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Mainstreaming of Yogi Adityanath: A look at how foreign media covered the saffron monk's rise to power

Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India, America chose Donald Trump, Britain voted for Brexit — when the world was tilting rightward, the choice of a saffron-clad monk as the chief minister of India's most populous state still managed to create ripples worldwide.

Yogi Adityanath, the BJP's pick for chief minister managed to surprise many Modi supporters, let alone India's liberals. The five-time MP from Gorakhpur was known to be a powerful orator, and perhaps a strict administrator known to have little regard for power or its influence. He even commanded control over a small army of right-wing youths called the Hindu Yuva Vahini. He was even counted as one of many loose cannons in the rank and file of the BJP, only to be used to polarise popular sentiment.

However, never was he taken seriously enough, at least by the elite circles in New Delhi, to be considered a probable to head India's politically most important state. Therefore, when Adityanath was made the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, it was only expected that his tenure will be subjected to intense media scrutiny. Turns out, that not only has the Indian media been gushing over the political developments in the Hindi-heartland, but even foreign media has taken note of the saffron rule.

Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, holds a traditional lamp as he performs prayers called "Aarti" on the banks of river Sarayu in Ayodhya, India, May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar - RTX38BJC

Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, holds a traditional lamp as he performs prayers called "Aarti" on the banks of river Sarayu in Ayodhya, India, 31 May, 2017. Reuters

An article published in The New York Times on 12 July, notes that the "Hindu warrior-priest," who until three years ago was considered "too extreme to be minister of state for textiles," was now easily normalised, even mainstreamed. The article still bears an astounded, rather amused tenor, four months since Adityanath has been in office as it quotes some of the controversial bizarre statements in a nation touted to be a secular democracy.

"Adityanath (pronounced Ah-DIT-ya-nath) was an astonishing choice by Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, who came into office three years ago promising to usher India into a new age of development and economic growth, and playing down any far-right Hindu agenda," the article reads.

The article recounts some of the most appalling things Adityanath had said in his nascent years in politics, which includes calling Muslims “a crop of two-legged animals that has to be stopped,” and a cry to transform India into a “Hindu nation.” As it notes that Adityanath is striding towards mainstreaming his image, the article argues that his followers, still anti-Muslim at heart, do not all agree.

Another article in BBCpublished in March, describes Adityanath saffron-robed Hindu priest who is "loved and hated" in equal measure. The article first details the "love" Adityanath enjoys in the state, describing the mob thronging his rallies, waiting to catch a glimpse of the priest-turned-politician. However, in the latter half, the article pertinently notes that his rise to power has alarmed many in India (read Muslims and liberals).

"At one point, he shared a stage with a supporter who said that when Yogi Adityanath came to power, Muslims would no longer have the right to vote and that supporters would rape dead Muslim women," the article states.

The Guardian, in its 12 March article, too does not mince words as it lampoons Adityanath. "Mr Adityanath is a Hindu priest who, while elected five times from his temple’s town, has been shown repeatedly to be contemptuous of democratic norms," is how it introduces the "stridently anti-Muslim extremist."

"He has been accused of attempted murder, criminal intimidation and rioting. He says young Muslim men had launched a “love jihad” to entrap and convert Hindu women. Mother Teresa, he claimed, wanted to Christianise India. He backs a Donald Trump-style travel ban to stop “terrorists” coming to India," the article adds on to his list of identifiers.

The Washington Poston 22 March, assessed Adityanath's anti-romeo squad with a critical-eye and freshness that is often missing in local newspapers. "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."

Another article in the daily says this about him: "Meet the militant monk spreading Islamophobia in India."

"Adityanath is a controversial and deeply divisive figure for his militant, misogynistic and anti-Muslim rhetoric. He has been a vociferous supporter of a campaign called Love Jihad, ostensibly to stop Muslim youths from marrying Hindu women, claiming, without evidence backing this up, that the intention was to convert them to Islam. His supporters have called for digging up Muslim women from their graves and raping them," the article reads.

The article even draws parallels between Modi and Adityanath.

"The similarities between Modi and Adityanath are also pretty striking. Both of them are deeply polarizing figures in Indian politics. Modi’s alleged involvement in riots in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 — although no court of law ever indicted him — had made him a pariah in national politics as well as within his own party. Adityanath, too, is reportedly unpopular within the party. And yet, the masses seem to love both because both Modi and Adityanath have been able to position themselves as custodians of the two most engaging symbols of Hinduism — the cow and the Ayodhya temple."

The world media is closely tracking Adityanath's tenure as Uttar Pradesh chief minister not without a reason. For one, as many believe, he is poised to succeed Modi with the masochistic rhetoric and age on his side. Secondly, his position as the chief minister of India's most populous (read electorally most crucial) state, is usually seen as a springboard for substantial national-level political roles. If India's Uttar Pradesh were a country, it would be the fifth largest in the world, a BBC podcast observes.

If mainstreaming of Adityanath, as The New York Times article put it, is indeed a phenomenon, then it is unfurling right now in front of our eyes as we witness a paradigm shift in Indian politics. Whether or not his image is sanitised enough for him to become "BJP's future" is something only time will tell. But the career-making media attention that he receives will surely have far-fetching impact on him and Indian politics, whether for the good or worse!


Updated Date: Jul 14, 2017 16:05 PM

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