Mr. Thiel has attracted the most attention for two $10 million donations to the Senate candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio. Like Mr. Thiel, the men are tech investors with pedigrees from elite universities who cast themselves as antagonists to the establishment. They have also worked for the billionaire and been financially dependent on him. Mr. Masters, the chief operating officer of Thiel Capital, the investor’s family office, has promised to leave that job before Arizona’s August primary.
Mr. Thiel, who declined to comment for this article, announced last week that he would leave the board of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, which conservatives have accused of censorship. One reason for the change: He plans to focus more on politics.
A Moneyman’s Evolution
Born in West Germany and raised in South Africa and the San Francisco Bay Area, Mr. Thiel showed his provocative side at Stanford in the late 1980s. Classmates recalled Mr. Thiel, who studied philosophy and law, describing South Africa’s apartheid as a sound economic system. (A spokesman for Mr. Thiel has denied that he supported apartheid.)
Mr. Thiel also helped found The Stanford Review, a conservative campus paper that sought to provide “alternative views” to what he deemed left-wing orthodoxy.
In 1995, he co-wrote a book, “The Diversity Myth,” arguing that “the extreme focus on racism” had caused greater societal tension and acrimony. Rape, he and his co-author, David Sacks, wrote, sometimes included “seductions that are later regretted.” (Mr. Thiel has apologized for the book.)
In 1998, Mr. Thiel helped create what would become the digital payments company PayPal. He became Facebook’s first outside investor in 2004 and established the venture capital firm Founders Fund a year later. Forbes puts his fortune at $2.6 billion.
one 2009 piece, Mr. Thiel, who called himself a libertarian, wrote that he had come to “no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” arguing that American politics would always be hostile to free-market ideals, and that politics was about interfering with other people’s lives without their consent. Since then, he has hosted and attended events with white nationalists and alt-right figures.
His political giving evolved with those views. He donated lavishly to Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns before turning to candidates who were more extreme than the Republican establishment.
In 2013, Curtis Yarvin, an entrepreneur who has voiced racist beliefs and said democracy was a destructive system of government, emailed Mr. Thiel. Mr. Yarvin wrote that Mr. Cruz, then a newly elected senator, “needs to purge every single traitor” from the Republican Party. In the email, which The Times obtained, Mr. Yarvin argued that it didn’t matter if those candidates lost general elections or cost the party control in Congress.
Mr. Thiel, who had donated to Mr. Cruz’s 2012 campaign, replied, “It’s relatively safe to support Cruz (for me) because he threatens the Republican establishment.”
Mr. Thiel used his money to fund other causes. In 2016, he was revealed as the secret funder of a lawsuit that targeted Gawker Media, which had reported he was gay. Gawker declared bankruptcy, partly from the costs of fighting the lawsuit.
proud to be a gay Republican supporting Mr. Trump. He later donated $1.25 million to the candidate.
After Mr. Trump won, Mr. Thiel was named to the president-elect’s executive transition team. At a meeting with tech leaders at Trump Tower in Manhattan in December 2016, Mr. Trump told Mr. Thiel, “You’re a very special guy.”
A month later, Mr. Thiel, a naturalized American, was revealed to have also obtained citizenship in New Zealand. That prompted a furor, especially after Mr. Trump had urged people to pledge “total allegiance to the United States.”
During Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Thiel became frustrated with the administration. “There are all these ways that things have fallen short,” he told The Times in 2018.
In 2020, he stayed on the sidelines. His only notable federal election donation was to Kris Kobach, a Trump ally and former secretary of state of Kansas known for his hard-line views on immigration. (Mr. Kobach lost his primary bid for the Senate.)
Mr. Thiel’s personal priorities also changed. In 2016, he announced that he was moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The next year, he married a longtime boyfriend, Matt Danzeisen; they have two children.
Mr. Thiel reduced his business commitments and started pondering leaving Meta’s board, which he had joined in 2005, two of the people with knowledge of his thinking said. At an October event held by a conservative tech group in Miami, he alluded to his frustration with Facebook, which was increasingly removing certain kinds of speech and had barred Mr. Trump.
a $13 million mansion in Washington from Wilbur Ross, Mr. Trump’s commerce secretary. In October, he spoke at the event for the Federalist Society at Stanford and at the National Conservatism Conference.
