As India’s ultra-nationalist BJP government becomes ever more assertive against perceived foreign rivals and internal religious and ethnic minority groups as well as downcast Hindus, an ever more confident attack on free speech is transpiring in a country that continues to promote itself as the “world’s largest democracy”.
Throughout last year, New Delhi made ever more unreasonable demands of the American owned Whatsapp, whilst this year, a new Indian legal framework was introduced which effectively normalised state blackmail against foreign social media companies. This new system of social media censorship via government blackmail against foreign corporations has major global implications which are only now beginning to reveal themselves.
Already, multiple social media accounts based outside of India (typically in Canada, UK or US) belonging to supporters of the 2020 Khalistan referendum in Indian Punjab have been censored by American owned platforms including Twitter due to treats from New Delhi. Perhaps it was because of India’s successful campaign of intimidation against groups like Sikhs For Justice that New Delhi tried to force Britain to ban the peaceful activities of the group on its soil – luckily to no avail (for now).
Each of these areas of state censorship forced on private foreign companies under the threat of blackmail (aka losing the ability to operate and make a profit from Indian customers) mirror an internal situation in India in which the always tenuous existence free speech is now becoming more or less extinct. Like in a prototypical dictatorship, those in favour of the prevailing regime’s orthodoxy are allowed to literally shout their lungs out over major media channels where those with opposing views are shunned, silenced and openly maligned.
This week, pro-BJP media outlets ran a campaign of intimidation against Twitter. The goal was to censor the popular account of Pakistani commentator and anti-communist veteran Zaid Hamid. After pro-BJP media outlets made it clear that Twitter’s profit making ability in India would be threatened if they did not censor Hamid, the Pakistani’s Twitter account was censored to anyone with an Indian IP address.
Whilst for the moment Mr. Hamid’s account is only censored in India, New Delhi’s bully tactics against foreign companies and even foreign companies mean that if India’s mad drive for censorship is continually appeased by foreign companies and foreign countries, it is only a matter of time before people in countries as diverse as Pakistan, Australia, America, Britain, Germany and France find that pro-Pakistan content or general content critical of the BJP will be censored by companies too busy chasing Indian rupees to stop and think about the negative consequences of allowing Narendra Modi to censor the world.
India has internally banned multiple Pakistani, Sikh and Muslim sources of online commentary and perhaps most bizarrely, India also successfully got several satirical songs by the UK based video game commentator Pew Die Pie censored.
If a country that according to its own propaganda aspires to become a global superpower is threatened by those asking for a peaceful vote (the Khalistan movement), those exercising their religious freedom and those who want to be entertained by the globally popular Pew Die Pie – such a country’s rise is a grave danger to the world.
If India is to become reintegrated into the family of normal nations, it will need to rid itself of this mentality that seeks to censor the entire world outside of BJP friendly media. Cambodia got over Pol Pot, South Africa got over Apartheid, Russia rid itself of communism and central Europe got over 20th century fascism – it is time for India to choose freedom. This means that it is time for ordinary Indians of all backgrounds to reject the BJP and its extremist censorship driven agenda. Until then, the world should refuse to be bullied by India.