse ban will be put into effect. “To be a Christian minority or a Muslim minority is going to be very hard” in the state of UP, he told Foreign Policy.
Why would Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, on the heels of its greatest political victory since 2014, which it won largely on Modi’s political coattails, appoint such a person?
“The results of the Uttar Pradesh elections suggested strong consolidation of much of the Hindu vote in the state,” Dhume explained, adding, “the BJP wants the symbol of that consolidation to be a confrontational figure best known for his animus toward Muslims.”
Politics in UP are characterized by three things: personal wealth amassed by corrupt politicians, nepotism within party politics, and disproportionate power of those in the coalition. Because coalitions in power were so narrow, those in it enjoyed tremendous pull, which gave rise to the idea that Muslims had disproportionate political clout, according to Dhume. Further, by choosing a head of a Hindu holy order, BJP is aiming to transcend caste, an idea that Modi put forth during the campaign.
But so, too, does it signal something else. Since coming to power, Modi has focused on “development politics” — reforms (or promises of reforms) that would develop and strengthen India and its economy.
That doesn’t mean Adityanath signals a complete break from BJP politics. “I think that this is completely with keeping with the campaign strategy used in UP, and that we should not be surprised,” Nooruddin said. However, typically, campaigns aside, Modi and company have put in place more technocratic individuals. The five-time devout MP is not that. And so Adityanath’s appointment suggests not that the BJP may be abandoning development politics, but that it will also pursue identity politics.
And that it may be doing so to the detriment of 14 percent of India’s population.
Update, Mar. 21 2017, 3:17 pm ET: This post was updated to include comment from Irfan Nooruddin.
Photo credit: SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP/Getty Images
Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin
Tags: India, Narendra Modi, The Cable
More from Foreign Policy
This is tough to address because of its complexity. I think that there are two specific aspects of the Indian political condition that need to be addressed. There is the international dimension, which is going fairly well for India right now. There is a very strong alignment with the West on many different issues. The potential thorniness in relations that existed with the Bush Administration is not as present right now with the Obama Administration. India- U.S. Ties are at one of their strongest points, as evidenced by Secretary of State Clinton's comments this week in India. The recent U.S. dissatisfaction with Pakistan, highlighted by the Bin Laden killing, has also helped to solidify ties with India. Outsourcing debates have subsided to a certain extent, and there is a strong economic presence that India holds in the world with its presence in world economic discussions as having relevancy. India is a nation that can offer its input on world issues, such as its recent condemnation of the Oslo terrorist attacks, and actually have a sense of purpose and relevancy in doing so. From a foreign point of view, India is experiencing a moment of great international political prestige.
Domestically, things are at a different point. The last three months have seen a very disturbing uptick in corruption scandals for the major political parties. The reigning Congress party has had its hand full with calls from social activist Anna Hazare demanding for change. The Baba Ramdev hunger strike and police entrance/ seizure caused another row because of how it was perceived, given his stand against government corruption. In the last two weeks, the "2 G scam" involving Textiles Minister Maran and his eventual departure gave the administration another black eye, leading to a cabinet reshuffle that tried to cleanse some of the recent stench. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken to weekly press conferences, in the attempt to help spread a more positive public relations image. The first of these did not go well, as he referred to the India Media as "judge, jury, and executioner." The opposition party is not faring too well either on the corruption front. This weekend's breaking news about the land scam charge against the Karnataka state Chief Minister has caused the BJP party to divide on whether or not he should be dismissed. As the charges of corruption in this matter become more divulged with land dealings, secret trust funds, and using public land for private profit, faith in government seems to be decreasing. It seems that other parties struggle with the corruption charge, as well, immersed in "votes for cash scams" as well as politicians being marched into police headquarters for questioning on corruption charges at an alarmingly frequent timetable. It is here where there is a different state of affairs in Indian domestic political affairs.