He also rebuilt his relationship with Mr. Trump. Since the 2020 election, they have met at least three times in New York and at Mar-a-Lago, sometimes with Mr. Masters or Mr. Vance. And Mr. Thiel invested in Mr. McEntee’s company, which is building a dating app for conservatives called the RightStuff.
Mr. McEntee declined to answer questions about his app and said Mr. Thiel was “a great guy.” Mr. Trump’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Giving to Win
Mr. Thiel’s political giving ramped up last spring with his $10 million checks to PACs supporting Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters. The sums were his biggest and the largest ever one-time contributions to a PAC backing a single candidate, according to OpenSecrets.
Like Mr. Trump in 2016, Mr. Vance and Mr. Masters lack experience in politics. Mr. Vance, the venture capitalist who wrote the best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” met Mr. Thiel a decade ago when the billionaire delivered a lecture at Yale Law School, where Mr. Vance was a student.
Zero to One.” In 2020, Mr. Masters reported more than $1.1 million in salary from Thiel Capital and book royalties.
Mr. Vance, Mr. Masters and their campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.
Both candidates have repeated the Trumpian lie of election fraud, with Mr. Masters stating in a November campaign ad, “I think Trump won in 2020.” They have also made Mr. Thiel a selling point in their campaigns.
In November, Mr. Vance wrote on Twitter that anyone who donated $10,800 to his campaign could attend a small group dinner with him and Mr. Thiel. Mr. Masters offered the same opportunity for a meal with Mr. Thiel and raised $550,000 by selling nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, of “Zero to One”digital art that would give holders “access to parties with me and Peter.”
a 20-minute speech at the National Conservatism Conference in October, he said nationalism was “a corrective” to the “brain-dead, one-world state” of globalism. He also blasted the Biden administration.
“We have the zombie retreads just busy rearranging the deck chairs,” he said. “We need dissident voices more than ever.”
Muttur Devi, a lower caste woman who works on a farm in the impoverished state of Bihar, adopted Christianity two years ago. Still, each morning, she affixes a bindi, a small circular sticker, to her forehead, and paints a vermilion stripe on her scalp. These are visible Hindu marks that she says help disguise her departure from Hinduism.
“If I take this off,” she said, touching her bindi, “the whole village will harass me.”
One cold night this past winter, Pastor Patil drove to a secret prayer session in an unmarked farmhouse. He quickly stepped inside. On a dusty carpet that smelled like sheep, two dozen Pentecostal Christians waited for him. Most were lower-caste farmers. When a dog barked outside, one woman whipped around and whispered, “What’s that?”
Pastor Patil reassured the woman that she was doing nothing wrong and that God was watching over. He cracked open his weathered, Hindi-language Bible and rested his finger on Luke 21, an apt passage for his beleaguered flock.
“They will seize you and persecute you,” he read, voice trembling.
“You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends,” he went on, tracing the passages with his finger. “They will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me.”
The farmers sitting on the floor, some holding sleeping babies, watched him closely.
They also checked the windows to make sure no one was coming.
Poland has massed thousands of troops on its border with Belarus to keep out Middle Eastern migrants who have set up camp there, as Western officials accuse Belarus’s leader of intentionally trying to create a new migrant crisis in Europe.
The standoff along the razor-wire fence separating the two countries has intensified a long-simmering confrontation between Belarus, a repressive former Soviet republic, and the European Union, which includes Poland.
Western officials say that President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus is allowing asylum seekers from the Middle East into his country by the thousands and then funneling them westward toward Poland and the E.U., and has escalated that strategy this week. They say he is retaliating against sanctions imposed after his disputed 2020 election victory.
The sharp increase in tensions has rattled European officials, with images of desperate migrants evoking the refugee crisis of 2015. The confrontation with Belarus, a close Russian ally, also raises new security concerns.
Amnesty International and the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights, have accused Poland of illegally pushing migrants who had crossed the border back into Belarusian territory.
warned the West: “We stopped drugs and migrants for you — now you’ll have to eat them and catch them yourselves.”
