One of India’s most controversial right-wing politicians have stated that Muslims who chose to stay in India when it was partitioned following independence from Britain, did the country “no favours”.
Yogi Adityanath told the BBC in an exclusive interview that Muslims “should have opposed partition, which led to the formation of Pakistan.”
Mr Adityanath is the chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and home to nearly a quarter of India’s 200 million Muslims. He is also a top leader in the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
His government has recently been accused of using excessive force against protesters, especially Muslims, opposing a contentious new citizenship law. But Mr Adityanath has denied these widespread allegations, even though they have been backed by compelling evidence.
The 47-year-old, saffron-robed, head priest of an influential Hindu temple is no stranger to controversy – he has made headlines for his hardline rhetoric, often directed against Muslims.
His comments appear to have intensified amid anti-government protests spurred by the citizenship law, known as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
It offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It has been criticised for targeting Muslims, but Mr Modi’s government insists it does no such thing, and only seeks to indentify unauthorised immigrants.
The protests against the CAA saw hundreds injured, and many even died amid violent clashes with police. And protesters often accused the police of using excessive force against them.
Nowhere have the allegations been more serious than in Mr Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh, where at least 19 people died in the protests.
There have been numerous of reports of intimidation and threats against Muslims – videos from Kanpur city show policemen allegedly vandalising cars and homes in Muslim-populated areas. Thousands, mostly Muslim men, were detained across the state. The BBC reported on similar incidents in other cities.
Mr Adityanath justified the firing against “violent protesters”, while denying allegations of police using force against peaceful protesters. He said, “armed, rampaging mobs were dealt with by the police when they started damaging public property”.
Asked if he would order action against protesters again, he said, “Yes, if they damage public property in the garb of opposing a law, which is non-discriminatory.”
His government has also been accused of a series of extra-judicial killings since Mr Adityanath came to power in March 2017 – a charge he denied.
“There have been no [such]killings”, he said. “People opposing me have been spreading false rumours but my administration is running superbly. The truth will be out soon.” (Source: BBC)