A Peek Behind the Curtain of Hindu Nationalism
A long read by almost any magazine standard, Wired magazine is out today with a 10,000-word, in-depth look at the Hindu nationalist movement and the organizing role played by social media—particularly WhatsApp. The article describes the changes transpiring under the nationalist agenda of prime minister Narenda Modi’s government from the perspective of a Muslim journalist, Mohammad Ali, who was granted access to a state-level leader of the Bajrang Dal, a youth-oriented Hindu nationalist organization.
A vicious public beating goes viral. A young Hindu vigilante becomes a rising star. This is how India descended into social media terror in the age of WhatsApp and Modi. https://t.co/3HIFVvrTlY— WIRED (@WIRED) April 14, 2020
The Bajrang Dal leader is Vivek Premi, who gained notoriety in India when his public beating of a Muslim man Premi accused of planning to slaughter a calf was recorded and posted to social media. Premi was arrested, but months later his release was ordered by the Modi government. It’s then that Premi began to awaken to the power of social media.
“Despite his initial skepticism toward a medium that was less physical than he preferred, he resolved to seize the momentum. Shortly after his release, Premi took to Twitter. ‘I am back again,’ he wrote. ‘Let me see whose mother’s son dares to slaughter cows.’ By the next year, he had been elevated to the state-level leadership of the Bajrang Dal.”
The portrait of the rise of Premi as a mid-level leader in the nationalist movement provides an interesting context to Indian strife, including its controversial citizenship law, civil unrest during U.S. President Donald Trump’s February visit to the country, and, most recently, Hindu nationalists stoking pandemic fears by promoting idea that Muslims are intentionally spreading the virus in the country.
Ali describes what it was like to follow the news of the violence that occurred during Trump’s visit: “As I watched events unfold from New York, something shifted inside me. I had spent much of my career reporting on sectarian violence in India, yet I had always thought of communal bloodshed as something that happened outside of Delhi—at least an hour or two away, in a dusty place like Muzaffarnagar or Shamli or Bishahra. Now the feeling of safety I had always identified with the capital was gone.”
For more on violent extremism see:
“Protests in India Expand After Violence on University Campuses,” a Today in Security article by Claire Meyer from 16 December 2019.
“Extremist Attacks Rise as Polarization Increases,” an article by Mark Tarallo in the June 2019 issue of Security Management.
“The Roots of Risk,” an article by Mark Tarallo in the May 2017 issue of Security Management.