In Gorakhpur, the power base of a firebrand monk, religious tension grows [img]'https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/300addac6c354e4b60a88d8f658a70c2972329c9/0_167_3500_2100/master/3500.jpg?w=1200&h=630&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&fit=crop&crop=faces%2Centropy&bm=normal&ba=bottom%2Cleft&blend64=aHR0cHM6Ly91cGxvYWRzLmd1aW0uY28udWsvMjAxNi8wNS8yNS9vdmVybGF5LWxvZ28tMTIwMC05MF9vcHQucG5n&s=80e145ff75e1679024046f401b29a370' Pastor Ritesh Joshua had just called a tea break when he saw the men in the saffron scarves. More than a hundred, some wielding sticks, had massed outside his white stucco church on the outskirts of Gorakhpur, a temple town in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Indias most populous state. It was three days after Christmas. They started shouting, You are converting people. We will not allow any conversions here, he says. They shoved people, turned over furniture, and told me, You are the main culprit. The men, allegedly part of a religious activist group called the Hindu Yuva Vahini, cornered one of the parishioners. Smartphone footage shows the woman pulling her blue shawl tightly around herself as she answers questions about her involvement with the church. No one is forcing me to convert, she insists. If the police hadnt arrived, we dont know what would have happened next, Joshua says. After the men left, everyone in the church was silent, so frightened. This is a time of testing for us. Last week, the monk who founded the HYV, and whose firebrand Hindu supremacist vision guides the organisation, was selected by the party of prime minister Narendra Modi to lead the most populous state in India the equivalent of the sixth largest nation on earth. Yogi Adityanaths appointment as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, about a fifth of whose 200 million people are Muslim, is stunning, says Milan Vaishnav, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign policy thinktank. He is an extremist in terms of his speeches, a very proud rabble-rouser, and somebody who doesnt have a claim to fame other than a dedication to a strident form of Hindu nationalism. It is an important and disturbing moment, agrees Ramachandran Guha, an author and historian. It is the fringe moving to the mainstream. The boyish face of Adityanath, 44, beamed down on Gorakhpur last week from thousands of green-and-saffron banners plastered along its main road. On Sunday, tens of thousands of people are expected to line the road for his triumphant return to Gorakhpur, the electorate he has represented for almost two decades in the Uttar Pradesh parliament. Another addition to the city streets last week were squads of police officers hunting so-called Romeos. Along with a ban on buffalo slaughter, cracking down on amorous young men was a key campaign promise of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party. Officially, the police are targeting Eve-teasing, the endemic sexual harassment that blights some Indian streets. But critics instead see a crackdown on mixed-religion couples, in line with Adityanaths fevered, baseless warnings that Muslim men are trying to seduce Hindu women as part of love jihad.
[img]https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/8b5dd1d5abcfb466c668f635da5ff292051745f2/0_235_4080_2448/master/4080.jpg?w=300&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&s=0ef84fb82dad019a7a047a11228a5ea0 Yogi Adityanath, left, with the party president Amit Shah in Delhi. Photograph: Rajat Gupta/EPA In Zafara Bazar, a Muslim district of Gorakhpur, Gulshan Ali is talking bitterly near the butcher shop where he worked until last Monday: They talked about development for all, but the moment Adityanath became chief minister he started taking away our jobs, he says. That was when less than 24 hours after Adityanath was sworn in police officers told him the business was being shut. We didnt get any notice, another butcher, Jawad Ali, says. He pleaded that his shop sold only buffalo, not the cow meat that many Hindus eschew. But they told me, From today, your business is closed. A thick blanket now hangs over Jawad Alis shopfront, and he passes his days with other out-of-work butchers reading the newspaper and gossiping darkly about what might be coming next. For several generations weve been butchers, he says. He admits he has been operating his shop unlicensed for the 15 years but not for lack of trying. Since 2002 the government stopped renewing meat licences because of Yogi Adityanath and his movement, he says. A previous government, one that relied on Muslim votes to hold office, worked out a compromise between its voter base and the growing clamour to ban cow and buffalo meat in the state: butchers such as Ali would be denied licences, but allowed to continue running their businesses. The bargain held until Adityanaths unexpected ascension. The crackdown on butchers has left up to 2,500 families in Gorakhpur without an income. Heightening their frustration is that India is the worlds largest exporter of buffalo meat, with most of the companies run by Hindus who see no clash with their beliefs. Here theyve found a new god in buffalo, one of the meat-workers mutters. The chief preoccupation for many Muslims in the city is what comes next for the HYV. A few kilometres from Zafar Bazar is the resplendent Gorakhnath Mutt, a campus of ornate, chalky white temples interspersed with manmade ponds and patches of yellow and saffron marigolds. The temple, which Adityanath oversees as chief priest, was buzzing this week with political officials and HYV men basking in the glow of their leaders sudden promotion. You talk to many Muslims, in and around the campus here, they all appreciate that Yogi Adityanath has become chief minister, says Pramod Kumar Mall, the officer in charge of the HYV. The role of the HYV, now that its leader is the most powerful man in Uttar Pradesh, will not change, says HYV officer Pramod Kumar Mall. We are working for the nationalist movement. We dont want this country to disintegrate. There are so many movements who want to disintegrate the system, and we want to stop them and make people understand about it, he says. Regrettably, he says, there are many Muslims in the country working against Indian interests. Just as President Trump has found so many, in India you will find so many. But he is adamant that minorities in the state have nothing to fear from Adityanaths rule. This country belongs to them, he says. [As long as] they feel they are citizens of this country and feel they should respect the national religion just as Hinduism has accepted many religions. Despite Malls assurances, Muslim community leaders in Gorakhpur are well aware of the new reality in their state. Over tea at his home, surgeon Wijahat Kareem, 62, describes his own political philosophy as Gandhian. But Gandhi is losing his sheen, he says. He chooses his words carefully. You cannot change his heart, he says of the new chief minister. He will definitely favour Hindus over Muslims, but we cant complain. This is what he has been since the beginning. You know with whom you are talking But there is hope that because of his past record he will be more cautious, more liberal than he was earlier on, he says. Hope, he concedes, is all Uttar Pradeshs Muslims have left to rely on. Politicians cannot win on the basis of Muslim votes, he says. So we have to keep believing in the right-thinking Hindus. Thats what we are all hoping for. Our staying in the mainstream of the country depends on them. He insists, repeatedly, that he is not concerned. But as he goes to say goodbye he pauses in the door frame. For a moment he is silent. Let us pray for the Muslims of Gorakhpur, he finally says. Even if Yogi is harming Muslims in other parts of the country, he wont do anything to Muslims in Gorakhpur. Of that Im very sure.