The Guardian view on a key poll: victory for anti-Muslim bigotry

In India there is increasing concern that minorities are being told
they exist merely on the goodwill of the majority. For some of India’s
140 million Muslims it is enough to debate withdrawing from public

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arriving at the Bharatiya Janata
Party headquarters a day after the party’s landslide victories in key
state legislature elections, including Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest
state. Photograph: AP

Sunday 19 March 2017 19.41 GMT

The world breathed a sigh of relief last week as the Islamophobe
populist Geert Wilders failed to become the head of the biggest party
in Holland. The respite from elected bigotry did not last long. On
Sunday an even more stridently anti-Muslim extremist took power in the
biggest election of this year. Uttar Pradesh, with a population of
more than 200 million, is not an independent nation. It is India’s
biggest and most important state. UP, as it is known, by itself would
be the world’s fourth biggest democracy – behind the rest of India,
the United States, and Indonesia. In a stunning victory, the ruling
Bharatiya Janata party swept the state elections, winning, along with
its allies, 80% of the seats. Elections here are the most significant
in India. UP sends 80 MPs to India’s national parliament of 545 seats.
Regardless of party, they pay careful attention to the mood of UP’s
electorate. If the nation’s governing parties do well in UP,
parliamentarians feel they ought to stay in line. If opposition
parties do well in UP, then gridlock rules in Delhi.

The man chosen by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, to lead
UP, home of Hinduism’s holy Ganges river and the Moghul tomb of Taj
Mahal, is a fellow Hindu nationalist, Yogi 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. 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. On the campaign trail, Mr Adityanath
warned: “If [Muslims] kill one Hindu man, then we will kill 100 Muslim
men”. This cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric. The argument that
once in power the BJP would become more reasonable does not wash.
There’s little sign India’s constitutional protections would enable
the BJP to continue in power while the dynamics of its wider movement
are kept in check. Mr Adityanath, now a powerful figure, is signalling
that in India minorities exist merely on the goodwill of the majority.
Step out of line and there will be blood. For some of India’s 140
million Muslims the threat is enough to see them debate withdrawing
from public life to avoid further polarisation.

Mr Modi’s BJP is full of religious zealots. He himself claimed plastic
surgeons in ancient India grafted an elephant head on to a human
thousands of years ago. The BJP’s skill is producing a circus to
divert attention from how poorly the country is doing. This has been
successful: voters overwhelmingly endorsed Mr Modi’s decision last
November to cancel high-value banknotes – the so-called demonetisation
of 86% of all currency – which they were told was a key
anti-corruption reform.

The public, and especially the poor, appear to put up with the chaos
because they wrongly believe the rich suffered more. They did not
because the wealthy long ago converted ill-gotten cash into houses,
businesses and jewellery. The turmoil cost the economy, experts say,
an estimated £14bn. Money that might have been better spent in UP
providing electricity to half of households that don’t have it, or
tackling the highest infant mortality rate in India. The country
instead is told that Hindus must have a temple on the site of a Muslim
mosque demolished by a BJP-led mob in 1992 because it was said to be
the birthplace of a deity. This is a nation that once was said to
suceed in spite of the gods. Now it is going backwards because of

Peace Is Doable

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