Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are weaponizing India’s digital communications industry with the goal of turning India into a religious Hindu state.
The giant U.S. internet corporations have supported and even funded the Modi campaign with millions of dollars.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been Modi’s most ardent fan. “Facebook held India up as a model for how governments could use the social network,” the New York Times reported on April 1, 2019.
Zuckerberg has been backing Modi since 2011. From the start, Modi’s BJP used the internet to incite violence against the oppressed Muslim minority.
Modi’s use of misinformation to manipulate Indian elections has been widely reported. In a sinister twist, the BJP is currently promoting legislation that would give the government access to personal information without consent.
Modi’s control of India’s social media is subverting potential resources needed to overcome underdevelopment caused by colonialism. The right-wing Hindu nationalist is also shredding India’s hopes for economic sovereignty by throwing the economy wide open to plunder.
His “Digital India” and “Make in India” campaigns are open invitations to the U.S. tech giants to exploit one of the world’s largest online markets, currently estimated to be at from 700 to 800 million people with a potential to be well over a billion people.
Modi has traveled to California more than once to meet with top tech leaders, including Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google; Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft; Tim Cook, CEO of Apple; Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe Systems; Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook; Intel’s Brian Krzanich; and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motor. Their aspirations for the opportunities this afforded them was displayed by open wallets and unquestioning support.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg even had his mom and dad in the front row as he hosted India’s prime minister at the social network’s new campus in Menlo Park, Calif., according to “India Today” Sept. 28, 2015.
Before and after he won the May 2014 election in India, Facebook helped Modi develop his online presence to ensure that he had more “followers” on the social media platform than any other political leader on the planet, according to a study titled “World Leaders on Facebook” released by publisher Burson Cohn & Wolfe, May 2018. The huge, well-organized, online following helped win the election.
On May 12, 2016, the Guardian reported that the person who ran Modi’s social media operation said that Facebook was extraordinarily responsive to requests from the Modi campaign, and recalled that Ankhi Das, Facebook’s head of public policy in India, “never said no” to any information the campaign wanted.
Ankhi Das’ presence seemed to open any door, a Facebook executive said. “We used to joke that it was like she was Modi’s granddaughter.”
After Modi’s first visit to Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg returned to Delhi, where he met with many of India’s most prominent online entrepreneurs, who assembled for a closed-door meeting.
They wanted to talk about who had access to Facebook. “Everybody started saying, ‘Well, why are you controlling who gets on this?’” recalled Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the proprietor of the mobile payments firm Paytm.
When it was Sharma’s turn to speak, he did not hide his feelings. “I said, ‘Zuck, what are you talking about?’ In my view, it’s like the British coming in and saying, ‘While everything’s OK, we’ll come in and help you with your tax collection – and this is the percentage we’ll take.’ It’s incredible.” (The Guardian, May 12, 2016)
An infamous history of anti-Muslim violence
Narendra Modi began his political career in the state of Gujarat as a member of India’s fascist paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
An early leader of the RSS, M.S. Golwalkar, wrote a book in 1939 praising Hitler and saying Nazi Germany’s “purity” by “purging the country of Semitic races” was “a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.” (The Times of India, Sept. 30, 2004)
Modi became active in RSS’s political branch, the BJP, in 1987, when the party had only two seats in Parliament.
Looking for an inflammatory issue to build their ranks, the BJP/RSS initiated a campaign in 1990 against a mosque called Babri Masjid, built in 1528, in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP promoted a legend that the god Ram—an avatar of Vishnu, often depicted with blue skin—had been born there and that a Hindu temple had once been on the site.
They called for the mosque to be destroyed and for a Hindu temple to take its place. They conducted a two-month rampage, called the Ram Rath Yatra, across India, traveling aboard a jeep refitted to look like a chariot and giving speeches to incite Hindu nationalism. Hundreds of Muslims were killed.
On Dec. 6, 1992, RSS partisans swarmed Babri Masjid and razed the mosque with axes and hammers.
The destruction of the mosque incited communal attacks across the country, with the biggest and bloodiest of them in Mumbai. Thousands of Muslims were slaughtered.
Modi used Facebook for election victories
During the 2014 election, BJP’s primary digital tool was Facebook. Since then, smartphone use in India has exploded and Facebook’s WhatsApp became their preferred campaign platform. It was often used for distributing fake news that attacked political opponents and inflamed religious violence.
Right-wing Hindu groups have used WhatsApp to spread grisly faked videos of attacks on Hindu women by Muslim mobs.
Aria Thaker reported on Quartz India, “India’s raging fake news menace has reportedly led to dozens of mob-lynchings over the past few years.” This fake news can be spread unknowingly.
One WhatsApp message exhorted Hindus to vote for the BJP because “this is not just an election. This is a war of faiths.” (New York Times, May 14, 2018)
Life for journalists critical of the BJP and Modi is dangerous. Several have been killed.
“On the night of Sept. 5, a Honda motorcycle pulled in front of the Bengaluru home of Gauri Lankesh, an outspoken critic of Modi who had been targeted by patriotic trolls on Facebook and other social media. As the Indian journalist was unlocking her gate, three bullets struck her in the head and chest, killing her. No arrests have been made.
“The final editorial that Lankesh had written for her newspaper was titled “In the Age of False News.” In it, she lamented how misinformation and propaganda on social media were poisoning the political environment.” (Bloomberg, Dec. 21, 2017)
Shutting off the internet to stifle protest
In August, Modi’s government announced that it was suspending Article 370 of the Constitution, which grants autonomy to Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.
As masses of people rose in protest, Modi flooded Kashmir with troops and detained hundreds of prominent Muslims. To crush all resistance, cell-phone and internet service was cut off.
Starting in November, the BJP’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) began to be enforced in the state of Assam.
On Dec. 11, supplementary legislation–the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB)–was passed in India’s Parliament. CAB changes the Constitution, altering the basic principles of universality of citizenship, which was obtained irrespective of race, sex, religion or place of birth. Religion will now be a key determinant for obtaining Indian citizenship.
CAB and NCR leave Muslims stateless
Millions of Muslims, especially poor families living in rural areas, are unable to provide the documents required by NRC and CAB. Hundreds have already been sent to detention (concentration) camps or forced out of the country.
When massive protests erupted against CAB, the Indian government sent in troops and shut down the internet in the states of Assam, Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh. They were not able to silence the students whose rebellion has sparked protests in all the Indian campuses and cities.
The Indian government, which controls the world’s second largest internet market, with more than 700 million connected users, continues to shut down the internet as a way to prevent people from staying in touch with one another, and from access to news and information.
Access Now, a digital rights group, reported earlier this year that India alone had about 134 of 196 documented shutdowns throughout world in 2018.
An Indian reporter, Manish Singh@refsrc, said on Dec. 10 that the Indian government has proposed new rules that would require technology companies to get consent from people before collecting and processing their personal data.
The rules, dubbed “Personal Data Protection Bill 2019,” imply that they will protect personal data.
According to Singh, leaked copies of the bill showed that it does not offer personal protection.
In fact, the bill would “exempt any agency of the BJP government from application of the act in the interest of … the security of the state and public order.” This means that they would have the power to collect anyone’s data without consent.
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