Melissa Vida is an editor at Global Voices and writes the Undertones newsletter.
When Rishi Sunak became Britain’s prime minister, Indian media headlines bubbled with pride. For Hindu nationalist groups, in particular, his appointment validated their ideology, and their strategy of using Hindu or Indian identities abroad to serve their politics at home.
These communities, supported by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP, do not grant “Indianness” lightly: One must profess Hinduism and be politically conservative. Sunak — who leads his country’s Conservative Party and publicly follows Hindu rituals — fits the bill.
By contrast, Muslim Indians, whether living in India or not, are seldom considered Indian by Hindu nationalist groups. Because Sunak represents a religious minority in Britain, Indian opposition leaders and Twitter users asked Hindu nationalists online if they were open to a religious minority — a Muslim, perhaps — leading India. The reaction was unified in its opposition, and the term “Muslim PM” trended on Twitter. Discrimination towards Muslims has been on the rise under Modi.
The second part of this test is exhibiting political conservatism, evident in Indian online reaction to recent Twitter layoffs. When Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former head of legal operations, was fired by Elon Musk, Hindu nationalists reacted with glee. Gadde played an important role in takedowns of Hindu nationalist posts by BJP leaders in India.
Her dismissal, Twitter users posted, was “karma,” while a commenter on one Facebook post said that she did not “have India in her heart.”