A Hindu man has triggered a storm on social media after revealing on Twitter that he canceled a taxi when he discovered the driver was a Muslim.
The would-be passenger, Abhishek Mishra, is followed by high-profile ministers in the central government and his Facebook cover photo shows him shaking hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Mishra tweeted on April 20: “Canceled @Olacabs Booking because Driver was Muslim. I don’t want to give my money to Jihadi People.”
The man has a verified Twitter profile and is notably followed by Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan. He calls himself a “Hindutva Thinker” in his Twitter biography and has over 16,000 followers.
Mishra’s hostility toward Muslims, who he collectively calls “Jihadis”, is underscored by his association with Hindutva groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, which are known to have anti-Islamic sentiments. VHP and Bajrang Dal are part of the larger family of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organization; its de facto political arm is Bharatiya Janata Party, the biggest faction in India’s national government.
Hailing originally from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Mishra said that he handles the information technology cell of VHP.
Ola, the cab-booking app that he used, responded to Mishra’s conduct: “Ola, like our country, is a secular platform, and we don’t discriminate our driver partners or customers [on the basis of] their caste, religion, gender or creed. We urge all our customers and driver partners to treat each other with respect at all times,” it said.
Unrepentant, Mishra tweeted that many people followed him on Twitter and defended his right to “freedom of expression”.
Mishra said that he was retaliating against an earlier incident in which a woman raised concerns over cabs carrying stickers of an angry avatar of Hindu deity Hanuman.
Commonly referred to as ‘Rudra Hanuman’, the sticker recently appeared on many cars in India. Hanuman is one of the main characters in the Hindu epic Ramayana, and is seen as a fighter and a protector.
In a Facebook post, the woman had called the sticker ‘a symbol’ of Hindutva, which has come to represent Hindu rightwing politics. Pointing to the fact that certain Hindutva groups had defended Hindu men accused of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir, she said, “Me and my friends are scared to travel in Uber cabs carrying outrightly violent symbols commonly used by these Hindutva groups.”
Mishra attracted both praise and criticism on Twitter for canceling the taxi, only to apparently have his account reported to the micro-blogging site. But on Sunday he posted a screenshot of a message from the site which said the content of his tweet hadn’t violated its rules.