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I’m not the one who changed: How one of Modi’s biggest champions turned critic

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Rupa Subramanya says the space for independent voices such as hers, who refuse to take partisan sides, is vanishing.

At 1 pm, 10 June 2018, Indian-born British celebrity chef Atul Kochhar sent out a tweet criticising Priyanka Chopra and her American television show Quantico for a plot featuring would-be Hindu terrorists. Kochhar’s tweet pointed to the claim that Hindus had been terrorised by Islam for over 2000 years. His chronology was clearly wrong but his sentiment struck a chord with many in the Hindu right-wing.

Within minutes of his tweet there was a flurry of criticism across social media including by people in the United Arab Emirates, the significance being that Kochhar had owned a restaurant at Dubai’s JW Marriott Marquis hotel. Shortly thereafter, no doubt sensing his strategic blunder, Kochhar deleted his original tweet and put out an apology.

So far, so good. But this is where we enter the twilight zone of the Indian discourse space when I tweeted about Kochhar’s original tweet at 4 pm, 11 June, 2018.

In other words, more than 24 hours had elapsed between Kochhar’s original tweet and mine. In between had come Kocchar’s deletion of his tweet, his apology, and an online boycott of his brand, all of which predated my tweet and which had nothing to do with me.

But not according to the Hindu right, many in close proximity to the current dispensation, who bizarrely laid Kochhar’s woes at my doorstep. What followed were several days of vilification, defamation, and outright abuse and threats by powerful and influential voices towards me. Indeed, the signal had gone out from the generals to their foot soldiers to come after me.

For the record, my tweet did not even criticise Kochhar’s sentiment, much less call for a boycott, but rather pointed to the fact that authorities in the UAE and his Muslim patrons would no doubt be displeased by his tweet whereas the Hindu right would be sure to love it.

According to these powerful voices of the Hindu right, my cardinal sin was to tag the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai— ludicrous because this hotel is host to one of Michelin-starred Kochhar’s most prominent restaurants in the world.

The deliberate obfuscation was to portray Kochhar as an innocent employee who risked being fired by the hotel because I had tagged them. This is even more ludicrous since Kochhar, a celebrity chef of high calibre, owns his own brand and business and is no one’s employee. Like almost all restaurants associated with celebrity chefs anywhere in the world, his Dubai restaurant operated through a contractual arrangement between him and the hotel.

Indeed, the hotel in the aftermath of the controversy sparked by Kochhar’s tweet terminated his contract as one would fully expect given the low level of tolerance in the UAE for any views criticising Islam. But if these claims made against me are not bizarre enough, the Hindu right floated the notion that because of my tweets, a day after the controversy had broken, I had put Kochhar’s life in jeopardy.

Lost in the scuffle, was anyone actually asking me what I thought of Kochhar’s original tweet and his views? For the record, Kochhar’s tweet can certainly be read as critical of Islam, but I think it’s a stretch to call his views bigoted.

Having said that, Kochhar has expressed rather more unsavoury views in the past. In one particularly odious tweet, he said that India needs a Hitler, a view held by some extremists in the Hindu right but which can only be described as unconscionable.

While I fully expected to be attacked, even I was taken aback by its extent and nature. An entire ecosystem came after me, including mass reporting me to Twitter in an attempt to suspend my account and literally shut out my voice. These are people who have little or no tolerance for dissenting voices, even a voice such as mine, which has defended the current government and its ecosystem on numerous occasions when they have been wrongly attacked.

It is rather obvious the Hindu right just used Kochhar as a convenient peg to attack me. Rather than turning their ire against the UAE and its illiberal laws, which is the real source of Kochhar’s troubles, the Hindu right chose to vilify and defame me. Had they been sincere in their concern for him, a #BoycottDubai campaign would have been their logical step, not a #BoycottRupa campaign.

So, what is going on? It is evident that there is an active and concerted campaign to denigrate me by powerful and well-organised forces in the Hindu right, politically connected to the current government. Indeed, some friends within that ecosystem told me privately that I should fully expect to be a target given that I had the temerity to make some remarks perceived as critical of the ruling party.

This brings me to the next, frequently repeated charge by voices on both the left and right that I’ve made a ‘turn’, apparently having been a Modi cheerleader and now a critic. A little more than four years since Modi and the BJP took power, the reality is that it’s not I who has changed, but the governance template and the ecosystem surrounding it that have morphed beyond recognition.

Further, the idea that someone can be independent of any political party or movement, doesn’t harbour a pathological hate for Modi or the BJP, unlike the traditional left and primarily concerned with ideas coming from a centre right perspective, is lost in an increasingly polarised discourse in India.

