A single tweet by US pop singer Rihanna spread like wildfire and sparked remarkable outrage in India. On Tuesday, she had briefly tweeted about the recent Internet shutdown imposed on Indian farmers protesting near Delhi. The Indian government quickly expressed its displeasure in response, with many Bollywood celebrities followed up with tweets supporting the government.
The Delhi protests, occasionally marred by violence, have been going on for about a month now, and are directed against legal changes that would drop protections long enjoyed by Indian farmers, like guaranteed prices for produce. Rihanna tweeted, “why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest” and linked to a CNN news article about the incident.
— Rihanna (@rihanna) February 2, 2021
Subsequently, the Indian foreign ministry tweeted out a statement, saying “The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.” Then without any hint of irony, it attached two hashtags to the tweet: #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda
— Arindam Bagchi (@MEAIndia) February 3, 2021
While the ministry didn’t explicitly call out Rihanna, others were much less shy or generous. Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, a staunch supporter of the ruling party BJP, called Rihanna a “porn star” and slammed her musical career. She also described the protesters as “terrorists.” Other Bollywood celebrities like Akshay Kumar and Karan Johar also defended the government, directing their aim against those inciting societal division.
Rihanna’s most recent tweet (2 February) apparently concerns Myanmar’s military coup. Strangely enough, there hasn’t been much of a backlash.