It was 1999 – Pope John Paul II was visiting India, and the newly-formed BJP-led NDA government under AB Vajpayee was in a bind over how to contain extremist Hindu fundamentalist factions which were not just a part of the broader Sangh Parivar, but also the BJP itself. In an interview to Outlook magazine, Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee recounted:
When the VHP burnt an effigy of the Pope, Vajpayee slapped his forehead in disgust and said “Pagal hain.” (“They’re mad.”)
As commentator Ashok Malik wrote last year, most of this Hindutva fringe now seems to have “migrated to the Internet”. Mr Malik characterized the “Internet Hindus” as “a collective of the intellectually inadequate, the professionally frustrated and the plain bigoted.” A permanent sense of victimhood and an irreversible inferiority complex are two more attributes that can be added to this list.
His description would have been apt to describe some of the self-anointed Hindu activists who burnt effigies of the Pope in 1999. Over the last two decades, such groups have damaged paintings by the celebrated artist M.F. Husain and demonized academics such as Wendy Doniger.
Bereft of an intellectual anchor, their only response to constructive criticism is to cheerlead. Those who don’t join the cheerleading are “secularists” or worse, “Congressis / Congis”, they snigger to each other, rejoicing in their isolated bacchanalia, and self-reinforcing their own relevance and value to the public debate.
When groups behave in this crude and imbecile fashion, they end up shrinking their own political constituencies and isolating themselves in the long-run. They project victimhood instead of confidence, narrow-mindedness instead of a broad vision. They cannot disagree without being disagreeable.
Because of such behaviour, the terms of the debate are changed – the question of the merit or demerit in the Pope’s organization, M.F. Husain’s paintings or Wendy Doniger’s historiography is lost. They pay no heed to AB Vajpayee’s counsel – “Kitaab ka jawaab kitaab se do.”
They want to agglomerate cheerleaders for the political groups they support, and subject thoughtful and constructive critics to abuse. They mistake rants for analysis and hopelessly partisan rhetoric for persuasive prose. They think bulldozing opponents is the way to persuade them. They are incapable of putting forth an alternative agenda, and don’t hesitate to spew venom on those who do.
They prattle about “Center-Right” policies and governance without having any clue what that entails – attempting to co-opt that label is, in fact, a shallow effort at sounding credible. The Internet Hindus have no new ideas to offer – all they can do is react.
Mostly mindless, Pavlovian attacks on the Congress party, Nehru-Gandhi family and sections of the media that are considered by the Internet Hindus to be biased, are tweeted and re-tweeted, cited and re-cited with glee. The Internet Hindus are devoid of any principles. If somebody they’ve been fundamentally opposing and even making fun of, were to start toeing their line of thought, they’d quickly cite them to score cheap and ephemeral points.
They have a “with-us-or-against-us” attitude, but alas, all they really are is a bunch of Twitter accounts, with no identity or influence in the real world – and by their disagreeable behaviour, they turn away fence-sitters and marginal voters, who are dissatisfied with the intellectual Left and Congress party. They defame India’s Right-wing and destroy its credibility more than any of their political opponents ever could.
This leads to even more frustration, and ever-increasing victimhood. The (vicious) cycle is complete. Rinse, wash, repeat.
(Written by a victim of several Internet Hindu attacks on the blogosphere and various social media platforms.)