Hindu right-wing leader Yogi Adityanath, known for his often controversial comments against Muslims, took oath on Sunday as chief minister of India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which won a majority in recent elections to Uttar Pradesh's legislative assembly, chose the 44-year-old priest to lead the state's government.
Adityanath, who is hugely popular in eastern Uttar Pradesh, was a star campaigner for the BJP in the elections.
Clad in his usual saffron robe, Adityanath took oath in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other veteran BJP leaders as thousands cheered in a sprawling rally ground in the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow.
Two senior BJP leaders from Uttar Pradesh also took oath as deputy chief ministers along with 43 other ministers.
Uttar Pradesh sends 80 lawmakers to India's 543-member parliament and is expected to play a key role in boosting the BJP's chances of returning to power and Modi's chances of winning a second term as prime minister in 2019.
Hours before the swearing-in ceremony, Adityanath said he would be focusing on development and good governance, but critics from opposition parties said choosing him as chief minister showed that the BJP wanted to communally divide the state.
"It is a big assault on secularism in the country," said Veerappa Moily, a leader of the opposition Indian National Congress. "India is not Hinduism. Hinduism is not India."
BJP leader and federal minister Venkaiah Naidu said Adityanath was a very popular leader who had been elected five times to parliament and he was aware of what people wanted.
"The rabble-rousing image is what is created by the media, but he has been elected again and again. He stands for development and the BJP will stick to the agenda in Uttar Pradesh," party spokesman Siddarth Nath Singh said.
Adityanath, a science graduate, is head priest of Gorakhnath Mutt, an influential Hindu temple and monastery that dates back centuries and is located in eastern Uttar Pradesh near the border with Nepal.
Adityanath is very involved in local issues alongside other priests.
"He has done a lot of work to get the recurrent Japanese encephalitis outbreaks in the area under control," Singh said. Scores of children in the area died in these outbreaks.
Critics point out that Adityanath's popularity also stems from his at times virulent anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Adityanath has often spoken of "the need to protect Hindu women from Muslim men" and how given a choice he would like to place an idol of a Hindu god in every mosque.
Uttar Pradesh has a roughly 18% Muslim population.
"If Adityanath is a development icon we may need to redefine the word development," Javed Ansari, political editor with India Today news channel said.
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