H-pop: Not far from the madding crowd

Kunal Purohit’s new book profiles three stars of the place where ideology meets pop culture

GN Bureau | December 19, 2023

#Hindutva   #journalism   #culture   #Ideology   #social media  

H-Pop: The Secretive World of Hindutva Pop Stars
By Kunal Purohit
HarperCollins, 306 pages, Rs 499

Kavi Singh is a 25-year-old Hindi poet, writing exclusively on socio-political themes. Poetry, for her, is a patriotic mission. A sample title from her poems is ‘Dhara 370’. Kamal Agney, in his thirties, is also a Hindi poet. His verses are laced with criticism of Mahatma Gandhi and secular-liberal values.Sandeep Deo, 46, is a journalist-turned-author, also a YouTuber, who identifies himself as a Hindu nationalist.

They are only three of the many singers, bloggers, performance artists, content creators and others who have found a large audience for their majoritarian messages, with a multiplier effect from social media. Each of the three is the subject of a long profile by Kunal Purohit in his new book ‘H-Pop: The Secretive World of Hindutva Pop Stars’.
Purohit, an award-winning independent journalist, documentary film-maker and podcast creator, says, “Communal tensions are often dismissed as temporary aberrations. ‘H-Pop’ reveals a very different truth: communalism has become everyday and continuous. Emerging from four years of travels in seven states, ‘H-Pop’ shows how Hindutva music, poetry and literature have popularised and normalised this ideology – radicalising ordinary Indians, and driving the tentacles of communalism ever deeper into society.”

Away from the gaze of mainstream urban media, across India's dusty small towns, this brand of popular culture is quietly seizing the imagination of millions, online and offline. From catchy songs with acerbic lyrics to poetry recited in kavi sammelans to social media influencers shaping opinions with their brand of ‘breaking news’ to books re-scripting historical events, “H-Pop” is steadily advancing societal acceptability for Hindutva’s core beliefs. By inserting the ideology into popular culture, “H-Pop” normalizes Islamophobia, demonizes minorities and vilifies its critics each day, without ever making headlines.

Purohit is the recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Civic Journalism (2012), the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting (2014) and the UNFPA-Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitive Reporting (2014 and 2019). With his rich experience, he seeks to answer the question: What makes H-Pop so popular? Who are its stars and its audience? Who is pouring in the money, the effort and the resources to produce and broadcast it? And what kind of an India is it trying to create?
The result is an unusual investigative book as he travels through India, profiling the above-mentioned celebrity trio of H-Pop’s most prolific and popular creators – with, it should be noted, their consent and cooperation. Purohit interrogates whether the creators are driven by ideology or commerce, and what motivates the audience to consume their daily dose of bigotry. In doing so, he uncovers the frightening face of a New India—one that is united by hate, divided by art.

Popular culture has always been a handmaiden of ideology of all stripes. It has also been a two-way street, in which the message travels as much from above as from below. When a party with a particular ideology has been in power for close to a decade, this two-way street is bound to witness a lot of traffic, on both sides. That is not surprising. Yet, the so-called ‘H-pop’ phenomenon had gone unnoticed in the larger national discourse, and this book not only brings it to the attention of those who did not know about it, it also provides valuable documentation of it.




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