The Straits Times says

Worrying risk as Modi wave surges on

A watershed moment in India's political development emerged from the results of the recent state elections in Uttar Pradesh, its largest state; the adjoining state of Uttarakhand; and three more provinces. The first two delivered landslide victories for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the federal government. These confirmed that Mr Modi's charisma is largely intact in the Hindi-speaking political heartland, even past the midway point of his rule. Of the vote being essentially for Mr Modi, there is little doubt. Putting his credibility on the line, he had campaigned vigorously, in the wake of his surprise decision last November to cancel high-denomination currency in an effort to wipe out illicit stash. That move caused immense hardship to all. It bodes well for India that Mr Modi was not made to pay a price for this, as he has more work left to do.

BJP took 312 of the 403 seats in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) state assembly - seven times its previous tally. In the process, it decimated a pair of powerful regional groups that had previously alternated in power, as well as Congress. In three smaller states, the showing was less spectacular but it nevertheless managed to keep Goa and win Manipur while losing Punjab to Congress. BJP is now unquestionably the central political formation of the nation, controlling more than half its 29 states with a wide support base.

Mr Modi's hour of triumph, however, is diminished for two reasons. First, BJP does not have a single Muslim legislator either in Parliament or the UP state assembly. In a nation with the world's second-largest population of Muslims - fully one-fifth of UP is Muslim - this goes against the very grain of India's mosaic. It is all the more a serious lapse because it is deliberate: The BJP differentiates itself from Congress by accusing it of pandering to minorities. Second, Mr Modi's choice of the chief minister to run the vast state is a controversial one. Mr Yogi Adityanath, a fundamentalist Hindu parliamentarian for the better part of two decades, has a record of stirring anti-Muslim feelings. While he has vowed to rule in the interests of all, there is no telling how he will react if there is a flare-up of communal tensions.

Voters had expected Mr Modi to promote someone in his own progressive, outward-looking image. For this quality, many were prepared to forgive him for his early administrative stumble as chief minister of Gujarat where more than a thousand people, mostly Muslims, were slaughtered in the communal violence of 2002. Mr Modi's decision to go with Mr Adityanath, who has expressed extremist views, is a dangerous gamble. Some might view it as contempt for those who voted for him. Mr Modi is indeed at the apex of his power now, but there could be a political cost if he peaks too early and loses support down the road because of a failure to rein in firebrand politicians.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Worrying risk as Modi wave surges on'. Print Edition | Subscribe