The halls of secularism and liberalism in India are quaking by the event that is larger than any since the advent of the first Hindu nationalist movement, Arya Samaj (Noble Society) which started in 1875 by Dayanand Saraswati (1839-1883). An Indian son, Yogi Adiyanath, reared in the ideology and has become the Chief Minister of the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Dayanand, an accomplished expert in Sanskrit, articulated a vision of a pure Hindu nation consistent with Vedic teachings. His primary aim was to create a common creed among the disparate religious practices in Hindu community. The key elements of this movement were the unity of God, purging of idolatry, yoga and, unfortunately, proselytising of Muslims and Christians to Hindu dharam, declaring them their strayed brothers to be brought back to their original religion. The torch of Arya Samaj passed through many hands until it reached Barrister Savaskar who formulated the Hinduvta doctrine that would eventually inspire generations of nationalist politicians from Mahasaba to Jan Sang and from Rashtria Swamysevak Sang (RSS) to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Once on the fringes of Indian politics, it has evolved finally to occupy center stage.

Gorakhpur, a small district in eastern UP, has played a key role in transforming the fortunes of Indian nationalists. The Goraknath Temple and Math (or Mutt) is a renowned seat of Hindu worship and learning having a strong following from both Eastern UP and adjoining areas of Southern Nepal. Since its founding in the 11th century, the temple and its head priests (mahants) have never participated in politics. This policy, however, was changed in 1920, when Mahant Digvijay (1894-1969; Udaipur, Rajasthan) joined Congress’s ‘non-cooperation movement’, which he would leave soon to join Hindu Mahasabah in 1937 (the first nationalist party that actively participated, directly or indirectly, in politics). Deeply opposed to Gandhi’s non-violent politics, Digvijay has been blamed for inciting passions that led to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. But the deed that would make him immortal for Indian nationalists was spearheading the Ram Janambhumi Movement and holding, in 1949, a 9-days recital of Ramcharit Manas (epic poem of Tulsidas) at the end of which the idols of Ram and Sita were placed inside the Babri Masjid. Since then, the Babri Masjid Issue has become a rallying point for right-wing nationalist parties that gradually wrested the political space from the mainstream, secular and liberal Congress. The political activism of Hindutva has ultimately morphed into the Bhartia Janata Party (BJP) established in 1977.

Digvijay Nath was succeeded by Avaidyanath (1921-2014; Uttarkhand) was born Kripal Singh Bisht. He intensified the Ram Janambhumi movement founding the Sri Ram Janambhoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti (Committee of Sacrifice to Liberate Ram’s Birthplace) in 1984. In September of that year, the Samiti launched a “religious procession with Hindu nationalist slogans” from a town in Bihar to Ayodhya, with the mission of ‘liberating’ the Ram temple. Avaidyanath gave sermons exhorting the listeners to give votes only to those parties that promised to liberate the Hindu sacred places. He was critical of all politicians, including Atal Behari Vajpayee, accusing them of seeking the Hindu vote bank without a religious commitment. Avaidyanath was appointed successor of the head priest of Gorakhpur Mutt in 1994. In 1998, at the age of 26, he became the youngest member of Lok Sabha from Gorakhpur constituency, previously occupied by his spiritual father Avaidyanath and he has been winning this seat continuously on BJP ticket since then.

Adityanath has emerged as the undisputed leader of Hindutva in UP. His rise to power is unprecedented both politically and in bringing the nationalist agenda at the head of Indian politics. The elders of Indian nationalism would not have dreamed of such spectacular triumph. As the in-charge of 2014 election campaign, he played a pivotal role in winning the biggest prize of elections, UP, raising the BJP tally from a paltry 12 seats to 71 out of 80, paving the way for the Modi government in the center after a hiatus of eight years. In the state elections, he repeated the performance by winning 325 (with allies) out of 405 assembly seats, leaving no room for any rival to claim the top slot in the State. He also swiftly foiled rearguard designs, by the top leadership, to crown a more palatable face. He was, thus, sworn in as Chief Minister on March 19.

What explains this incredible rise of Adityanath and what is in store for the nationalist agenda in the future?

