NEW DELHI (AFP) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing party Saturday picked a controversial firebrand leader to head India’s most populous state, where it won a landslide victory last week.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won an absolute majority in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 220 million people and seen as a bellwether of national politics, in a massive vote of confidence for the premier halfway into his first term.
After an hours-long meeting with local BJP legislators on Saturday, senior party leader M Venkaiah Naidu announced 44-year-old Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh’s next chief minister.
“Tomorrow Yogi Adityanath will take oath as chief minister,” Naidu said at a press conference in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow late Saturday.
Earlier television footage showed BJP workers garlanding and feeding sweets to the Hindu hardliner who was draped in his iconic saffron-coloured robe.
A five-time MP from the BJP, Adityanath is a popular leader known for his fiery Hindu rhetoric who has stirred controversies over his polarising and inflammatory speeches against Muslims – who form nearly 20 per cent of the state’s population.
Most recently, he lauded US President Trump’s travel ban that aimed to halt immigrants from a handful of Muslim-majority countries from entering America, saying India needed similar action to check terrorism.
He has often fanned flames over religious conversions, inter-religion marriages and has reportedly been arrested and charged with several crimes in the past including rioting, attempt to murder and trespassing on burial places.
The rise of the Hindu priest-turned-politician in Uttar Pradesh, a state prone to sectarian strife, surprised many after Modi made his development agenda the focus of his campaign in the region, which is traditionally fractured along caste and religious lines.