NEW DELHI — The hard-line Hindu politician Yogi Adityanath — known for his polarizing rhetoric against India’s Muslims — has only been serving as the leader of the country's largest state for a few days, but his presence is already being felt.
Police have raided and shuttered illegal slaughterhouses suspected of trafficking in beef — anathema to Hindus who see the cow as sacred — while hooligans have set fire to certain other suspected butcher shops.
And police have launched “anti-Romeo squads” in parks, colleges and public spaces in several communities where officers questioned — and in a few cases arrested — local youths suspected of harassing women. In one town police forced youth to do situps, according to one news channel.
Adityanath, a saffron robed priest who is also a five-term member of Parliament, had promised the squads as a public safety measure during a heated state election campaign, but some compared them to moral policing. Adityanath has long railed against something he calls “love jihad,” his term for Muslim men converting Hindu women by luring them into marriage.
One father who received a call from police about his son’s “wayward” behavior complained to the Times of India, “It is not the police’s job to decide where boys can stand and where they cannot. My son is 19, and is an adult. It makes no sense to call his father to say that the son is loitering around.”
In a speech in Parliament, Adityanath, 44, a priest of a conservative temple community in eastern Uttar Pradesh, promised more to come.
“Keep watching. A lot of things are going to shut down,” he said. “Uttar Pradesh will be Prime Minister Modi’s Land of Dreams.”
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party chose Adityanath, 44, to lead Uttar Pradesh, a northern Indian state of an estimated 220 million. Adityanath has long been known for his incendiary speeches, even once calling for revenge killings of Muslims.
Since his surprise choice, analysts have suggested that Modi — who spent much of his early career in the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — has felt empowered by a successful poll victory in Uttar Pradesh and public support of his controversial decision in November to demonetize the country’s large currency bills.
His recent actions, critics have charged, have belied his public call for a more inclusive “New India.”
By picking someone who is widely regarded as “the single most divisive abusive, polarizing figure” in the state’s politics, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, contributing editor of the Indian Express, wrote in a Monday column, “it signals that the BJP will now be dominated by extremes, its politics shaped largely by resentment rather than hope. ... Hubris has set in. The party believes it can get away with anything. It now intends to.”
Adityanath is also moving forward with plans to build a museum in the Uttar Pradesh town of Ayodhya, not far from where a holy site has been disputed by Muslims and Hindus for decades. In 1992, a mosque built on a site believed to be the birthplace of Hindu warrior god Lord Rama was demolished by a crowd demanding a temple be built in his place, which led to riots across India that killed hundreds.
On Tuesday, the chief justice of India’s supreme court offered to mediate a resolution of the age-old dispute to keep it out of the court system.
Swati Gupta contributed to this report.