Until recently, migrants were scattered the length of the border, but now Belarusian authorities are collecting them at the Kuznica crossing, said Anna Alboth of the Minority Rights Group in Poland.
On Tuesday, Belarus’s border service released a video showing a tent camp squeezed into a narrow strip of land just a few yards from a line of Polish security forces in white helmets. The video showed a low-flying helicopter, military vehicles and a water cannon truck on the Polish side, and a thicket of tents and smoky bonfires on the Belarusian side.
video posted by the Polish Ministry of Defense on Monday showed a crowd of people trying to break down the razor wire border fence with long sticks.
sent financial aid to Turkey to do so in 2016.
“We see that the Belarusian specialists are working very responsibly,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told reporters.
Polish officials said that in addition to those at the border, more than 10,000 migrants were elsewhere in Belarus, also hoping to get to the E.U. On Monday, Piotr Müller, a Polish government spokesman, said the country’s borders were “under attack in an organized manner.” A top security official, Maciej Wasik, said a “real battle” had taken place against people trying to enter Poland illegally near Kuznica.
The standoff comes at a particularly difficult moment in Poland’s relations with the E.U., and in the country’s domestic politics. The conservative Polish government’s longstanding feud with the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, over the independence of Poland’s judiciary escalated in recent weeks, and the commission has been withholding the payment of the country’s $41 billion share of the E.U. coronavirus fund.
At home, the Polish governing party, Law and Justice, has seized on the image of a nation besieged by migrants to parade its nationalist credentials and brand its critics as unpatriotic at a time of national crisis. Both the opposition and nationalist groups that support the government are scheduled to rally in the center of the capital on Thursday, Poland’s Independence Day.
Anton Troianovski reported from Moscow, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, and Tolek Magdziarz from Warsaw. Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow, Jane Arraf from Suleimaniya, Iraq, and Andrew Higgins from Cluj, Romania.
NEW DELHI — The mob rampaged for days, burning homes, breaking into temples and clashing with police, leaving several dead.
The victims were minority Hindus living in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim nation grappling with increasing extremism, and the violence drew an outcry from politicians in neighboring India. As the region’s traditional center of gravity, India has a history of promoting tolerance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also positioned himself as the champion of Hindus against a history of victimhood.
But the erosion of human rights in India has weakened its moral high ground in a region where ethnic and sectarian tensions are worsening. Sheikh Hasina — Bangladesh’s prime minister and a close ally, who had just sent Mr. Modi 71 red roses on his birthday — had pointed words for India, even as she promised to hunt the culprits.
“We expect that nothing happens there,” Ms. Hasina said, “which could influence any situation in Bangladesh affecting our Hindu community here.”
into a Hindu state. In marginalizing and maligning its minority Muslims at home, Mr. Modi’s government has weakened India’s traditional leadership role of encouraging harmony in a region of many fault lines.
The shift could also open opportunities for China, which has used the promise of investment and access to its hard-charging economy to cultivate stronger relations with its rival’s neighbors.
“The openly partisan approach to communal issues has created a very peculiar situation for us as far as that moral high ground in neighborhood policy is concerned,” said Yashwant Sinha, who was India’s foreign minister when Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was last in power in the early 2000s. “We can’t say ‘you stop it, this should not happen,’ because we ourselves are guilty of it.”
prosperity to the neighborhood.”
seen as discriminating against Muslims.
But such violence and the abuse of minorities is nothing new in South Asia, a region of deep ethnic and religious fault lines that is home to a quarter of the world’s population.
The traumatic partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and the later war-driven split of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971, left sizable ethnic and religious minorities in each country. The domestic policies of one nation inevitably affect the population of another.
Hindutva politics, and they are trying to exploit it,” said Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, referring to the B.J.P.’s Hindu nationalist ideology. “And at the same time, the Hindutva politics of India is empowering the B.J.P.-type politics in Bangladesh.”
The violence last month in Bangladesh was set off by rumors that a Quran, the Muslim holy book, had been disrespected in a Hindu temple. Seven people have been killed, the police said.
