‘Cyber-Hindus’ – India’s New Breed of Political Activists

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Four men chatting in a Delhi bar are not, by their own admission, natural drinking buddies.

The young professionals in their 20s and 30s come from vastly different regions of India and varied backgrounds.

They first “met” on Twitter, spotting each other on the micro-blogging site where they voiced a common desire – to see Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi become the next prime minister.

After online introductions, they met face-to-face on their own initiative, and, finding they had plenty in common, gather monthly in the nation’s capital to talk about life, work, and, most importantly, how to make a difference in India’s upcoming election. The men insisted they paid for their own expenses, and only one of them was associated with Modi’s party.

Tiny cells of friends like this one are being created up and down the country, they say – a rare instance of India’s politically apathetic urban middle class getting drawn into activism. Many come together of their own volition, others with a nudge from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It’s another arrow in his quiver ahead of a general election that must be held within six months, and opinion polls are already predicting he and the BJP will win more seats than the ruling Congress party.

The young pro-Modi activists are being dubbed “cyber-Hindus”. When online, they spread Modi’s message, counter newspaper criticism of him and question reporters’ integrity, or mock the Gandhi dynasty that runs the Congress party and has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1947.

At party rallies, where the more traditional cadres are also at hand, the tech-savvy volunteers tweet, or produce live-streaming of speeches.

“I think he (Modi) has proven himself,” says Nitin Kashyap, a financial services executive who took a six-month sabbatical from work to volunteer for the campaign.

“This guy has done something which should have been done in India a long, long time ago,” adds the 34-year-old from a small town in the state of Assam in India’s far northeast.

The brand consultant sitting next to him, who gives only his Twitter handle @Keshar_ because he is concerned his political views could affect his business, calls Modi a “uniting force”.

“That guy has worked his way up from being a tea boy to becoming an aspiring prime minister of India,” he says of Modi, who has played on his humble roots during a grueling pre-election tour of the country that has electrified Indian politics in the last 10 weeks.

“That’s a big deal for the country. He’s relating to an IT guy, he’s relating to somebody in the desert, somebody up north in the hills, everybody.”

While the numbers of these cyber-Hindus are a drop in the ocean of an electorate of 770 million, tech-savvy activists believe that, with the aid of social media, they can mobilize millions of like-minded Indians to vote for Modi and the BJP in the elections.

The BJP even appears to be making inroads into the poor rural vote and that of an emerging middle class living in small towns, even though both groups benefit from Congress handouts to farmers – underlining how Modi’s pro-business credentials are striking a chord.

RISE OF TECHNOLOGY

The rise of the cyber-Hindus marks a shift for the BJP and for Indian politics as a whole.

The party has long been associated with its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a voluntary right-wing group that preaches “Hindutva”, a hardline brand of Hindu nationalism.

Clad in baggy khaki shorts, RSS members still meet in parks across India to salute, exercise, sing patriotic songs and discuss the greatness of their nation.

But now, the BJP’s message comes increasingly from a swell of aspirational, right-leaning Indians angry about endemic corruption they blame on Congress and eager to protect the rights of a Hindu majority.

Modi, who joined the RSS as a teenager, flits between both worlds. Since 2001, he has been chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, where he touts an economic success story he wants to apply to India to lift it from economic torpor.

It was under his watch there in 2002 that Hindu mobs killed at least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, and Modi has been accused of turning a blind eye, or even encouraging the riots.

He denies any wrongdoing, and says he has been unfairly targeted by Congress, which boasts a secular, inclusive agenda.

India’s 1.2 billion people are mostly Hindu with Muslims a 14 percent minority. Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists make up the rest.

In a Reuters interview, Modi called himself “techno-savvy”. He has nearly three million Twitter followers, and addressed four rallies at a time using holographic technology last year.

Congress, meanwhile, has been slow to develop a cyber strategy, amid disagreement among senior figures about how much impact it will have on the election outcome.

Modi sees technology as a particularly good way of connecting with India’s burgeoning youth – there are expected to be more than 150 million first-time voters in 2014. The percentage of the population using the internet has jumped from around 0.5 percent in 2000 to 12.5 percent in 2012, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

“Technology is our DNA,” says Arvind Gupta, the head of Modi’s Delhi-based IT cell. He sees social media as a way both to tell and to listen, or, as he calls it, “a two-way street.”

At Gupta’s state-of-the-art IT operation, a team of young volunteers works at computers to spread the BJP message, knock down negative articles or comments and delve into corruption scandals that could taint opponents. At huge Modi rallies across India, local IT outfits numbering up to 100 volunteers also stream speeches live and tweet and blog words and images.

“It’s not hype – he has a proven track record,” said Anil Chalageri, 33, as he helped livestream Modi’s November rally in Bangalore, where he addressed a crowd of some 300,000 people.

“They want to see Gujarat across the nation,” said the founder of QualiBrisk, a humanresources firm.

VOTES, NOT TWEETS

Back in the Delhi bar, Kashyap and his friends see social media as a means of empowerment – getting their message to hundreds, if not thousands of people.

What they want, they say, is real change.

“I feel a responsibility on my shoulders,” says Ankit Jain, a 26-year-old diamond dealer with some 8,600 Twitter followers.

“Twitter will not change anything. Voter registration is very important. Every vote counts.”

Shreshtha Sharma, the fourth member of the group and founder of a software development company, shares his friends’ excitement about Modi, whose popularity among young, right-wing Indians borders on a personality cult.

But he is reluctant to predict outright victory for the BJP, which needs to make huge gains from 2009 to prevail in 2014.

“That will depend on whether this generation has obtained the critical mass,” says the 28-year-old. “But the generation after us, they will be able to shift it. If Modi isn’t able to do it now, then he will definitely be able to do it later on.”

