Hindutva Pop: A Review

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Can a song trigger a murder?
Can a poem spark a riot?
Can a book divide a people?

By Binu Mathew

These lines are from the back cover of a newly released book by Kunal Purohit called “H-Pop, The Secretive World Of Hindutva Pop Stars”.

The book begins its journey from an accidental visit to Gumal, a nondescript town in southern Jharkhand, by the author in March 2019. Two years before his visit, something stunning happened in Gumal in April 2017. During a Ram Navami procession accompanied by trucks carrying booming speakers blaring DJ music to keep the crowd energized. Every year, the procession was welcomed by the town’s Muslim community near the mosque with sweets and garlands. But on that fateful day, as the procession neared the Masjid, the music switched to anti-Muslim songs. Tensions ran high. Police intervened, and a situation was averted.

A few hours later, some men who were part of the procession were returning to their village when they saw a Muslim man, 20-year-old Mohamed Shalik, with a young Hindu woman.  Many in the group knew Shalik, but they took matters into their hand and, tied him to an electric pole and assaulted him. Soon after, he died in Gumla’s Sardar Hospital.

Purohit writes,

“I couldn’t sleep that night.

That was also the night this book was born”

This incident shook Kunal Purohit. He asked himself the question, “Can a song trigger a murder?” That set him off on an investigative journey through the towns and villages of India, where a new genre of Pop Culture was thriving. Hindutva Pop or simply H-Pop. Eminent journalist Rajdeep Sardesai writes in the blurb, ‘’Based on solid ground reporting…. Frighteningly real, this book is a must-read.”

Kunal Purohit is an independent journalist with two decades of professional experience. He worked in the newsrooms of Hindustan Times and Free Press Journal. He is a recipient of the prestigious Ramnath Goenka Award and many others. He has been writing for various reputed publications.

Since that night in Jharkhand, for nearly five years the author dived deep into the world of Hindutva-driven popular culture.

He writes,

“Set in north and central India, I travelled across countless villages spread across seven states, trying to understand what drove these pop stars and how ordinary Indians were drawn to their work.”

Through his initial investigations, Purohit understood that it was not just music that was driving this pop culture. “Like music, a new, Hindtuva-fuelled genre had emerged in two other forms of mass consumption and entertainment: poetry and book publishing. Like music, each of these popular cultures has been weaponized in service of Hindutva ideals”.

Purohit weaves his book around three pop stars who excelled in their respective medium. Kavi Singh, a Hindutva pop musician, Kamal Agney, a popular Hindutva poet, and Sandeep Deo, publisher of Hindutva books.

All three are hardcore Hindutva fanatics. Kavi Singh and Kamal Agney grew up with Muslim friends and did not have any enmity with them in their formative years. As they grew up, some personal incidents turned them against Muslims and secular politics. Kamal Agney, for instance, cast his first vote for Akhilesh Yadav. The turning point for them was the rise of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India. Sandeep Deo, for instance, grew up steeped in Hindutva culture. They primarily work independently of any Hindutva organisation. However, all are part of the growing Hindutva ecosystem. Sometimes, they even go against the BJP.

Kavi Singh

Kavi Singh was born in the Alwar district of Rajasthan as Keshanta Singh. She was adopted by a popular Haryanvi singer, Ramkesh Jiwanpurwala. He became her father, manager, lyricist, director, man Friday and life coach.

The legend goes this way: one day, Ramkesh heard Kavi sing in the kitchen. He immediately took her to a studio and recorded a song to find out how she would sound.

On 14 February 2019, the Pulwama attack happened. Soon, Ramkesh received a poem from a fellow Haryanvi poet and singer, Azad Singh Khanda Kheri. The song was polarizing. Ramkesh set it to music and made Kavi sing it. They recorded the song and sent it to a few friends. The next morning, they learned that the song had gone viral. Soon, they shot a video and uploaded it on YouTube. That was the beginning of Kavi Singh’s journey as a pop star.

The father-daughter duo brought out song after song on all topics dear to the Hindtva ideology. They released two or three videos on Youtube every month. It catapulted her into a star. She started getting invitations to perform in Hindutva meetings.

Ramkesh had big plans for her. He wanted to launch her into politics, to make her a MP or even a minister and ultimately the Prime Minister of India. It all fell apart when their relationship took a tumultuous turn. They broke up. Kavi is now back in her home in Alwar. She has big plans for the 2024 election and will release many videos to support the Hindutva cause.

