India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh has a population of about 205mn, about 60mn more than that of Russia, the largest country in the world.
Had it been a separate country, it would have been the fifth-most populated nation in the world matching that of Brazil, which is three times the size of India, and exceeding that of Pakistan.
The sheer numbers are enough to send one’s head spinning, but factor in Uttar Pradesh’s significance when it comes to Indian politics, and all of it begins to make sense – well, sort of.
It is an established fact of the rough and tumble world of Indian electoral politics that the party which wins Uttar Pradesh wins the country. By sweeping the state elections, the BJP has managed to do what no party has done before: reduce the regional parties and their once-powerful leaders to mere political pariahs with seemingly no succour on the horizon.
Perhaps no region anywhere in the world produces so much intrigue as Uttar Pradesh when it comes to politics. Sons have feuded with fathers, brothers have fought brothers and occasionally wives have taken on their husbands. Add to it the elements of religion, caste and big money and you have an explosive mix that has often kept the nation on edge and international observers in a permanent state of thrall.
The thrall continues with the BJP naming a saffron-clad Hindu temple head priest as the chief minister of the state. Yogi Adityanath, a hardline Hindu nationalist, who has made brazen hate speeches against Muslims and other minorities, will head one of the world’s most underdeveloped and lawless regions in the world.
It is a recipe for disaster, many “liberal” observers say, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is aggressively pushing its agenda of tearing apart India’s secular credentials and turning into a Hindu nation.
But his supporters insist he has been unjustly projected as a villain by the biased left-leaning media when in actual fact he is a “compassionate” leader who has often come to the aid of troubled minorities.
His fiery speeches were all the rage in cyberspace a few days ago, but barely had he taken the oath of office, stories have been streaming in about his commitment to peace and the welfare of everybody irrespective of caste, religion or social status.
The first thing he did was to ask his party leaders to furnish details of their wealth and declare their sources of income, thereby indicating that he would not tolerate corruption under his watch.
He has also promised that he would be a just leader to all and that he would be aggressively pursuing Modi’s agenda of all-inclusive development more than anything else.
Be that as it may, but the question remains whether Modi will be able to rein him in if he gets carried away by power and threatens to take Uttar Pradesh deeper into chaos.
It’s too early to hazard a guess, but India, and perhaps the whole world, is on edge, thanks to the politics of an Indian province.
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