First, the rise of Adityanath is the embodiment of the rising appeal of Ram Mandir and Hindutva, first manifested in the remarkable victory of BJP in 2014 elections (first time in 30 years, forming a government of its own), which also saw the highest voter turnout since 1951 (66.4%). Evidently, this was not due to the ‘Shining India’ slogan of 2004 elections of a moderate-faced BJP. Indeed, all leaders of that era were edged out, as Narindera Modi became the new face of BJP. His poor human rights record and pogrom of Muslims in Gujrat posed no barriers.

Second, notwithstanding its publicity as a vote for his development agenda, Modi’s success owes to his achievements in pursuing divisive policies, and trampling the rights of minorities, particularly Muslims, and excluding them from the benefits of development during his long stint in Gujrat. Indeed, Modi’s nomination as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate was the triumph of hardliners (RSS and VHP) over the moderates (Bajpai, Advani), who had carried a softer image of the party since its formation in 1977. The mobilisation of the Hindu vote continues to hinge on the twin flanks of Hindutva and Ramjanambhoomi. It is not surprising, then, to see the lowest number of Muslim candidates (25) returning to state assembly, a repeat of the outcome in 2014 election.

Third, the proximity to Gorakhnath Mutt and a secured election constituency in Gorakhpur, the so-called laboratory of Hindutva, give Adityanath a power base unrivaled by any other BJP leader. He is a Sanyasi, devoted to faith, clad in saffron, wearing a deceptive smile, unmarried and heir to the previous two mahants. In his numerous sojourns when he left home, Modi made several attempts to get admission in a monastery but was not successful. Adityanath, heading the most populous state, bears stronger ethnic-nationalist qualifications than Mr. Modi. What is more, he has a personal army called the Hindu Yuva Vahini (Hindu Youth Army), notorious for its advocacy and practice of violence, and considered responsible for many instances of intimidation and harassment including the arson that consumed the Godan Express in 2007, when Adityanath was also arrested and charged for criminal offences of injuring or defiling places of worship and even attempt to murder. However, none of this stopped him from contesting 2014 elections and now for entering the office of the CM.

Finally and paradoxically, the wave of nationalism and retreat of globalisation, most noticeably evident in the Brexit and Trump’s election, have reinforced the nationalist sentiments in India, for entirely different reasons. India has been a major winner under globalization and unlike many western countries, faces no threat of immigration or marginalisation of native people.

A voluble, fiery and firebrand speaker, Adityanath has brazenly laid before public his agenda. Some key elements include: (i) construction of Ram Mandir in place of Babri Masjid; (ii) complete ban on cow slaughter (though all types of meat shops were closed in the name of illegal shops but licensed were not spared either); (iii) war against ‘love jihad’ (a ruse crafted to stoke hatred for Muslims), aimed to stop Hindu girls marrying Muslims, while protecting the Muslim girls marrying a Hindu; (iv) killing 10 or 100 Muslims if they killed a Hindu; (v) raising Hindu chants from Mosques instead of Azan and installing the statues of Goddess Gauri, Ganesh and Nandi in every mosque; (vi) a ban on conversion of Hindus to Islam or Christianity while the conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hindu faith has been termed as Ghar Wapsi (home-coming). The New York Times, in an editorial, sharply criticised PM Modi and labeled Yogi’s appointment as a shocking rebuke to religious minorities.

Much would be at stake in India if Adityanath attempts to implement his election rhetoric. It is not in the best interest of Indian people that the constitutional guarantees available to them are violated in the same manner as happened in Gujrat in 2002. Social media is rife with predictions of ghastly violence on hapless minorities that may be perpetrated by those emboldened by a tumultuous electoral victory, made possible by stoking fires of hatred and marginalisation of minorities. The concerned stakeholders should not wait for the recurrence of such tragedies. The Supreme Court of India, the custodian of Indian Constitution, must be approached in advance, under Article 32, to seek prohibitive orders against numerous election pronouncements, now that Adityanath Government has been formed, which clearly infringe upon the guarantees provided under the Constitution. Alternatively, the Court may demand assurances from the state government with a view to allay the fears of minorities and other vulnerable groups.