A saffron-robed Hindu holy man was sworn in to lead Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.
The choice as Uttar Pradesh chief minister of Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu ascetic with a history of agitation against minority Muslims, stunned observers who said it marked a departure from the platform of development for all on which Prime Minister Narendra Modi rose to national power in 2014, Reuters reports.
“Modi is saying India is a Hindu country and shall remain so,” veteran journalist and commentator Shekhar Gupta told the news agency. “Hindus will rule, so you had better behave.”
A spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, said the government did not make any distinction between citizens on the basis of religion.
Adityanath, 44, was elected by state lawmakers on Saturday, a week after the BJP won a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh by mobilizing the Hindu vote.
The BJP won the biggest majority for any party in the state legislature in 40 years.
He took the oath of office at an open-air ceremony in the state capital Lucknow on Sunday, before shaking hands with Modi and other BJP elders who attended.
After the ceremony, Modi said in a tweet: “Our sole mission and motive is development. When UP develops, India develops.”
The BJP fielded no candidates from the Muslim minority that makes up 19 percent of the population in a state with a population of 220 million that is home to 15 percent of the world’s poor.
If it were a country, Uttar Pradesh would be the world’s fifth-most populous.
India’s 1.3 billion people are about 80 percent Hindu and 14 percent Muslim, with the rest made up of Christians, Sikhs and other minorities.
It is officially a secular nation, but the BJP has for years fought elections on a Hindu nationalist agenda, with party members in the past being accused of making anti-Muslim statements to polarize Hindu voters.
Modi, in his victory speech after the Uttar Pradesh triumph, called for the creation of a “New India” by 2022, effectively staking a claim to a second term at the general election that is due to be held in two years.
Adityanath, elected five times to the federal parliament from Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, has been magnanimous in victory, pledging to uphold Modi’s slogan of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (‘all together, development for all’).
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