Salvatore Babones is an American sociologist and associate professor at the University of Sydney.
He is the author of Indian Democracy at 75: Who Are the Barbarians at the Gate?, a research paper arguably exposing flaws in international evaluations of Indian democracy.
Post the publication of the research paper, Babones was hailed by Hindu nationalist media and Hindu supremacists for defending India against the ‘Seculars’ and the ‘Islamists.’
He was invited to the India Today Conclave 2022 (an annual event organized by the media company) for a session titled ‘Demonizing a Democracy?’.
His statements at the conclave were hysterically circulated on social media by the Hindu far-right as vindicating testimonies by an ‘independent’ foreign voice. Babones has been embraced by the Hindu rightwing as an ‘informed independent voice’ from outside India that would ‘legitimize’ their conspiracy theories (with some more conspiracy theories that he brings regarding the ‘West’ and the ‘Islamists’).
Babones, while parroting the Hindu far-right talking points at the conclave, said that “India’s intellectual class is anti-India,” and there’s a class that is “anti-Modi and anti-BJP.” He also argued that the international media is wrongly portraying India as a fascist state and that there is nothing wrong with the Indian state, and it is vibrant and one of the best democracies in the world. He seemed to be echoing the narrative of the Hindu nationalist when he said that the activists in India have been sliding slowly from criticizing the party they don’t like to attacking the Indian state. He also cautioned the Indian state about the danger posed by these intellectuals and activists.
According to a report published in The Print, Babones is registered as a “foreign agent” with the US Department of Justice and the Australian government for working with an Indian media company based in Uttar Pradesh. He also confirmed that he was registered as a foreign agent because of a “consulting assignment” with Noida-based Democracy News Live for a “period of less than six months. I had a small consulting assignment with this company for a period of less than six months. They approached me asking for help to reach out to the audience in the west. They wanted to know how to frame articles for the Western media so that their message reaches a broader audience, and I advised them on that.”
He calls himself ‘Bharat Bhakt’ (Devotee of India), which, when put in perspective, sounds more like ‘Modi bhakt’ (devotee of Modi).
In an article published in the Firstpost, he draws a parallel between the Indian Hindu right and the Zionist. He writes that western seculars and Islamists have colluded to resent Hindutva (an ideology or movement seeking to turn India into a Hindu nation) in the same manner as they abhor the growth of Israel and the Jews. He falsely asserts that Indian intellectuals have fallen prey to western secular elites in spreading anti-Hindu propaganda.
Babones takes recourse to fallacy and baseless assertions when he cannot falsify empirical evidence and analytical studies and swiftly gets into the shoes of a typical Hindu extremist fringe. He has objected to global institutions for showing concern over the depletion of press freedom and minority rights in India based on his supposed belief that western seculars and Islamists have conspired to disparage India and the Hindus.
His vicious ambivalence towards the situation of minorities in India is exemplified when he tries to fabricate the instances of international media coverage of the illegal demolition of Muslim homes in India. He accused western media of spreading misinformation to demean India. He wrote that the New York Times ‘Low-effort, low-accuracy India coverage’ couldn’t distinguish between a backhoe and a bulldozer which shows how little they know about India.
Babones concluded, ‘This whole sorry saga ( of how backhoe was called a bulldozer) aptly illustrates how activist narratives are often expanded and amplified as they are passed up the journalistic food chain from initial reports to the New York Times.’
Notably, bulldozers (loosely referred to in India as inclusive of other heavy machines that are used in knocking down buildings) have become a symbol of Muslim oppression in India.
He savors over the minority predicament in India through his insinuatingly suggestive feeds on Twitter.
‘I heard that UP is a strict law & order state, so when the sign says smile, I smile.”
(Uttar Pradesh, under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has become one the most hostile states for Muslims in India.)
Posing with portraits of Modi and Yogi he posts,
‘The Three Musketeers.’
‘Am I ready to join the Khan Market Gang?’
(Modi and the Hindu right use the jibe “Khan Market gang” to mock their political adversaries and India’s English-speaking secular intellectuals.)