In the 'new India' that the Prime Minister boasts of having created, this tweet was seen as anti-national and it caused the BJP troll army to order me to 'leave India'.
What happened on Capitol Hill last week had a profound effect across the world. Leaders of other democratic countries watched in horror as did political commentators and even those with no interest in politics. Personally, I found myself really impressed with how America’s judges, election officials and its media have stood up against Donald Trump’s bullying and his lies. It was this that caused me to tweet that ‘America may look really bad at the moment but let’s remember that its democracy just passed its hardest test and won. Would we be able to say the same in India about our institutions if put through such a test?’.
In the ‘new India’ that the Prime Minister boasts of having created, this tweet was seen as anti-national and it caused the BJP troll army to order me to ‘leave India’. I am routinely attacked on social media, but this is the first time that I have been told that I have no right to live in India. It would not matter if the vicious, venomous tweets that filled my timeline came from ordinary twitterers. It matters because they came from people whose handles proclaim their pride in being followed by Narendra Modi. This has inspired me to draw for you a portrait of the ‘new Indian’ who constitutes the base of today’s BJP, which is as heavily stamped in Modi’s image as the Republican Party came to be stamped in the image of Donald Trump.
The most distinctive feature of the ‘new Indian’ is that he believes that criticism of the Modi government amounts to an attack on India. They make this clear every time they tweet their support of the man they consider ‘the best prime minister India has ever had’. They hope he continues to rule long after 2024 and that he then appoints Yogi Adityanath as his successor. In the eyes of many Modi supporters, Yogi is already more of a leader than he is because he is a ‘stronger’ Hindu. This leads me to the second defining feature of these new Indians.
They hate Muslims, Islam and Pakistan. So, they are delighted that Yogi has brought his ‘love jihad’ law and that this has inspired other BJP chief ministers to follow his lead. They gloat every time that a Muslim is dragged off to a police station in Uttar Pradesh for marrying a Hindu woman. They do not see this law as depriving women of their right to choose whom they love and marry because they think of women as property. A Bajrang Dal activist clarified this bluntly last week when he told a reporter that ‘rescued’ Hindu women are married off immediately to ‘one of our men’.
Rage against Muslims is so important to the new Indians that justice and the rule of law do not matter. A Muslim man selling shoes on a Bulandshahr pavement was arrested last week because he sold shoes with ‘Thakur’ written on their soles. This hurt the ‘religious sentiments’ of the Bajrang Dal activist who had him arrested. New Indians are very thin-skinned and are easily hurt. They are also conspiracy theorists who see international plots to defame Hindus around every corner.
When it comes to conspiracy theories, they compete with Trump’s supporters. If Trump’s supporters blame Antifa for having conspired to ‘steal’ the election from Trump, Modi’s supporters are as convinced that ‘Leftists, libtards, and Lootyens’ are behind every attempt to criticise Modi’s government and his policies. In their book everyone who disagrees with them is anti-national. In their enthusiasm to paint protesting farmers with the same ‘anti-national’ brush used to paint protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), they went too far. So, they were curbed and made to change their tune.
‘New Indians’ exist not just on social media but in real life. They can now be found in the drawing rooms of Lutyens Delhi, in think tanks of repute, on university campuses and in foreign cities. During the protests against the new citizenship law, I happened to be in New York in a taxi driven by a Gujarati who had lived in the United States for more than 20 years. When he discovered that I was an Indian from India, he launched into a tirade against ‘these JNU types’ who are protesting against the man he saw as the ‘saviour of India’. They should be shot, he said at the end of his tirade, they should be shot because it is the only way that India will progress.
This point is made often these days by Modi’s more violent supporters. They make it clear that there is no room in India for people who do not share their point of view. Dissent of any kind is for them exactly the same as sedition and they see it everywhere. In performances by Muslim comedians, in Bollywood films, in the media and in ‘liberal’ Western newspapers who they believe exist for the specific purpose of defaming Hindus and India. If you run into one of these ‘new Indians’, remember that it is useless getting into any sort of discussion with them. It will take you nowhere. This is because the other thing that defines them is certainty of such an extreme kind that there is not the smallest chink through which the smallest doubt can find its way. Have these new Indians made India better? You judge.