The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the state elections in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India. These results came on March 11 and give the BJP a strong mandate to lead, as they won 312 of the 403 assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh, according to the Hindu. The formerly ruling Samajwadi (Socialist) Party retained only 47 of its previously 224 assembly seats.
This election is one of great importance and its result is a strong indicator for the future course of Indian politics. Before these new elections, the BJP reigned as the largest party in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament whose members are elected directly. Due to its victories, it can also become the majority party in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house in which state governments elect representatives; it is currently controlled by the Indian National Congress.
The monumental BJP win in Uttar Pradesh can now contribute to the party’s dominance of the Indian government. In addition to the party’s control of the Lok Sabha and the seat of the prime minister, BJP seems likely to gain control of the Rajya Sabha and even the presidency. President Pranab Mukherjee of the Indian National Congress will complete his term this coming July and, according to NDTV. His party will have trouble holding onto the position in light of the BJP gains.
The success of the BJP is a marker of the rise and popularity of the right wing in India, following what seems to reflect a global trend. The BJP, according to their own website, follows Hindu nationalism, which promotes Hindu dominance of Indian society and government. This often leads to persecution of the large Muslim minorities in India, and there have been violent riots against Muslim communities in the past. One infamous and particularly bloody riot was the 2002 Gujarat riots, which Dawn describes as “some of the worst violence since Independence,” killing more than 1,000 people.
The BJP has managed to achieve this wide popularity not only through this kind of populism, but NPR attributes a large amount of the party’s success to Prime Minister Modi’s own personal popularity. His hopeful promises of development and a “New India” have drawn and continue to draw many of the nation’s impoverished to support him and his party.
This kind of Islamophobia, or at least rhetoric that encourages and enables violence against Muslims, has not become mainstream only in India, but also echoes the global rise of the right. For example, Trump’s rhetoric in the United States often characterizes Muslim Americans as threatening. In addition, Marine Le Pen and her National Front party have stoked fears and ignorance about Islam to rally populist support. The rise of BJP thus represents a questionable turn for India’s socio-religious relations.