Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath is visiting Mauritius to address the Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas on November 2, marking the 183rd anniversary of the arrival of Indian indentured labour in Mauritius.
However, his visit has generated considerable heat among a section of the local people due to his perceived controversial image of a Hindu hardliner targeting the Muslim minority in Uttar Pradesh.
Mauritius is mainly made up of Hindu population. Significantly, most of the Hindus are diehards and support the likes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yogi for their extreme affinity towards the Hindu religion.
I have been a witness to Modi's overwhelming victory in 2014 celebrated with gusto on the streets of Mauritius.
In other words, Mauritians believe that such Hindu leaders are protectors of Hinduism and preservers of Hindu culture and ethos.
Yet, Mauritius has nearly 17 per cent of Muslim population, and majority of them too are of Indian origin. These Muslims are expressing strong reservations over Yogi's visit and are protesting against the Hindu leader's alleged agenda of persecuting Muslims in India, the formation of his Yuva Vahini, his past controversial statements targeting the minority community, his attempts in 2007 in Etah district in UP to convert 1,800 Christians.
They have also raked up past statements by Yogi wherein he had allegedly appealed to dig out bodies of Muslim women from their graves to violate them. These are effectively articulated in some of the political statements by leaders of Mauritius.
On the other hand, Shakeel Mohammad, a Labour Party member and MP, has articulated through formal press statements highlighting Yogi's "past deeds" in an obvious attempt to scuttle the visit as well as to stir communal passions amongst the Muslims. But it's too late now.
The organisers initially thought of inviting Nitish Kumar, but it didn't work out. So, it's high-profile Yogi who is now the centrepiece of the function, raising hopes among the Hindu majority.
All said and done, ever since Yogi's Mauritius visit was announced, the island republic is getting polarised - a trend seldom noticed before. The Opposition political party, Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) has called for the cancellation of Yogi's visit stating that his party is aware of the controversial past of the Uttar Pradesh CM, and Mauritius being a peaceful country, should not be affected by such a controversial visit.
As leader of opposition, Xavier-Luc Duval has averred that he is taking note of all the protests and will keep the Prime Minister and parliament apprised of the ire of the local people against Yogi Adityanath.
It's damaging for the visiting leader to say the least. After all, he is coming to attend a solemn function as a representative from India. His visit should be better coordinated in cooperation with the members of the Indian diaspora who are a vibrant lot, but it seems they are not on board.
Authoritative sources, in the meantime, indicate that the Indian diaspora and the heads of PSUs are not necessarily in the loop. Hence, not being appropriated adequately to oversee a hassle-free non-political visit. The high commission could perhaps play a more proactive role in ensuring a visit without any hitch.
The ongoing political and communal polarisation ahead of Yogi's visit saw an ugly incident a couple of days ago when a series of Kali temples were vandalised in some parts of the country. The slew of destructions has caused enough angst among the Hindu community who are demanding strict action, but the damage has already been done.
It's a big question if the timing of the destruction of temples is just coincidental? The Voice of Hindu (VOH) has described it as an act of terror.
Quoting western sources, Hindu activists claim many Mauritian Muslims drawn towards the ISIS could bring a wave of terror to the island nation as it a tourist destination and, therefore, remains vulnerable. Their allegations do seem to have some merit.
Under these circumstances, Yogi will have a tough time listening to the woes of the Hindus protesting against the defiling of the sacred temples. Temples were further targets of sacrilege when half-eaten chicken and oil were found inside the sanctum sanctorum of the place of worship.
These developments notwithstanding, the political atmosphere in Mauritius is fraught with an uneasy calm and uncertainty.
Detractors like Shakil Mohammad are being questioned by the Hindu hardliners as to why the Muslims were silent when controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik was in Mauritius in 2012, and during his stay, not only his fiery pro-Islam rhetoric led to a few "on-the-spot" conversions, but also generated acrimony between two major communities.
Mauritians, otherwise, are euphoric to receive a charismatic, albeit controversial leader like Yogi in their midst. Many hardliners think that it's a sign of Hindu aggressive revivalism which was dormant for some time.
The current prime minister Pravind Jugnauth's father, Anerood Jugnauth, was a sworn Hindu. In 1992, when at the helm, he had the courage to expel the Libyan ambassador to Port Louis on charges of alluring Hindus to embrace Islam. It's believed that he adhered to his decision incurring the wrath of the supporters of the Muslim world.
With the passage of time and a changing world order, Mauritius maintained diplomatic relations with many Muslim countries, including Pakistan, which did not find favour with the Hindu lot.
Till recently, Pakistan was represented by a high profile Labour Party activist lawyer as the ambassador who tried his best to forge relations with Pakistan and other Islamic countries. Hindus thought it was a regressive move.
With Yogi's arrival, Hindus in Mauritius are expected to come together cutting across party lines. Yogi's image and reputation of a diehard Hindu will give a necessary boost to the Hindu forces in Mauritius. Yogi's interaction with Hindu leaders, office-bearers of Sanatan Dharma institution and Hindu house, trustees of the venerated Ganga Talao hosting cluster of Hindu temples, will determine the future course of Hindu action.
This will also impact the future political course that this tiny republic will take. This is imperative as the present government in power, enjoying full support of India, will try to make the most of the situation as it is currently rocked by corruption scandals. The main opposition leader, Navin Ramgoolam, with surging popularity, is poised to come back to power in 2019.
He has expressed hope to meet the Yogi instead of boycotting his visit. In a tactical move, he has distanced himself from Shakil Mohammad, his comrade in arms from the Labour Party. Such is the power of Hindutva forces in Mauritius.
Yogi, after this visit, will leave a trail of thoughts calling for careful follow-up. On Mauritius' part, the Hindus will certainly be more emboldened than before, and their nexus with the Indian counterparts might see a new dimension of defiance and "couldn't-care-less" attitude for the furtherance of Hindu agenda, including moral support for a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Yogi Adityanath's visit must also be capitalised on by the Modi government for lasting Indo-Mauritian relations. Experts say huge funds have been offered by the government of India to Mauritius for multiple projects.
Relations with Mauritius and the enormous funding should commensurate with each other. The impression that Yogi will leave behind, and the pro-active role by a not-so-insular Indian diaspora, should also help Mauritius remain an important Indian Ocean nation which will not allow China or any other extraneous power to gain any foothold.
Perhaps, Yogi will do his bit during this trip, and the two nations will further cement their ties.
By Shantanu Mukharji
The author is a retired IPS officer who has held key positions in the Government of India handling sensitive security issues within and outside India.