Countries that are forced to rely on intense perception management in order to hide the nature of their true internal realities from the outside world often look towards cost-effective means of simultaneously seducing, confusing and misleading gullible foreigners. But if the “Incredible India” campaign of the early 2000s was a throwback to a mid-20th century when western hippies became enamoured with Indian spiritual traditions, today’s less officially publicised Indian propaganda campaign is far more dangerous in its aim and in its methods.
In many respects, India is following a similar route to Russia in terms of perception management. During the Soviet era, Moscow promoted various leftest parties, activists and causes throughout western nations in an attempt to weaken the centrist political consensus in the wider western world. During that same time, India’s economy was too depressed to attempt anything similar but India nevertheless revelled in the uneducated western perception of India as a kind, gentle leftest agrarian utopia whose lack of economic development was somehow a sign of spiritual sophistication vis-a-vis the west, as opposed to a sign of economic insufficiency.
21st century Russia propaganda has of course taken a substantial right turn since the days of the USSR. Today, Russian mainstream and social media aimed at western audiences tends to advance narratives favoured by the western right and far-right which revolve around a hatred of immigrants, a disdain for the legal authorities, Islamophobia and the theory that “globalism” has eroded western culture. To be sure, other areas of Russian media aimed at the west continue to promote old leftest narratives, thus satisfying the USSR’s Cold War era demographic while interpolating the western right and far-right into the equation.
But while Russian efforts to influence minds in the west are not only well known but have in fact been exaggerated in terms of both thrie scope and impact, Indian propaganda continues to be ignored even though the extremist elements currently in charge of Indian politics have a very long history of association with the far right of the west.
Indian social media is best described as profitable chaos. Major American companies continue to profit from India’s love of social media and while much of this use is benign (however awkward), there are malignant political elements within India’s social media that would make an ordinary person’s skin crawl if they were exposed to the vulgarity, racism, Islamophobia and hatred that is rife throughout portions of Indian social media.
As the Hindutva BJP looks to consolidate its power once the ongoing election concludes, supporters of the ruling party and other extreme Hindutva parties as well as the RSS, continue to spread a deeply Islamophobic narrative in English with a self-evident intention of seducing the western far-right and attracting oblivious westerns to a far-right ideology.
The narrative is one that is far simpler and cruder than anything coming out of Russia and making matters more dangerous is the fact that due to India’s large population, it is surprisingly easy to interact with individuals on line who believe their own RSS style Hindutva propaganda. The simplistic narrative revolves around the follow false and inflammatory assertions:
–“Islam is evil”
–“Muslims are evil”
–“Islamic majority countries are evil”
–“Pakistan is particularly evil”
–“Pakistan is a terrorist state”
–“China is evil”
–“Israel and India have a unique destiny in ‘fighting Islam”
–“Anyone who disagrees with the Hindutva narrative is either a western leftist or an agent of Pakistan (or in some cases an agent of China)”
Beyond this, the Hindutva narrative aimed at the west attempts to woo westerners by drawing parallels between the Islamic civilisations of south Asia and 21st century Islamic migration to Europe. Whilst sovereign states like the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire are considered by political historians, art historians and architecture historians and sociologists to have been makers of great epochs in the wider history of the subcontinent, for the Hindutva propagandists, the Delhi Sultanate, Mughal Empire and other Islamic sovereigns are considered “foreign invaders”.
This narrative seeks to present an always multi-cultural and multi-faith subcontinent as a Hindutva monolith that was somehow “ruined” by the construction of Islamic societies. This of course discounts the fact that Hinduism was never a united, monolithic spiritual practice but instead has wide regional and even individual variations. It also ignores the fact that the very word Hindu has its origins as a geographical rather than a religious term.
The name India itself is derived from ancient Farsi – the lingua franca Achaemenid Empire. Making matters all the more embarrassing for contemporary politicians who seek to present Hindu religious culture as a monolith, the truth is that the very name Hindu itself has etymological roots as a geographical rather than religious distinction. The word Hindu has its origins in the Sanskrit word Sindhu which refers to what is now referred to in English as the River Indus, a waterway that is located primarily in modern Pakistan. Locals in Pakistan and parts of India still typically refer to the river as The Sindhu. Of course, the Pakistani province of Sindhi, derives its name from the same root word.
The word Sindhu was eventually Persianised (centuries before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, PBUH) as Hindu and came to refer not only to the river itself but to the peoples who lived east of the river. Likewise, the term Indoi (from which the word India is derived) was merely a Hellenised version of the Persian Hindu. Furthermore, it was only in the late 18th century when European imperialists in south Asia began to refer to the non-Muslim populations of south Asia collectively as Hindus.
In this sense, the contemporary Hindutva narrative of a dominant Hindu culture that was somehow eradicated by Islamic rulers of Turkic or Turko-Mongol descent who were culturally Persianate, is not actual history, but instead represents a deeply narrow minded distortion of history. With the exceptions of the ancient Maurya Empire and Gupta Empire, the medieval and late modern sovereigns that have come closest to uniting India and south Asia as a whole, have either been those led by Muslim rulers or in the case of the British Raj, European rulers with no indigenous connection to Asia.
Finally, the notion of “Islamic invaders” also discounts the fact that some of India’s most profitable and famous tourist destinations trace their origins to the Mughal Empire. This includes the Taj Mahal which is a shrine built by the Mughal Emperor Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Shah Jahan. One can only imagine how much it must irk Hindutva extremists to have to acknowledge that within the Taj Mahal is an active mosque.
But just as is the case with most narratives predicated on a narrow notion of one group’s supremacy against all others, the Hindutva narrative continues to find sympathy among despondent westerners who believe that all of the socio-economic problems of the west are caused by Islam, in spite of the fact that most western countries having only very minimal Islamic populations.
In this sense, just as the UK based Islamophobic agitator Tommy Robinson has received public support from certain Zionist organisations, Indian social media has followed a similar route in targeting Islamophoic westerners in order to build a narrative that promotes the concept of India as a sympathetic nation in a “struggle against Islam”. It is therefore no wonder that Tommy Robinson actively supports the break up of Pakistan through his promotion of the same Baloch separatism that for decades has been supported by India’s RAW intelligence body.
If western countries are seriously concerned about stemming the tide of far-right extremism, they ought to look at what for little to no cost, India’s Hindutva establishment is doing to promote a radical anti-Islamic narrative among a western far-right that as the recent New Zealand terror attack proves, is capable of turning its rhetoric into actual violence against a Muslim minority.
Thankfully, western attacks on the Islamic minority have not been as savage as events like the Gujarat Massacre of 2002 or the recent and growing wave of cow vigilante mobs. However, if moderate westerners are not made aware of how Hindutva trolls, bots and agitators use social media to advance a violent Islamophobic message, things could become more dire.