That violence has further deepened sectarian tension in India. In recent weeks, a right-wing Hindu group has been organizing large protests in the Indian state of Tripura, just over the border from Bangladesh, against the anti-Hindu violence there. Police have had to deploy heavy security to protect mosques, after members of the group vandalized at least one mosque and burned shops. A group of lawyers and activists who went to Tripura to document the damage found themselves charged with violating a draconian antiterror law.
While some B.J.P. officials criticized the violence, Mr. Modi himself has been largely silent. In contrast to Pakistan, where tensions with India sometimes break out into open conflict, Mr. Modi has cultivated good relations with Bangladesh, and harsh words could sour diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Dhaka.
Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
some of the deadliest communal violence in India in 2002 in Gujarat, where Mr. Modi was the state’s chief minister. He said such violence did not affect India’s standing because the country’s prime minister at the time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made clear that the episodes were both unacceptable and isolated.
These days, Mr. Sinha said: “The interlocutor can turn back and say ‘Why don’t you practice at home what you preach to us?’”
Saif Hasnat in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Zia ur-Rehman in Karachi, Pakistan, and Aanya Wipulasena in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed reporting.
BERLIN — They promised they would “hunt” the elites. They questioned the need for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin and described Muslim immigrants as “head scarf girls” and “knife men.”
Four years ago the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, arrived in the German Parliament like a wrecking ball, the first far-right party to win a place at the heart of Germany’s democracy since World War II. It was a political earthquake in a country that had once seen Hitler’s Nazi party rise from the fringes to win power in free elections.
Founded eight years ago as nationalist free-market protest party against the Greek bailout and the euro, the AfD has sharply shifted to the right.
The party seized on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome over a million migrants to Germany in 2015 and 2016, actively fanning fears of Islamization and migrant crime. Its noisy nationalism and anti-immigrant stance were what first catapulted it into Parliament and instantly turned it into Germany’s main opposition party.
But the party has struggled to expand its early gains during the past 18 months, as the pandemic and, more recently, climate change have shot to the top of the list of voters’ concerns — while its core issue of immigration has barely featured in this year’s election campaign.
The AfD has tried to jump on the chaos in Afghanistan to fan fears of a new migrant crisis. “Cologne, Kassel or Konstanz can’t cope with more Kabul,” one of the party’s campaign posters asserted. “Save the world? Sure. But Germany first!” another read.
At a recent election rally north of Frankfurt, Mr. Chrupalla demanded that lawmakers “abolish” the constitutional right to asylum. He also told the public broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Germany should be prepared to protect its borders, “if need be with armed force.”
None of this rhetoric has shifted the race, particularly because voters seem to have more fundamental concerns about the party’s aura of extremism. Some AfD leaders have marched with extremists in the streets, while among the party’s supporters are an eclectic array of conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazi sympathizers.
shot dead on his front porch by a well-known neo-Nazi. The killer later told the court that he had attended a high-profile AfD protest a year earlier.
Since then, a far-right extremist has attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle during a Yom Kippur service, leaving two dead and only narrowly failing to commit a massacre. Another extremist shot dead 9 mostly young people with immigrant roots in the western city of Hanau.
The AfD’s earlier rise in the polls stalled almost instantly after the Hanau attack.
“After these three attacks, the wider German public and media realized for the first time that the rhetoric of the AfD leads to real violence,” said Hajo Funke of the Free University in Berlin, who has written extensively about the party and tracks its evolution.
“It was a turning point,” he said. “They have come to personify the notion that words lead to deeds.”
Shortly after the Hanau attack, Thomas Haldenwang, the chief of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, placed elements of the AfD under surveillance for far-right extremism — even as the party’s lawmakers continued to work in Parliament.
“We know from German history that far-right extremism didn’t just destroy human lives, it destroyed democracy,” Mr. Haldenwang warned after announcing his decision in March last year. “Far-right extremism and far-right terrorism are currently the biggest danger for democracy in Germany.”
Today, the agency has classified about a third of all AfD members as extremist, including Mr. Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, the party’s other lead candidate. A court is reviewing whether the entire party can soon be placed under formal observation.
“The AfD is irrelevant in power-political terms,” said Mr. Funke. “But it is dangerous.”