Kamal Agney

Kamal Agney is a young poet born in Gosaigaj, a town 20 KM east of Lucknow. His father was a poetry enthusiast and took the young Kamal to Kavi Sammelans (Poetry Recitals). Soon, he took a penchant for writing poetry himself and performing it.

Kavi Sammelans are immensely popular in the Hindi heartland. By the time Kamal took to poetry, many of the Kavi Sammelans were events where poets unabashedly recited poetry in praise of Hindutva. Kamal took the cue from there, and there was no looking back. He was being invited to Hindutva Kavi Sammelans across the Hindi belt. It also brought him monetary benefit. He also found his hero in Yogi Adityanath. The UP election of 2017 put Kamal in the centre of Hindutva poetry. He was campaigning for Yogi Adityanath in UP. During Yogi’s reelection in 2022, Kamal was at the forefront campaigning for Yogi. During this campaign, he felt that his hero, Yogi, was being sidelined by the Modi-Shah duo, so he had all the more reasons to ensure Yogi’s victory.

Sandeep Deo

Sandeep Deo is a ‘fearless journalist’, Youtuber, Life Coach, Guru and Entrepreneur all rolled into one. He is a journalist who worked in ‘Dainik Jagran’ and ‘Nai Dunia’ reporting from Delhi. He didn’t want to be a run-of-the-mill journalist. He wanted to be a champion of Hindutva. He quit his job and tried many business ventures that were supposed to further the cause of Hindutva. All of them floundered. He became an author, with several books to his credit, publishing with the reputed publishing house Bloomsbury. In August 2020, Bloomsbury announced a book, Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story, which was supposed to ‘uncover the  Jihadist-Naxal Conspiracy’ behind it. It drew much criticism and threatened to cause a fresh outpouring of tensions that had just settled. Bloomsbury withdrew the book. This infuriated Deo. He was already a critic of Amazon and Flipkart for not catering to the Hindu ethos in India. Bloomsbury’s action was the end of the rope for him. He withdrew all his books from Bloomsbury and decided to start a publishing house. It was named ‘Kapot’. Then came the question, how to distribute it? He launched an E-Commerce site to sell his books. Now it has over 2200 books and it sold about 25,000 books in 2022.

Sandeep Deo’s ambitions doesn’t end here. He wants to take his books offline and open book stores in the small towns of India. His ambitions doesn’t end there either. He wants his centres to be a knowledge hub where youngsters are trained in ‘Shastra and Shaastra’. He calls them ‘Shaurya Kendras’, where youngsters are trained in Hindutva knowledge and the use of arms.

Sandeep Deo is a popular YouTuber giving expert knowledge on current events and has hundreds of thousands of followers. He is termed as a fearless journalist since he is not afraid of taking on even BJP or RSS. Sandeep is not a fan of Modi. He believes Modi dilutes the principles of Hindutva. He’s not even a fan of RSS. He filed an FIR against RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for his defence of Homo Sexuality.

Sandeep Deo’s ambitions doesn’t end there. He wants to control the parliament and even the Prime Minister’s chair, driven by the pure ideology of Hindutva. He and his friend Ankur Sharma from Jammu have formed an organization Called Ekam Sanatan Bharat Dal. As a start, they will contest 25 seats from Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and a few seats in southern Karnataka. He says he won’t contest the elections.

He says, ‘Every Ram needs a Vasishtha. Every Chandraguptha Maurya needs a Chanakya”.

“H-Pop” is a revealing journey through the secretive world of Hindutva pop stars. It is a riveting read. Once you start the journey, you won’t put the book down until the journey ends.

It will be right to quote the end lines of Kunal Purohit’s Afterword.

“Yet, as we have seen, no recognized political leader is identified with any of these movements. Instead, mobilization of masses and execution of violence are now outsourced to non-state actors, seemingly independent but tied with an invisible umbilical cord to the Hindu right. The role of propaganda will become even more crucial, and so will the role of cheerleaders. Grimmer days are upon us.”

Binu Mathew is the editor of Countercurrents.org. He can be reached at editor@countercurrents.org

(This article first appeared in countercurrents.org)

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I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, said George Orwell. As a writer, I never kowtow to the whims and dictates of the sacred godmen or godwomen, the political bigots and hypocrites, dealers of laymen, the dishonest and self-serving intellectuals, traders of religions, the betrayers of ‘other’ Indians who eke out a living by their sweat, who are living in fear for being lynched for this and that.

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