Cricket and music have in the past been held hostage to international politics, with nationalist Indian political parties and their rabid fans insisting that India should not play host to anything connected to Pakistan – even if the people being invited from across the border have nothing to do with their government. Emboldened by the success of these tactics, right-wing trolls are now attacking even Indian performers for espousing opinions that they disagree with. The most recent scalp is that of celebrated Carnatic musician TM Krishna.
A concert that had been scheduled for this weekend in New Delhi was postponed by its sponsor, the Airports Authority of India, because of “some exigencies of work”. Until just a few days before, the AAI, which organised the concert along with musical society SPIC-MACAY, had been promoting the event. But doing so brought it much trolling from right-wingers who insisted that Krishna is an “urban naxal” – a mostly meaningless term used by the Right to describe those who question Hindutva – as well as “anti-India” and a “converted bigot” who sang about Jesus and Allah.
The trolls seem to take issue with the fact that Krishna does not accept their vision of India, and that he dares to question attempts to turn the country into a majoritarian, Hindu Rashtra. Krishna, who is also a winner of the prestigious Magsaysay Award, has in the past been attacked for criticising the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as for encouraging pluralism. Earlier this year, a fringe group in Tamil Nadu threatened him for singing songs about Islam and Christianity in the Carnatic style.
“I have been trolled for a long time for my social position, my perspectives on politics in India and my disagreements with the BJP regime,” Krishna told NDTV. “I believe in every art form... Allah, Jesus and Ram make no difference... it is a multi-lingual and multi-religious country. The troll army has the underlying patronage of people in power.”
After the Airports Authority announced that it was postponing the concert, without a clear reason why, the Delhi government reached out to Krishna and is in conversation with him about a concert. But the fact that things came to this, simply because the central government agency was unable to handle pressure from trolls, and presumably some in the BJP, is unfortunate. Krishna’s music is aimed at reflecting some of the best things about India: an age-old tradition that embraces diversity and continues to evolve, even as it reflects the cultural wealth of this society.
People opposing this simply because the singer disagrees with them, or worse, because his art unnerves their majoritarian mindset might be inevitable. But for the Airports Authority to give in to such pressure, whether from above or below, is a real shame. The Delhi government’s move will hopefully restore some dignity and freedom to the public sphere, because the alternative is letting such regressive notions go unchecked, thereby eroding all that makes India’s democracy and diversity special.