Mr. Chrupalla, a decorator who occasionally takes the stage in his overalls, and Ms. Weidel, a suit-wearing former Goldman Sachs analyst and gay mother of two, have sought to counter that impression. As if to hammer home the point, the party’s main election slogan this year is: “Germany — but normal.”
A look through the party’s 207-page election program shows what “normal” means: The AfD demands Germany’s exit from the European Union. It calls for the abolition of any mandates to fight the coronavirus. It wants to return to the traditional German definition of citizenship based on blood ancestry. And it is the only party in Parliament that denies man-made climate change, while also calling for investment in coal and a departure from the Paris climate accord.
That the AfD’s polling numbers have barely budged for the past 18 months suggests that its supporters are not protest voters but Germans who subscribe to its ideas and ideology.
“The AfD has brought out into the open a small but very radical electorate that many thought we don’t have in this country,” said Mr. Quent, the sociologist. “Four years ago people were asking: ‘Where does this come from?’ In reality it was always there. It just needed a trigger.”
Mr. Quent and other experts estimate the nationwide ceiling of support for the party at around 14 percent. But in parts of the former Communist East, where the AfD has become a broad-based political force entrenched at the local level, it is often twice that — enough to make it the region’s second-strongest political force.
Among the under 60-year olds, Mr. Quent said, it has become No. 1.
“It’s only a question of time until AfD is the strongest party in the East,” Mr. Quent said.
That is why Mr. Chrupalla, whose constituency is in the eastern state of Saxony, the one state where the AfD already came first in 2017, predicts it will eventually become too big to bypass.
“In the East we are a people’s party, we are well-established at the local, city, regional and state level,” Mr. Chrupalla said. “In the East the middle class votes for the AfD. In the West, they vote for the Greens.”
Christopher F. Schuetze and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.
LANY, Czech Republic — In a region long fought over by rival ethnic and linguistic groups, archaeologists in the Czech Republic have discovered something unusual in these turbulent parts: evidence that peoples locked in hostility for much of the modern era got along in centuries past.
A few yards from a Czech Army pillbox built as a defense against Nazi Germany, the archaeologists discovered a cattle bone that they say bears inscriptions dating from the sixth century that suggest that different peoples speaking different languages mingled and exchanged ideas at that time.
Perhaps fitting for a such a fractious region, the find has set off a furious brawl among academics and archaeologists, and nationalists and Europhiles, about what it all means.
The bone fragment, identified by DNA analysis and carbon dating as coming from the rib of a cow that lived around 1,400 years ago, was found in a Slavic settlement in 2017, said Jiri Machacek, the head of the archaeology department at Masaryk University in the Czech city of Brno. But in what is considered a major finding, a team of scholars led by Dr. Machacek recently concluded that the bone bears sixth-century runes, a system of writing developed by early Germans.
article by Czech, Austrian, Swiss and Australian scholars in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The scratching, according to the Masaryk University team, turned out to be runic lettering, an ancient alphabet that was used by Germanic tribes before the adoption of the Latin script.
Inscribed on the bone are six of the last eight runes from a 24-letter alphabet known as Old Futhark, the oldest runic alphabet used by Germanic tribes during the first half of the first millennium.
Unlike Germanic tribes, who used runic lettering as early as the first century, speakers of Slavic tongues in places like Moravia, the site of an early Slav polity known as Great Moravia, were not thought to have had a written language until the ninth century.
“Suddenly, because of an archaeological find, the situation looks different,” said Dr. Machacek. “We see that people from the very beginning were connected, that Slavic people used runes” developed by early Germans, or at least had contact with them.
That Slavs also used or intermingled with people who used Germanic runes long before the arrival of the Greek monks who created Cyrillic, he added, upsets a conviction entrenched over centuries that Slavic culture developed separately from that of Germanic peoples and rests on its unique alphabet.
That was a major factor in the uproar that greeted the Masaryk University group’s findings.
Zuzana Hofmanova, a member of the Brno team who analyzes ancient DNA, said she recently received an anonymous message denouncing her and fellow scholars working on the inscribed sixth-century bone as traitors who deserved to be killed.
“Archaeological information can sometimes be misconstrued by people searching for ethnic purity,” she lamented.
