India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored a stunning political victory in March when his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) overwhelmingly won state elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populous and politically significant territory. But the victory sparked worries after the BJP named Hindu hard-liner Yogi Adityanath to run UP. Here’s why.
Modi’s promises of promoting economic growth for all helped propel him to power in 2014. The Prime Minister presented himself as an inclusive reformer who would protect the rights of all Indians, including the country’s more than 172 million Muslims–even though many in his party back Hindutva, a political ideology that sees India as a Hindu nation.
Those promises of inclusivity were thrown into question after the BJP named the radical Hindu cleric as chief minister for the state. A five-term parliamentarian, he has a long record of divisive rhetoric targeting India’s minorities. He has faced criminal charges for attempted murder and rioting, and has called for India to become a Hindu nation.
Adityanath’s elevation has many wondering if Modi is shifting his approach. With economic growth set to slow, largely because of the Prime Minister’s decision to scrap some 86% of India’s currency notes, the fiery priest’s appointment suggests Modi might pursue a more aggressive, majoritarian agenda as he gears up for a re-election contest in 2019.
–NIKHIL KUMAR/NEW DELHI
This appears in the April 10, 2017 issue of TIME.