The hate artists of Hindutva

Kunal Purohit’s H-Pop is a gripping exposé of the far Right’s media machine and the vicious viral content it crafts to manipulate the masses.

Published : Feb 14, 2024 23:59 IST - 6 MINS READ

H-Pop is as much about virality and social media as it is about the foot soldiers and influencers of Hindutva.

H-Pop is as much about virality and social media as it is about the foot soldiers and influencers of Hindutva. | Photo Credit: PTI

Five years of research, seven States, three major characters (and several fascinating minor ones), and one dogged journalist with an iron stomach: that is how I would sum up this fabulously original book in a sentence.

Since H-Pop is as much about virality and social media as it is about the foot soldiers and influencers of Hindutva, let me—before I launch into analytical mode—respond to it with an emoji and an acronym. Emoji: angry red face; acronym: ROFL. While it is grim at one level, it also boils over with a comic pathos. What is in here will come as news to intellectuals both on the Left and the Right, who, despite ideological divisions, belong to the “classes”. H-Pop takes the reader into the echo chamber of the masses.

The first section is devoted to Kavi, 25, originally from Alwar, who now lives in Rohtak. A Hindutva pop sensation, she makes a living by dropping songs on YouTube and performing live to packed audiences in the hinterland. Kavi has sung about everything from “Dhara 370” and love jehad to Pulwama: “Dushman ghar mein baithe hain, tum kos rahe padosi ko/Jo choori bagal mein rakhte hain, tum maar do us doshi ko” (“The enemies are among us, but we blame the neighbour. The one who is carrying the knife, finish off this traitor”).

Also Read | How Hindutva pop music is giving hate a soundtrack

In this ecosystem, pop stars are like hot-take writers; they have to respond overnight, while the news, whether it be the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or farmers’ protests, is oven-fresh. Someone writes the lyrics; someone else manages the career (in Kavi’s case, her adoptive father, much like a tennis dad); a video has to be shot while yet another professional in a neighbouring town does a speed edit on the video at the crack of dawn. The end product is a mix of religion, capitalism, creativity, market demand, opportunism, aspiration, prejudice... and poison.

H-Pop: The Secretive World of Hindutva Pop Stars
By Kunal Purohit
HarperCollins India
Pages: 306
Price: Rs.499

At one point, Kavi and her father, Ramkesh, attend a meeting—called by the Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar—of 50 “entertainers” from the State. A DJ boasts about his many dance numbers. Khattar is unimpressed. “Woh sab toh theek hai, par vichar kya hai? Jaise Ramkesh ji ke gaano mein vichar hotey hain, unki beti ke gaano mein vichar hotey hai,” Ramkesh recalls Kattar telling the suddenly beleaguered DJ. (“All that is okay, but what is the thought behind it? The way Ramkesh and his daughter’s songs always have a thought behind them.”)

In the second section, we meet Kamal Agney, 28, a poet from Gosaiganj, near Lucknow, whose representative lines include, “Agar Godse ki goli na utri hoti seene main/ Toh har Hindu padhta namaz Mecca aur Madeene main” (If Godse’s bullet hadn’t struck his [Gandhi’s] chest, every Hindu would today be reading the namaz in Mecca and Medina) and “Uss din Nathu ke mahakrodh ka paani sar se upar tha,/ Gaya prarthana sabha mein karne Gandhi ko pranaam,/ Aisi goli maari unko ki yaad aa gaye Shri Ram” (That day, Godse was boiling over with anger/ Went to the prayer meeting to greet Gandhi/ Ended up firing a bullet that brought Ram’s name to [Gandhi’s] lips.)

Purohit writes, “Kamal has often been recruited by BJP leaders to campaign for them in their individual constituencies during elections across UP and Madhya Pradesh... Kamal becomes the person mouthing words that the official candidate might want to say but won’t be able to, lest they attract charges of delivering hate speeches.”

It is not necessary that artists work only in the grey zone. In Rasoolabad, Agney introduces the author to a comic and a poet. “I find that Pandey and Nirbheek both have joined the UP BJP. In their new roles, they will be in charge of using art and culture to effectively spread the party’s word.”

Too hardcore to take

The final section of the book is about what happens when Hindutva gets too hardcore for the Right: even the BJP pushes back. Sandeep Deo, from Darbhanga, Bihar, runs a news website and a YouTube channel called ‘India Speaks Daily’. His best friend is Ashwini, “a little known BJP leader” and Supreme Court advocate whose mission in life is to file PILs “on issues closely connected to the Hindutva cause”. In one protest rally at Jantar Mantar, he pushes the envelope a little too far; “that night, the Delhi Police, under Home Minister Amit Shah, announce an FIR and probe against Ashwini and six others.”

Deo is the author of six books, including Kahani Communisto Ki (The Story of Communists). Bloomsbury India was slated to publish this in three volumes, before a controversy erupted regarding another book (nothing to do with Deo) it was supposed to publish—Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story—which gives an overview of events from the Right point of view, saying that the riots were “a Jihadist-Naxal conspiracy”. Bloomsbury pulped the book, and Deo cancelled Bloomsbury. He launched his own publishing house, Kapot. Through the Kapot website, Deo also intends to take on Amazon and Flipkart. He is against Netflix, and wants to launch a Hindutva OTT. Kapot plans to open 1,000 offline stores across the country, focussed on selling saffron books and swadeshi products.

Also Read | The idea of Ram, and the idea of India

The good thing about Deo, the “conscience-keeper” of Hindutva, is that he spares no one. He reminds us that Hindutva is not a monolith but, like any ideology, has its internal contradictions. There is push and there is pull.

While he is happy about Kashi’s Vishwanath temple complex getting a Rs.800-crore makeover, he is angry that “400 pracheen (ancient) temples” have been razed. In a 70-minute video he launches into a tirade: “I found out that these demolitions were so painful that Hindu workers did not agree to carry them out. Eighty per cent of the workers who demolished these temples were hare tidde (locusts) ... This is what Aurangzeb used to do... now my own government is doing this.” After this, Deo saw his YouTube views plummeting from a peak of 3.5 million views a month. He told Purohit that via his network of sources, he found out “that the top leadership in the BJP and RSS were unhappy about my videos. That is why the BJP’s IT Cell had my channel shadow-banned.”

Deo’s principal worry is, “Bahut dilution ho raha hai” (“it’s getting very diluted”). He is upset at Narendra Modi for not observing a mourning period after his mother’s death, and not shaving his head: “Ye toh naya dharam bana rahe hain” (“He is making new rules”). He heckles Rajat Sharma of India TV at a public event over the channel’s reporting on the Kathua gangrape. He marches into a Delhi police station to file an FIR against Mohan Bhagwat for saying in an interview to Organiser and Panchjanya that Indian civilisation has always acknowledged homosexuality. His demand is turned down.

The best part about Purohit’s book is that he takes the reader wherever the inner and outer lives of his characters take him, from the studio to the field, from conception to execution to live gig. However, I was not too sure about the attempts at comparative sociology, where he tries to bring in “hate” music from Rwanda, Myanmar and America. These passages, I felt, just got in the way of the book’s narrative. But this is a minor cavil in an otherwise astounding book that is as entertaining as it is revelatory.

Palash Krishna Mehrotra is the author of ‘Eunuch Park: Fifteen Stories of Love & Destruction’ and the editor of ‘House Spirit: Drinking in India’.

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