The decision to pick Hindutva leader Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh shows the BJP thinks "nothing stands in the way of transforming a secular republic into a Hindu state", the New York Times said on Friday.
In a hard-hitting editorial, the daily said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had played a cagey game since taking power in 2014, appeasing his party's hard-line Hindu base while promoting secular goals of economic growth.
"Despite worrying signs that he was willing to humour Hindu extremists, Modi refrained from overtly approving violence against the nation's Muslim minority," the editorial said.
But Modi, it said, finally revealed his hand.
"Emboldened by a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh, his party named a firebrand Hindu cleric, Adityanath, as the state's leader.
"The move is a shocking rebuke to religious minorities, and a sign that cold political calculations ahead of national elections in 2019 have led Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party to believe that nothing stands in the way of realizing its long-held dream of transforming a secular republic into a Hindu state."
The Times said Adityanath had made a political career of demonizing Muslims, he had defended a Hindu mob that murdered a Muslim man in 2015 on suspicion that his family was eating beef, and had said Muslims who balked at performing a yoga salutation to the sun should "drown themselves in the sea".
The daily said Uttar Pradesh, home to more than 200 million people, badly needed development, "not ideological showmanship".
"The state has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. Nearly half of its children are stunted. Educational outcomes are dismal. Youth unemployment is high."
While Adityanath has made the right notes, the daily said his appointment showed that Modi sees no contradiction between economic development and a muscular Hindu nationalism that feeds on stoking anti-Muslim passions.
"Modi's economic policies have delivered growth, but not jobs. India needs to generate a million new jobs every month to meet employment demand.
"Should Adityanath fail to deliver, there is every fear that he – and Modi's party – will resort to deadly Muslim-baiting to stay in power, turning Modi's dreamland into a nightmare for India's minorities, and threatening the progress that Modi has promised to all of its citizens."