Source: Reuters

Discussion4 Comments

  1. Good for them, no one can stop anyone for bieng patriotic however wrong the douchebag they support.

    Why do PKKH readers all articulate, intelligent and educated not do the same, each of you should spend just 2 hours a day responding to the anti Pakistan allegations levelled by Indians I might add.

    Perception is a strategic weapon and it is high time we Pakistanis promote who we are;

    We are the Indus people, a rich jainnand Bhuddist past and how there were 2 different regions Sindh wa Hind we are culturally, ethnically linguistically, historically and geographically NOT the same as the breed of people to have come from the Ganges Civilisation.

    We have been part of every great empire in this region and that there was a history prior to The British when there was no such unholy nation known as India.

    We must educate how we Kashmiris are Indus people and therefore belong with the rest of The Indus and educate the world against the Indian lies.

    We must educate the world on the terror India has sponsored not just internally but to all her neighbours and how the TTP were formed, a carefully crafted terror incubation left to simmer when Pakistan allowed entry to Afghan refugees. With them came mercenaries and agents of foreign states who began preaching their unholy doctrines and attempted a Libya and Syrian style implosion.

    Both Iran and Pakistan have survived these terror tactics because despite all efforts we remain a cohesive unified state and our firm foundations remain strong despite the corrupted new breed of terror those in media, intelligentsia, judiciary and politics towing an anti Pakistan constitutional agenda and gaining momentum at one stage by pointing the finger at the TTP as a home grown implosion.

    Each and every one of you must educate the world on who we Pakistanis are, a brave and peace loving nation who shun extremist ideology and equally the liberal nazis trying to erode our honourable foundations and long term objectives.

    Pakistan is the building block for Central Asia to enjoin the Turkic, Parsi, Pashto, Punjabi, Simdhi, Kashmiri, Tajik, Uzbek and their many offshoots int a peaceful powerful , modern and rich Central Asia linking it once again to the Middle East to oncemore create the greater middle east connected to theFar East and South East of Asia.

    We were respected and honoured by Europe and America but games have been played and alliances changed and ironically we see ourselves closer to Russia to balance the shift in geo-strategic cataclysmic shifts.

    I do not say this without malice, Indians are a hardworking people the example are like worker bees culturally and naturally instructions followers but it is the people of West, Central and North Asia that are vibrant, entrepreneurial and have the capabilities to rebuild the great cities of old into modern economic mini epicentres across this vast regions.

    Let them advocate the butcher of Gujerat they do so for their long term agenda….

    Question is Pakistanis, Afghanis, Iranians, Uzbekistan, Tajiks what are you doing to promote a better integrated Central Asia like the one of old. Learn lessons from Europe have the maturity and ability to sit around a table and carve out a new future.

    It begins by removing perceptions from amongst yourself and then reaching out to each other and then the world.

    • Such a long post..

      Before you were buddhists, you were hindus.. Because Lord Buddha himself is an avatar of a hindu god.. Get your facts right..

      Now, do the likes of you, place the meaning of patriotism as ‘hate-india’??? How do you live with yourselves??

      And Ganges is just only one part of India.. Check the map for crying out loud.. And if you hate the Ganges people, then you should be happy that you lost East pakistan in 1971, aren’t you?

  2. @Alansaralhaq
    Couldn’t agree more with you….efforts have to be exerted, unfortunately I don’t agree with the Indian rightist approach but the whole world is leaning towards the right in any case so its a new fad especially….as the secularist mantra is fading along with the powers that are trying to propagate it… Europe being the prime example..

    At the same time I still feel that having a focus on establishing a supremacy of one family of ethnicity will falter and is not sustainable.. Hence the Modi model will instigate emotions which will only last as long as the emotions usually last…

    The important point you mentioned is uniting people of different backgrounds…The real essence of human existence should be to protect other’s families the way I protect mine….

    Without reluctance and full willingness, we as people should realise that the system that started this and laid the seed for such concept 14 decades back should be revived….without any complacency…starting with putting personal affair in order…Going back to the manual and examples and scenarios conveyed and transmitted it to us…

    Take mankind out of the slavery of men and man made systems…and liberate them in this bounty-full world..where the leaders live like the people they are responsible for.. No rightist party or ethnic group can achieve this as there will always some animals more equal than other animals in such groups..

  3. You know it’s a shame you want to be so different I mean what is your case , live and all live together , you want to join the Middle East , why? Just what do you have in common apart from an ideology which let’s be honest here has so many holes it’s astonishing
    And no no one is perfect and no one is better then another
    As for Gujrat let’s see non Muslim women children burned alive where and why do you not say this ? What would you do? Kashmiri Pandits what happened to them ? Nalanda and Buddhism ring a bell? As far as I know Takeshila and all are related and where was Nalanda ?
    Even Salauddin fought a mindset Shiite so let’s talk sense here
    If you hate India and India is all bad and this goes to the whole newspaper why are you so concerned with India .
    Personally I have no qualms with idiots I leave them be but critical appraisal reasoning is a right of freedom and choice and guess what I do not believe you honestly believe that . Central Asia do you really believe you are the all the same I mean come on even the 4 Caliphs had different interpretations of Islam and if you have the courage the open mind read the oldest Koran discovered in1972 in Yemen by the German archaeology team — see if you can digest the difference in the subsequent Korans –make you question I sincerely hope

    You see you need to have an open mind and work for human kind and existence not an ideology created by Man pretending it is from God – because let’s be frank maybe you can read up on epileptic seizures and their causes and if you think there is a link — sometime the truth is a bitter pill to swallow but only once you know history can you know what future you are following

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