Sagarika Ghosh.Celebrity anchor. Ebullient demagogue. Neologist. Of the many ways in which she has enriched the political lexicon of the twenty-first century, nothing perhaps will be considered as significant as her coining of the term “Internet Hindus”, a generic epithet for those denizens of the Internet world who she believes assail her whenever she writes anything about Muslims, Pakistan or Modi.
It is not difficult to identify the “Internet Hindu”. Many of them, in fact, have appropriated proudly the pejorative label. For those that don’t identify themselves as such in their monikers themselves , there are other visual cues that reveal their Internet Hindu genus, like the preponderance of orange/saffron in their online avatar pages (like Twitter profile) or the use of Hindu religious imagery as abstract pictorial representations of their digital identities (Twitter DPs). Other distinguishing features include, but are not limited to, having highly connected social graphs, an intensely uncritical devotion to Modi, Subramanium Swamy and anyone who is taking on the Congress at the current time (an enemy’s enemy being a friend), consequent concerted swarm-like persistent engagement with those who criticize the exalted few (the intensity being a monotonically increasing function of how big a celebrity the person with the heretical opinion is) , and the ascription of conspiratorial intent (all contrarian opinion is mandatorily funded by Arabs and/or Sonia Gandhi) to all those who disagree, as if only they have the inalienable and exclusive right to speak from conviction while everyone else is compensated for their opinion.
The rise of the “Internet Hindus” has not escaped the “All Seeing Eye” of our vigilant mainstream media mavens, alive and wakeful as they are in Mordor. The Internet Hindu, or as they say, have been generically attached the label of “trolls”, medieval regressive troglodytes, who abuse and stalk those that have a viewpoint which may be classified as “liberal” (As an aside, it is ironic that all the good “labels”, like “liberal”, “progressive” and “secular” have been taken, leaving only the bad ones, like “Internet Hindu” for newcomers). Hence they must be named and shamed, at least the ones that provide a name that is. For those that don’t there is of course Kapil Sibal.
Here of course, the need is felt to inject into the so-far general narrative my own opinion on this topic of trolling. Having run this blog for now eight years and being politically neutral (which means all sides treat me with absolute disdain), I can say that online boorishness (by that I mean abuse, obsessive comments, stalking, ascribing of motives, innuendo and once again abuse) is not an exclusive preserve of Internet Hindus. Taking advantage of the anonymity and impersonality of the Net to attack, going beyond the norms of what constitutes polite discourse, that whose opinion one disagrees with is a trait fairly equitably distributed across the political spectrum.
But this lop-sided characterization of Internet Hindus as “trolls” reveals a certain deep-rooted disquiet. The real problem, some would say (I deliberately do not characterize the “some”), is the deep communalization of the Indian educated professional-class (again a point of note, for Hindus the apposite word in this context is “communalization” , for others it is “asserting their religious identity”) as evidenced in the manic interactions of the “Internet Hindus” in the online space. This “communalization” of the educated gentry (at least educated enough to manipulate an English keyboard) is considered alarming as it runs counter to the more comforting narrative of the Hindu right being composed exclusively of trident-waving, cow-belt Rowdy Rathores with a few serious men cynically manipulating them.
To my “liberal” friends, I posit that there is little to fear. The Rightist voice has always been there in India, except that it is typically neither seen nor heard. Not in academia and definitely not in the media. I have always found it ironic to Ironman-levels that those who consider themselves “liberal” (and so by definition open to the “other”) are so pathologically opposed to alternative viewpoints polluting the ideological purity of the so-called moderate “world-view”. Anyone so much as suspected as having a saffron dot on their white shirt is shunted out, both in media organizations as well as in universities, particularly in the liberal arts. The standard bromide: “His viewpoints are too extreme”. Of course, people with extreme viewpoints from the other end are frequently given extensive talk-time, be they historians who identify themselves as “Marxist” or media mavens who glorify anti-state violent actors as “Gandhians with guns”. But we must not point this out, if we want to consider ourselves as sound.
The Interweb has somewhat shaken up the system of political discourse amidst the educated gentry (the word “somewhat” is significant, it is still not “a revolution”). For one, it has allowed strange opinions to be expressed by strange people. For media figures not accustomed to be contradicted, that too on a public forum, this is somewhat like putting their head in a rotating blender. Even more importantly the Net has allowed communities to form, a loose agglomeration of geographically-scattered netizens who aggregate over a political issue, like ants around a lump of sugar, as numerous and as obsessed. While definitely distressing to those that feel their pinch, this is nothing different, in essence, from the community of mainstream journalists in Delhi, all of whom fly in the same circles of social prominence. In other words, both are as incestuous and as mutually validatory.
For me personally, the most interesting facet of the “Internet Hindu” phenomenon, is the “Why”. Answering this question in its entirety is beyond the scope of this post, purely because of the heterodoxy of political opinion that agglomerates under the umbrella of the Hindu Right. (Plug: I plan to write about this in the future, perhaps in the form of a non-fiction book about Indian politics).
But summarizing and simplifying one of the “Why”s (there would be many such “Whys’ in that book, should I ever write it), the UPA government with its reckless self-aggrandizement, absolute policy paralysis, monumental hubris, intolerance of all criticism and pursuance of a laughably obvious agenda to foist a disaster as the future leader on the country, has created a “Goliath” stereotype. All those consistently and vituperatively arrayed against this have automatically become the “Davids”—Modi, Swamy, Ramdev, sometimes Anna (he sometimes transports into the other camp, Star Trek style before materializing once again back from where he started). It is but natural that a large number would gravitate towards those perceived as Davids, and use their virtual catapults to fire missiles at the Goliath, a word whose first letter is the same as that of…I hope you know what I mean.
Concluding, there are two courses of action open to the so-called “Internet Hindus”. They can keep on snarky swarm-tweeting anyone who is ideologically opposed to them and consider this the limit of their political participation. Or, rather than focus on the persons, they can focus on the problem. That being that, the absence of a credible national level opposition to the Congress, which gives them a no-lose situation. The worst that can happen to it is to come back to power. The best outcome? Defeat and then the formation of a Third Front government. This rag-tag army of adventurers, that call themselves the Third Front, will collapse spectacularly as it always does because the constituents will be too busy rapidly smashing-and-grabbing whatever they can get away with before the inevitable implosion. At which point of time all Congress’s sins of the last few years will be washed away and they can again take the throne, but this time in absolute triumph. This being what it is, the “Internet Hindus” can choose the rather more challenging path of taking their hyper-energetic activism to the off-line world (because alas India is not Twitter and elections are not won through follows and re-tweets) and leveraging the community that has formed online (The Internet is not without value) as the seed for more serious electoral engagement in the mainstream political arena.
The choice is in their hands.