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Is Mark Zuckerberg Chasing the Wrong India?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/11/2015 Malik Siraj Akbar

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and India's populist Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, have become new buddies. Zuckerberg hosted Modi at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, C.A., for a townhall in September. Weeks later, it was followed by another event at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi where Zuckerberg spoke to the Indian students. Zuckerberg looked exuberant in his photos taken in India and shared on Facebook. India has the world's second largest number of Facebook users while Zuckerberg's keen interest in India reassures the Modi-led government about the popularity of the Indian brand/ soft image in the United States, particularly among the movers and shakers of Silicon Valley.
It is not the age that makes Zuckerberg and Modi incompatible friends. It is in fact their divergent world vision that will ultimately clash and hamper a great friendship between the two in the long run. While Zuckerberg is actively working in some of the world's poorest regions to provide access to the Internet for the poor populations because he believes the Internet is an empowering tool, Modi, on the contrary, is a silent spectator, or some allege a tacit supporter, of a strong tide of Hindu extremism that is risking India's enviable secular image. What is happening in Modi's India is in absolute contrast with Zuckerberg's worldview according to which people from all over the world should connect with each, share different ideas and collaborate on positive causes and missions.
What is thriving under the leadership of Zuckerberg at Facebook and Modi in India is "dangerous" for different people at different places and for different reasons. Zuckerberg is increasingly empowering underrepresented communities by providing people a platform to share ideas that are oftentimes considered 'dangerous' in the users' native countries. Facebook has been credited for several modern revolutions, most notably the Arab Spring. The social network has empowered women and men alike making them more curious, inquisitive and assertive. It has helped people from different cultures and religions start such conversations that had previously never taken place on such a large scale worldwide. Young people who can't remember a world before the advent of Facebook would probably consider free speech as their inherent right. Free speech is like oxygen to social media. Unfortunately, in Modi's India free speech is one word the Hindu extremists are trying to expunge from the national lexicon of the world's largest democracy.
There is currently growing anger, frustration and a sense of humiliation among India's leading cultural icons, writers, historians and scientists over increasing intolerance toward free speech and artistic expression in India under Modi whose right-wing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), came in power in 2014. The protesters are coming from some of the best minds India has produced in its six-decade long history. Many of them have perhaps never seen such patronage, tolerance for hatred and violence toward other communities, particularly India's Muslims, in modern India.
While Hindu-Muslim tensions have existed in India since the country's independence, the tipping point for the recent surge of protests from writers, filmmakers, historians and scientists was the killing of a 50-year old Muslim man in the Uttar Pradesh state in September by a mob of Hindu extremists because of allegedly eating beef. (Devout Hindus consider beef eating offensive although I have also met Hindus who don't give a damn who eats what).
Instead of taking the protest of the nation's best minds seriously and taking action against people who are determined to impose their views and preferences on the others, India is witnessing a malicious campaign against the same scholars who have decided to speak up against the government's silence. There are systematic efforts to discredit them by accusing them of being a part of a campaign to malign the Modi government while others have persistently questioned their motivations. It is absurd to believe that so many cultural icons would unite to defame just a government while these people's creative work had existed and inspired generations even before anyone knew Modi. If the Indian government cannot protect its intellectuals, it should at least refrain from character assassinating them because their work has inspired people beyond India's boundaries. They belong to the whole world because of their hones artistic work and India has an obligation to treat them with respect. No parents should teach their kids what Indian novelist Chetan Bhagat recently asked: "What do historians do? I am genuinely curious. This happened. Then this happened. Then this. Ok work done for the day." When a fiction writer questions the work and integrity of historians, we surely live in crazy times.
The Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who turned 50 on Monday, shared his anguish in an interview with the NDTV that his patriotism and loyalty to India was still being questioned supposedly because he is a Muslim. Khan, who is often described as King Khan because of his enormous popularity in Bollywood for the past two decades, warned that religious intolerance would take India to dark ages. The Hindu extremists immediately reacted to Mr. Khan's remarks. Sadhvi Prachi, a leader of the right-wing Hindu organization, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), described Mr. Khan a "Pakistani agent" and demanded that he should be charged with sedition and sent to Pakistan. (To Pakistan? For what? Nobody knows).
Young Indian professionals have undeniably played a remarkable role in advancing the world of information technology at Silicon Valley. This is a generation that has richly contributed in connecting the world, bridging gaps, initiating global conversations and promoting mutual understanding. When they work at Silicon Valley, they call themselves as Indians not as Hindus or Muslims. They respect each other's religious beliefs, preferences and practices. Mr. Modi must not embarrass this generation of Indians who are working hard day and night to make the world a better place.
Together Modi and Zuckerberg can accomplish a lot. But, one of them will have to change. This friendship can't go further if one of them believes in connecting and including people from all races and religions while the other believes in disconnecting and excluding people based on religion.

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