A few days ago I wrote a short piece for the Guardian newspaper in which I argued that India was at a watershed moment in which it might have a Prime Minister who was openly linked with an extremist organisation, the RSS. I also pointed out that Narendra Modi bore moral responsibility for the massacres--not 'riots', in my view,-- which took place in Gujarat in 2002 and that serious questions had been raised about his government's role in them. A Modi regime, I noted, would have potentially grave consequences both for a plural India and a Britain which has a substantial Asian population. I did not call, as has been widely reported, for Britain to sever links with India. (Watch: In UK, row over article against Narendra Modi)
While I expected the piece to elicit disagreement, I was taken aback at the sheer quantity of the nastiness, vitriol and hatred that came my way in the form of tweets and emails from professed Modi supporters. Many were sexist, calling me 'ugly and brown'; others denounced me as a jihadi who was part of an Islamic takeover of the world. 'Idiot commie'; 'retarded bitch'; 'white arselicking sepoy'; 'Congi-paid libtard'; 'anti-Hindu uneducated low-life rascal'...the list is amazing. One called for me to be subjected to Tarun Tejpal's fingers. If this is the level of public discourse we can expect in India under the auspices of the BJP, then it's time to be very pessimistic indeed. For someone who is a fierce published critic of the monarchy and the British Empire, it was also bizarre to be denounced as a colonial slave of the British Queen. As I've written elsewhere recently, it is, in fact, Hindutva, which is a deeply colonised ideology. What was quite striking is that that kind of abuse I was receiving was very similar to the epithets that are routinely hurled at me by British chauvinists and right-wingers whenever I've criticised this country or its colonial practices.
For all that, it is not the trolls of Hindutva--who are clearly organised into keyboard militias and deployed to start belting out abuse as soon as there is criticism of Mr Modi or the BJP on the internet--who are truly depressing. Far more problematic are critics like Meghnad Desai, who, as a 'Lord' is a much more paid up member of the British establishment than I am. In a lengthy critique of my piece also published in the Guardian, Desai resorted to a series of more sophisticated but equally formulaic canards--there was nothing unique about Gujarat 2002, Hindus and Muslims have always 'rioted' (a standard colonial notion, by the way) and, most irrelevantly of all, since no one had said otherwise, calling on Indians to be allowed to make up their own minds. Fortunately, several responses to Desai in the Guardian noted that no previous candidate for the highest elected office in a plural and constitutionally secular India had been so openly connected with an extremist organisation and fomenting violence, and that in stressing Hindu-Muslim divisions, he 'ignores of coexistence between Hindu and Muslim forms of music, food, literature and worship in the subcontinent'. It seems to me that at the end of the day, it is not the vitriolically predictable shrieking of internet trolls that is the bigger problem, but the soft equivocations of liberal intellectuals as they expediently gear up to be counted on the side of whoever wields power--in this case, also the trident.
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