Like many, I was hopeful that Narendra Modi with his huge mandate in 2014, having campaigned on development and governance and not principally on the BJP’s traditional Hindutva agenda, would start to deliver on the promises he made. Today, more than a year after the BJP’s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh and in the lead up to the next general election, talk of development, and sensible economic policies have all but vanished. What you have today is a far cry from what Modi promised in 2014.

What is more, the powerful ecosystem surrounding Modi and the BJP have shifted gears from making a positive case for change as they did in 2014 to a negative and disturbing rationalisation of problematic views bordering sometimes on bigotry and hatred, so long as they appear to serve a useful political purpose. Several prominent ministers, including the Prime Minister follow some unsavoury Twitter handles and thereby lend them credibility and legitimacy.

The climate now is toxic. The ecosystem which once used to call out fake news now routinely peddles it.

Some respected members of this ecosystem, whose ideology and politics are beyond reproach, are afraid to speak out in the context of such a lynch mob mentality — and have privately told me so. The moderates have been sidelined by the extremists, who’re no longer fringe but have taken centre stage.

Although narrow, the space for independent voices such as mine, who refuse to take partisan sides, is vanishing. The recent attacks on me are ample evidence of this and the worrying state of Indian discourse today.

Rupa Subramanya is an economist and independent analyst based in Mumbai. Follow @rupasubramanya 

Read: Reactions to my resignation from BJP should worry Modi more than my viral post

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  1. If Roopa has her opinion than why cant Atul? If the thing what happened to Atul in UAE happened in India to any Minority person then so called Liberals intellectuals have cried in name of BJP & Modi.

  2. I would have never read this article but for the unrelated Modi in the title. Rupa achieved her objective with this cheap publicity stunt. Why do you malign someone just for your own greed?

  3. I unfollowed her after her tweet. It was irresponsible of her to explicitly tag the hotel and thereby put his work in jeopardy. That showed her hate for him. She’s got an opinion, so do others. That’s it.

  4. Rupa Subramanya is only a glorified troll who trots out the well honed script of I’ll informed liberal hacks. She resorts to abuse and villification the moments her lies are challenged. Atul Kochar can survive this temporary crisis in his life. I wonder if Rupa can face reality.

  5. Rupa, you tagging the hotel was as immature as his original tweet being a resident of an Islamic country. As a resident, he should be aware of dos and don’ts. Yours was a clear attempt to exacerbate his situation and you may have probably succeeded.
    I have a larger point. You were a Modi fan on your own liking. People who have found justification to attack you may be Modi’s fans but, they too are, on their own accord. WHAT HAS MODI OR BJP GOT TO DO WITH YOUR SELF INFLICTED PAIN.?

    I too have issues with many policies and directions but, I continue to believe in him ! The alternative to you now is pure subjugation; remember, this was one main reason why many of us found light in Modiji.

    Until now, you didn’t need to know the art of bootlicking but, you will very soon have to learn to suck up if you have to survive in your new ambience.

  6. Maybe it was your tagging that brought him the attention of Marriott. Not that you can’t do it, but even after 24 hrs, it may well have brought him unwelcome attention. Tagging or mentioning is usually intended to bring something to somebody’s attention.
    But anyway it is not wrong to say the space is reduced.
    Another important point is that the language prejudice of the bjp and its efforts towards hindi imposition in various ways such as certain central govt institutes demanding knowledge of hindi, is something that needs more journalistic attention.

  7. He did what he did , just expressed his sentiments but tagging Marriott ,leading to cancellation of his contract and public shame he faced and may be more happened . All because of you .
    India is tired of these failed pseudo seculars who are dividing society for electoral gains .
    Hindus are now aware ,so what’s wrong with that ? They started and it’s time we end this pseudo secularism .Thanks for your Resignation ,

  8. Lady. You tagged the hotel with a intention to hurt his business and you succeeded, who knows how many millions and how many jobs and lives it damaged. All this because he tweeted 2000 yrs instead of 1000 yrs in his personal social handle? Don’t try to play victim, what you did was disgusting and more disgusting is that you don’t have an iota of regret for causing so much loss.

  9. Funny how she expects twitteratti to use logic with regard to her posts but drags in Narendra Modi and her pique against him.He is no way concerned about this matter.The blame is always at an individual’s door,we claim to be a Democracy though.
    When you live in a glass house and throw stone…the return volley may shatter glass with a loud report.
    No reader is a naive babe-in-the -wood.
    We know tweets are manipulated.Many poseurs turn critics from well-wishers to suit their own whims and fancies.Today pulling up Modi ensures a spot of limelight…anything to stay in the spotlight.

  10. I see that a completely different topic like a tweet on Islam and it’s impact on the person who wrote, can also be linked to our prime minister.
    Anything happening in India , I observe that ultimately it gets connected with Namo . Is it possible for a Human ? Namo is responsible for whatever bad is happening in any corner of India or on social Media. It is so amusing and so bizarre !!! So unrealistic ……?
    I do not understand why PRINT has printed it . Freedom of speech …………… really ?

  11. Islam is religeon of killing not love they want to spread hatred islam believes all but muslims are kafirs pl be aware

  12. End of modi is near fellas, so don’t you worry. At the end of dark tunnel their appears light.

    What he did , he will pay for it. This Modi – Shah duo has ruined this nation and now tables are about to turn on them. Just hang on a bit.

  13. Oh god! I don’t understand at all that what is so criticizing about Modi. What I interpret is that it’s better to have a nothing-doing Congress than a policy making BJP. It’s outrageous that how people can tolerate the jobless Congress for so many years and can’t wait even 5years for a changing India! Everyone needs to understand that India is a very big country and big things need time to change. It will be totally wrong to judge Modi and saying that nothing has been done yet. Leading a comfortable life at your home and commenting on what Modi has not done! Go to the roots of this colossal nation and then judge Miss. And now tangling Modi in the Hindutva scandal would be no good as GOD will do the best thing for this pious land. MODI will win!

  14. It’s a common knowledge that Congress bought and/or trying to buy many prominent pro-BJP figures in social media, and the payments are good.

  15. WHAT DID U DO Rupa??? U wrote EXIT MEMO for your own country’s celebrity chef!!!???
    Having done d DAMAGE U are now trying to hide behind two PILLARS ⤵
    1. SECULARISM …REALLY are U secular or plainly a SHARK who preys on own brethren. If U think U are not a shark then do apologize to Atul Kochhar on same twitter handle than ‘spreading more रायता’ all around.
    2. MODINAMA…What MODIJI has to do with your tweet ??? Ur own INTENTIONS that motivated your Tweet has EVERYTHING to do with it.

  16. I fully and strongly agree with Amit’s post of 21 June 2018. Modi has no magic wand and a magic wand won’t work with such assholes like this Rupa

  17. Even though you are one of the reasonable voices from the right, you should have known what was coming. You are smart enough to understand how this government administrates and preserves power. The backlash was waiting to happen. Its like you got on a boat in a flooding river, yes you will travel faster, but got to blame only yourself if it gets rocky. Narendrabhai Modi works hard and has the best for the country in his heart, but then the politics which has got him to power, has taken a very ugly shape, which may be not how he wanted it to be, but is out of his control. But, no body should pity you, because the only promise was not good governance, “hindu asmita” was part of the package too.

  18. Rubbish.
    It has become a fashion to criticize Modi and Modi Sirkar for all matters .
    Even if my spouse misbehaves with me , I will bring Midi’s on to it .
    This is fashion.

  19. Yeah whatever…but why you dragging Modi into a matter that he’s not even remotely connected with

    1. Priyanka Chopra, without objection, enacted a plot where Hindus want to nuke New York. (Thats like cows roaring)

    2. People were naturally upset. Among them is bawarchi Kocchar.

    3. He stated a fact about muslim oppression of Hindus albeit for not 2000 years.

    4. You Rupa Subramanya tweeted something about it. As usual people who didn’t like it trolled you.

    Iss mein Bhala Modi Naam leke article Kyun bhechna?!!

    PS: I didn’t read your drivel, after the 2nd para of victim mongering. Honestly I opened the link thinking it was Shourie whinging.

  20. As the writer claims that before she could tag Kochhar’s contractual patner in Dubai, more than 24 hours had passed and he had already apologized, deleted his tweet and an online boycott by a company had already come by, then what was need/ motive/ reason behind she tagging hs Dubai Partner’s twitter handle? To fuel the controversy all over again? The writer must accept that she goofed up and should be have done what she did than to make up stories to cover it up. Secondly, surprisingly she manages to link every thing with Modi and his regime. Constant use of the word ‘Hindu Right’ also bothers me, it seems like a new coined word under an agenda.

  21. Author tried to play victim card while trying to escape from the real impact created by her intentionally or unintentionally. It would have been a matured response if she accepted the real damage and the rationale behind her tagging

  22. You are a hypocrite. You think you aren’t taking sides, but you are, and ironically it’s the wrong side. Besides many Indians think that India needs a dictator and they aren’t polarized, they are desperate to see the progress which is marred by the bureaucracy and red tape and corruption and lethargy. And Modi isn’t responsible for it all, he’s improved the situation but you want him to wave his magic wand and bring India to #1. That ain’t gonna happen because we have ass a holes like you around. Capice.

    • You couldn’t have been more right. This woman is being delusional. I pity her mindset. What an asshole ! Probably, there’s is a vacancy for her in the Congress.

  23. Bravo….no doubt feeling Triumphant, having stepped upon and rubbed into the ground Hindutva Pride…..throughout history it’s bigotted Traitors like you…….appeasers of the foreigner….for Dollar or Pound , nay Euro….who have never let this Nation Progress….no big deal…you turned ur back on the BJP……no one will miss you. Least of all Namo Modi.
    Har Har Modi..

  24. Butcher somebody and then justify it. Yes he did mistake and everybody has been doing this kind of mistake from time immemorial. And that is what makes us humans. But in this age of social media where everything is recorded, it is quite easy to kill somebody’s prospects.

    I too used to hate certain things and used to tweet and post bad about them, but now I am changed, because nobody reported that and because my hate was thrown out of me in the form of tweet or post. Imagine if somebody would have reported it and It had impacted my career….

  25. Rupa tagged the hotel to attack kochhar where it hurts most, his livelihood. Now she is explaining her stand by trying to villify Kochhar and his hitler tweet. People like Rupa knowing fully consequences of their action do it for the sadistic pleasure of trampling on fellow indians to show their superiority. Shame

  26. U seem so illogical and naive that 4 the trolling of u ; u made modi responsible and all of a sudden u r seeing all the loopholes of modi govt and u take solace in the company of known modi baiter sekher gupta. And dont think i am trolling u and 4 that dont make modi responsible. I must say SHAME ON U

  27. We are not realizing that smartphones have become an almost integral part of almost all of us only in the last 3-4 years. And each one of us with a smartphone have our own opinions. I don’t believe that the trolls are being organised by anyone. It is most of the times a spontaneous reaction from any one of the crores of opinionated us- Indian citizens.
    Let us not read much into this troll trends.

    • Aroonava: I second you. Smartphone makes it easy. Our impulsive nature dictates all our replies. Our communication is right here in the pocket and just a few clicks will send out a reply. A single tweet can spread like wildfire. SM is just getting us all agitated all the time.

  28. Like many others I too voted for the change, but now I realize that nothing was wrong with previous govts. They at least hadn’t turned or tampled the fabric of India which is made of various colors, I do second with you without any prejudice.

    • Wow where did you learn this english sentence ‘At least hadn’t turned or tampled the fabric of India which is made of various colors,’
      Did they teach you in the IT cell class of ‘Rajiv ke Sipahi’
      Because for those divisive and deceiving like Congress’s RaGa and his chamche India was a developed country before 2014.

    • Give us a proof that there has been prejudice on this land. Which Muslim or Christian or Harijan has been made to face a hideous crime by Modi. And what previous Governments did was NOTHING. So if you want nothing, go sleep at home. It’s good that you voted for change , but for your change, just because you get bored with leaders we can’t throw out the good people. Attach reports to your comment before typing it because no fabric’s been tampered. All the fibres and fabrics have come together to make this India one strongly woven nation.

  29. I would like to share the following thoughts after having read this opinion piece:
    1. There is no debating the fact that the level of discourse has reached significant polarization and that there is no space for non-partisan voices. But the question is – can someone sit on the fence where this issue is concerned? It is impossible to conceive that a well-educated person will not have an opinion/view on whether such polarization is good or bad for the country. Therefore, one invariably has no option but to take a stand/view on whether you agree with the current regime’s strategy to polarize or not – it is impossible to be non-partisan. One might not voice his/her view but he/she will definitely have one.
    2. The writer claims she did not criticize Kocchar’s sentiments. Really? So, was the tweet an attempt to predict the likely repercussion of Kocchar’s tweet on his business prospects after the writer tagged the Hotel’s social media handle? Come on now, let’s not play naive. The writer very well knew what she was doing when she tagged the hotel. Otherwise, she could have just tweeted without the tag, right?
    3. The writer then goes on to say that Kocchar’s tweet, though critical of Islam, is not bigoted but then shares another tweet of his that displays his affinity for Hitler. So the writer knows he is a bigot but is trying to be fair and objective by saying that his tweet was technically not bigotry!

    The point is simple. If you are calling it out for what it is, please do so unabashedly and without fear. By trying to backtrack or couch a view in language that is nebulous the writer is not regaining any credibility. You either have a view or you don’t. If you have a view and want to broadcast it on twitter, say it clearly. Or, if you have a view but don’t want to share it, that is perfectly acceptable as well but know that you have the view – you cannot claim to be non-partisan (in this context, it is the position one takes). If you don’t have a view it probably is because you have either not given an issue adequate thought or are processing the information and are taking your time to form your view.

    Take a stand, and stand up for it.

    • Well said Rajeev. The writer is trying to balance on two different stools and the distance between the two stools is increasing pointing to a fall unless a firm stance is taken.

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