A firebrand monk and poster boy of Hindu nationalism was set Thursday to retain power in India’s most populous state, local media reported, in a triumph for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party.
Projections by media based on early vote counting showed the Bharatiya Janata Party on the cusp of a comfortable if reduced majority following elections in Uttar Pradesh, home to more than 200 million people.
Victory in the state with more people than Brazil would strengthen local BJP chief Yogi Adityanath’s chances of succeeding Modi as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy.
Uttar Pradesh is the biggest prize among five regions to have held polls in recent weeks. It sends the most MPs to the national parliament and has been the power base of most Indian prime ministers.
Adityanath’s divisive sectarian rhetoric — coupled with exaggerated claims of his economic performance in one of India’s poorest states — has proved a vote winner, experts said.
The win is a “big endorsement of the kind of aggressive and hardnosed politics that he has been pursuing”, journalist and Modi biographer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told AFP.
Saffron-robed Adityanath, 49, rose from humble beginnings to become head priest of an important Hindu temple and founded a vigilante youth group.
Its volunteers regularly rough up Muslims and low-caste Dalits accused of slaughtering cows — sacred to Hindus — or of seeking to seduce girls from India’s majority religion.
It’s a big political day in India, with five state election results to be announced.
If predictions hold, the BJP will have much to celebrate, the AAP will shed the label of a Delhi-only party, and the Congress will be dealt its latest body blow.
— Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) March 10, 2022
His administration brought in a law to ban “love jihad” — Muslims marrying Hindus to convert them — and has targeted journalists and others with spurious “sedition” charges, critics say.
Media reports say more than 100 alleged criminals — most of them Muslims or Dalits — have been the victims of extra-judicial police killings, a charge Adityanath denies.
His economic record has also been poor and his government is widely seen as having bungled the response to Covid-19, including by concealing the real death toll.
The BJP is also projected to retain power in Uttarakhand, Manipur and the small coastal state of Goa, although the race there was tight.
The opposition Congress appeared to have lost Punjab in the north to the upstart left-wing Aam Aadmi Party — which also rules the capital New Delhi — in a major blow to the Gandhi dynasty’s once-mighty party.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk