RISE OFTHE CY­BER HINDU

An ever-grow­ing online com­mu­nity of pro-hindu, pro-bjp, pro-naren­dra Modi, right-wing tweet­ers has taken over po­lit­i­cal dis­course on the In­ter­net

India Today - - THE BIG STORY - By Ku­nal Prad­han and Jayant Sri­ram

The sun has risen in Mum­bai’s Juhu area. Its rays, shim­mer­ing off the Ara­bian Sea at In­dia’s most eu­lo­gised beach, have wo­ken up Priti Gandhi, a 35-yearold house­wife who lives barely a stone’s throw away. It’s a reg­u­lar morn­ing at the Gandhi home. She sends her eight-year-old daugh­ter and five-year-old son to school. She has a cup of chai with her in­vest­ment banker hus­band be­fore he rushes off to work. Then, her sec­ond life be­gins.

Over in Delhi, 32-year-old Vikas Pandey is leav­ing for of­fice, look­ing ev­ery bit a mem­ber of In­dia’s bright, new work­force—close-shave, crisp shirt, black trousers, dark socks and leather loafers. Later, sit­ting with his friends for an af­ter-work cof­fee in Ben­gali Mar­ket, he dis­ap­pears pe­ri­od­i­cally into the depths of his phone. Pandey is metic­u­lously jug­gling his real world, where he is just another com­puter geek, and his par­al­lel universe, in which he is a mini-celebrity.

Bet­ter known as @MrsGandhi and @iSup­port­NaMo on Twit­ter, with 30,000 and 18,000 fol­low­ers re­spec­tively at last count, Gandhi and Pandey are among the most no­tice­able mem­bers of a fer­vent pro-Hindu, pro- BJP, pro-Naren­dra Modi, rightwing In­ter­net com­mu­nity that dom­i­nates ev­ery so­cial me­dia dis­cus­sion and ev­ery online fo­rum.

This com­mu­nity may be guided loosely by BJP’S in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy cell—a 100-strong team of techies and so­cial me­dia man­agers run from the party’s head of­fice at 11, Ashoka Road—and by prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date Modi’s own unit in Ahmed­abad, but it is an or­ganic, un­con­trol­lable, multi-faceted en­tity made up of peo­ple all around us. They could be in the next cu­bi­cle in your work­place or on the next desk in your class­room. Al­ways scour­ing the In­ter­net on their smart­phones, they are con­nected with each other through an in­tan­gi­ble net­work that is pulling peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds. They feel their voices are fi­nally be­ing heard, and am­pli­fied, by like-minded po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists who op­er­ate on so­cial me­dia.

A mark of their over­whelm­ing online supremacy can be found in the In­dia To­day Group’s e-lec­tion poll, a mock online Gen­eral Elec­tion in which users were asked to vote in Lok Sabha con­stituen­cies across In­dia. The bal­lot worked through one-time pass­words sent to mo­bile phones, en­sur­ing only one vote for ev­ery cell num­ber to pre­vent rig­ging. Of the un­prece­dented 556,460 votes that were cast over a 40-day pe­riod till Oc­to­ber 30, 338,401 users chose BJP ( see box). Even in Uttar Pradesh, which wit­nesses a four-cor­nered con­test ev­ery elec­tion, 87.1 per cent of the vot­ers went with the BJP. The re­sults from this self-se­lected sam­ple may not re­flect the ground re­al­ity but they prove one thing be­yond a shadow of doubt: The In­ter­net is saf­fron.

In­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion in In­dia is only 10 per cent, with nearly 116.18 mil­lion users, ac­cord­ing to Es­tatsin­dia.com. But a Google sur­vey in Oc­to­ber said four out of ev­ery 10 ur­ban In­dian vot­ers, or 37 per cent, are now online.

The right-lean­ing online col­lec­tive—

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