Experts credit that lockdown, though flawed, with slowing the spread. But the restrictions were economically devastating, putting tens of millions out of work and imperiling many of Mr. Modi’s grandest ambitions, including turning India into a global power. He became fearful of locking down again.
After he eased many restrictions, infections rose, reaching almost 100,000 per day in September, but the health care system held. By the beginning of 2021, when infections had ebbed and the economy began to stagger to life, Mr. Modi and his team made a concerted effort to signal that India was back.
Many Indians shed their masks. They returned to markets and socialized. Even more restrictions were lifted. Covid-19 centers set up during the first wave were dismantled.
His party’s leadership declared in February that India had “defeated Covid under the able, sensitive, committed and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.” In early March, Harsh Vardhan, India’s health minister, proclaimed India was “in the endgame of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Those who weren’t so sure were sidelined. India’s Covid-19 task force, which includes around 20 health professionals, had been meeting at least twice a month. But between Jan. 11 and April 15, the task force did not meet at all, according to three people with knowledge of their deliberations. Two said that the government simply believed the threat had passed.
Some scientists grew concerned with the official line that India, a nation of 1.4 billion, was approaching herd immunity, or the point at which enough people in the population are immune — either through vaccinations or through earlier infection — that the virus can no longer spread easily. V.K. Paul, head of the Covid-19 task force, said in January that “most of our highly populated districts and cities have had their run of the pandemic.”
The concerned scientists pushed back, according to the three people. Serological studies didn’t necessarily back up the idea, they said. Two people familiar with the research said the government cherry-picked results that suggested a move toward herd immunity.
NANDIGRAM, India — The challenger arrived with police vehicles, a band of drummers and the backing of the country’s powerful prime minister. The crowd joined him in full-throated chants of glory to the Hindu god Ram: “Jai Shree Ram!” He brought a warning: If Hindus did not unite around him, even their most basic religious practices would be in danger in the face of Muslim appeasement.
In another part of town, the incumbent took the stage in a wheelchair, the result of what she said was a politically motivated assault. Though her injuries kept her from stalking the stage in her white sari and sandals as usual, she still regaled the audience with taunts for the opposition. And she had a warning of her own: Her defeat would be a victory for an ideology that has no place for minorities like Muslims.
The monthlong election unfolding in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal is deeply personal. Mamata Banerjee, the state’s chief minister for the past decade, is facing off against her former protégé of 20 years, Suvendu Adhikari. He and dozens of other local leaders have defected from her party and are now allied with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister.
But the heated vote could indicate something broader: whether anybody can stop Mr. Modi’s movement to reshape India’s secular republic into a Hindu-first nation.
state victories. His Bharatiya Janata Party has reduced the main opposition group, the Indian National Congress, to a shadow of its past glory, pushing the country toward becoming a one-party democracy.
West Bengal represents a test of Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist reach. The state of 90 million people remains deeply proud of its Indigenous culture and tolerance of minorities. It is run by a strong regional leader with the heft and profile to challenge Mr. Modi directly.
has chronicled the rise of the B.J.P.
“They would have shown that the B.J.P. is an all-India party, that our Hindu nationalism is capable of vernacular adaptation,” Mr. Sitapati said. “And that is a powerful symbol.”
beat her head with metal rods. She trounced the Communists in elections nevertheless.
Last month, in the midst of a jostling crowd, a car door slammed on Ms. Banerjee’s leg. She declared the incident a politically motivated attack, a contention her opponents have questioned. Still, her party has made her cast a symbol of a leader putting her body on the line for her cause.
Mithun Chakraborty, a Bengali actor famous for movies like “Disco Dancer” and “Cobra.”
“I am a pure cobra,” Mr. Chakraborty told one recent rally, as B.J.P. leaders behind him applauded. “One bite, and you will be at the cremation ground!”
Ms. Banerjee’s iron grip over state politics looms over the vote. The B.J.P. is trying to ride anti-incumbent sentiment fueled by her party’s corruption scandals and the way its members have used extortion and violence to keep power.
But Mr. Adhikari and many of the B.J.P.’s local candidates for the state’s 294-seat local assembly were themselves, until recently, members of her party. After decades of heavy-handedness by the Communists and Ms. Banerjee, Mr. Modi’s party began actively expanding in West Bengal only after he became prime minister in 2014, though its infrastructure is still lacking. One joke in the state holds that Trinamool will win a third term even if the B.J.P. prevails.
