Challenges come with digitization, and the digital revolution has brought many of them. Bigotry has taken hold as social media platforms turn into platforms for expressing opinions, and the biggest democracy in the world is no exception. Digital fascism is also becoming firmly rooted in Modi’s India, where Hindutva has established itself as a dominant ideology. Press freedom and basic freedoms of speech are all suffering greatly as a result of India’s rejection of Twitter in 2022 and the necessity to develop effective counterterrorism methods.
Even though the majority of observers of India’s contemporary environment would view this as a retrograde trend since 2014, digital fascism manifests itself in a certain abominable and horrifying reality. The marginalisation of the Indian Muslim minority and other minorities that pose a danger to the Hindu way of life has caused previously marginalised ideologies to suddenly become popular. Consider the terrorist organisations Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, both of which are known for pushing socially exclusive agendas and have dominated Twitter in 2022.In reality, the groups are now seen as figureheads in Indian culture, and their tweets, thoughts, and other public statements have a significant influence on societal perceptions.
The international policy front follows after that. The Indian media is notorious for spreading false narratives that demonise nations like Pakistan and China. If the EU Disinfo Lab’s revelations about the Indian Chronicles are to be believed, false reports, delegations, institutions, and wings have been purposefully created to inform the public about the drawbacks of engaging with Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, China, even though there were no such forums in existence. The world of social media is no different. Social media accounts hailed the activities of the Modi-led BJP after Article 370 of the Indian constitution was repealed in 2019, even going so far as to say Kashmir’s picturesque terrain is now ready for Hindu control. This is true even though UNSCRs have explicitly called for a referendum to be held in the valley and to protect the legitimate right of the native Kashmiri people to self-determination.
However, the fascism of the digital age goes beyond just shaping attitudes. In reality, it entails silencing criticism, repressing opposition, and, in many respects, associating rationality with anti-nationalism. Any discourse that promotes secularism, inclusivity, tolerance, and respect has been conveniently outlawed since the Modi-led BJP took office. As a result, activists have experienced harassment, sexual assault, and even murder, as was the case with Gauri Lankesh in 2017, who was murdered for her outspoken opinions and criticism of the BJP’s divisive and toxic agenda. Another instance of this is the problem at Jawaharlal Nehru University, where after student demonstrations against the unlawful annexation of the IIJOK, social media accounts owned by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad branded the protestors as traitors who needed to be dealt with appropriately. The end result was complete anarchy at the JNU, which was meant to be a stronghold for intellectual independence. Students who supported Pakistan were attacked, hauled from their classes, and called anti-nationals.
Without fear of penalties, news organisations with a substantial online following, like Sudarshan, have openly advocated for the extermination of Muslims in India. It would be accurate to argue that the BJP has created an atmosphere that encourages such fringe channels to enter the mainstream and makes it possible for them to make remarks that are the polar opposite of what India was meant to stand for when it attained independence. Despite the Indian diaspora expressing horror and urging the Modi government to condemn such actions as demonic, barbaric, and unacceptable, some social media accounts supported calls for communal riots and ethnic cleansing when the Haridwar moot between controversial saffron-clad savants occurred in late 2021. The moot was ultimately called off only as a result of persistent public pressure, but social media platforms that allowed such ideals and viewpoints to thrive also played a role in what may have turned out to be some of the worst riots in Indian history.
Any genuine discussion of issues like Modi’s participation in the Gujarat riots of 2002, the 1992 destruction of the Babri mosque, or the absurdity of cow slaughter laws throughout Indian states is an easy target for the fascist administration to crack down on. Even Hindus who support inclusion and communal peace are frequently accused of betraying their religion by far-right extremists, making daily life in contemporary India challenging. Regression as part of state policy is the norm if the Teesta Setalvad case is used as a yardstick for where India is going. The arrest of Setalvad in 2022 after the Supreme Court could not find any evidence implicating Narendra Modi despite numerous witness accounts is a classic example of suppressing dissent that is allowed to fester. Setalvad was a well-known activist who fought for the rights of Indian Muslims who were butchered in broad daylight after the riots broke out.
The fact is that the biggest democracy in the world will never be able to promote itself as a role model for inclusivity, variety, and opposing viewpoints. It will take years to undo the harm caused by digital fascism, which is a severe indictment of India at this time.