Ms. Banerjee’s success could depend on convincing voters that her party’s bad apples now work for the B.J.P. The B.J.P.’s dependence on Trinamool defectors has also led to a revolt among local Modi supporters who saw their presence as an insult to their years of work in the face of intimidation by the same people now chosen to represent them.
One defector, an 89-year-old assembly member named Rabindranath Bhattacharya, said he had switched parties only because Ms. Banerjee didn’t nominate him to serve a fifth term.
“I changed my party, but I am not changed,” Mr. Bhattacharya said in an interview at his house. Trinamool flags still hung from the trees and gate.
His candidacy moved hundreds of B.J.P. workers and supporters to pressure Mr. Bhattacharya to step aside. They went on a hunger strike, painted over party signs and ransacked the home of the local B.J.P. chief.
“We started here when no one dared speak as a B.J.P. member,” said Gautam Modak, who has worked for the B.J.P. in the district since 2003. “He got the party ticket three days after joining the B.J.P.”
Mr. Adhikari has said he defected from Ms. Banerjee’s camp because she and her nephew and heir-apparent, Abhishek Banerjee, use other party leaders as “employees” without sharing power. Still, in recent rallies he has put greater emphasis on identity politics, ending with chants of “Jai Shree Ram!”
Voting took place on Saturday in the town of Nandigram, a lush agricultural area, and both candidates were there. At rallies, crowds energized by their moment of power over sometimes abusive politicians braved the heat to listen, cheer and support. Turnout totaled 88 percent.
Satish Prasad Jana, a 54-year-old B.J.P. supporter at Mr. Adhikari’s rally, said he mainly supported Mr. Modi. He had no dispute with Ms. Banerjee except that she couldn’t control the abuse of her party workers, and he knew that some of those same people now work for Mr. Adhikari.
“I have 90 percent faith in Modi, 10 percent faith in Adhikari,” he said.
Hours later, a large rally of Ms. Banerjee’s supporters took place in a school courtyard surrounded by coconut trees. Women in colorful saris outnumbered men. They praised Ms. Banerjee’s government for paving the road that led to the school, for distributing rice at low prices and for making payments to families to keep their girls in school and prevent child marriage, among other initiatives.
But the energy was focused squarely on teaching Mr. Adhikari a lesson.
“You said Mamata is like your mother. The mother made you a leader, a minister, and in charge of the whole district,” said Suhajata Maity, a local leader, addressing Mr. Adhikari.
“Then, you stabbed the mother in her back.”
To resounding applause, she ended her speech with a call to the mothers in the crowd: “Will you teach him such a lesson that he abandons politics all together?”
The local mayor, Bashkim Ramosaj, an ally of Mr. Haradinaj, has resisted giving the monastery back any land, defying a 2016 ruling by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court that the territory claimed by Father Sava must be returned. The mayor, who declined to be interviewed, told local media outlets that he would rather go to jail than obey the ruling and surrender territory.
The land, 60 acres of farmland and forest outside the monastery walls, belonged to the church until 1946, when it was seized by Yugoslavia’s socialist government.
In the 1990s, the remnants of a crumbling Yugoslav state returned the land following the rise to power of Slobodan Milosevic, an atheist communist functionary who had metamorphosed into a champion of Serbian nationalism and the Serb Orthodox Church.
While the ethnic Albanians who took shelter in the monastery during the war quietly support the monks, the abbot said, their political leaders often view the land dispute “as a continuation of their war against Serbia, as if we are Milosevic proxies, which we are not.”
The court ruling that confirmed the monastery’s land claim, he added, “was not a Milosevic decision but a decision by the highest court of Kosovo.”
The foot-dragging on implementing the court’s ruling has increasingly exasperated the United States, which sent warplanes to attack Mr. Milosevic’s troops in Kosovo in 1999 and broke his grip on the territory.
The monastery’s case over its land, Philip S. Kosnett, the American ambassador, warned in a recent statement, “is not about ethnicity, politics, or religion; it is about property rights and respect for the law.”