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Microsoft chief Satya Nadella backs immigrants in India, ends up on the “anti-national” list

By Ananya Bhattacharya

From our Obsession

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A brigade of pro-government Indian Twitterati is coming out all guns blazing against Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

The immigrant from India, who made it big in the US, called the Narendra Modi government’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) both “sad” and “bad” at a Microsoft event in New York yesterday (Jan. 13). “I would love to see a Bangladesh immigrant who comes to India and creates the next unicorn in India or becomes the next CEO of Infosys,” he said.

And with that, the backlash began.

His statement stirred up pro-CAA Twitter users who argued that Nadella’s statement alludes to legal immigrants, who are still welcome. It’s “illegal immigrants” that the government is battling in its new policy, which came into effect on Jan. 10, they say.

Several people on the microblogging site deemed him “anti-national,” or an “urban naxal.

Back and forth

The contentious law, which was cleared by India’s parliament on Dec. 11, has cohorts of citizens up in arms across the nation. On the one hand, there’s outrage over the legislation allegedly discriminating against Muslims, and on the other, citizens are worried about an influx of settlers weighing down on resources and eroding local culture. Millions of people have taken to the streets over the last month. India Inc.’s business has suffered, and altercations with the police have led to at least 31 deaths.

Meanwhile, a movement has been trying to ramp up support for the legislation.

The BJP carried out a door-to-door campaign to allay fears associated with CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC) to rest.  A pro-CAA hotline apparently got 520,000 calls, home minister Amit Shah claimed on Jan. 4 (albeit some of it may have been for free pizza, free Netflix, or to reach porn-star-turned-Bollywood-actor Sunny Leone). On Jan. 12, Shah revealed half a million letters in support of CAA. Indian-Americans across the US have also been hosting rallies to show solidarity. About 5,000 Bhovi Hindus, who came to India after fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan, plan to hold a supportive march on Jan. 18.

These vociferous supporters are now outraged against Nadella—and it’s nothing new. Recently, when actor Deepika Padukone attended a protest at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi on Jan. 07, a section of the public trended #BoycottChhapaak, her latest release. Then, they went after one of her brand endorsements with #BoycottLux.

Although the actual #BoycottWindows tweets haven’t trended yet, several jokes about it have been making the rounds. “Please #BoycottWindows and use patanjali OS, now comes with anti-national security,” one user wrote sarcastically. Some even said confused BJP bhakts will start removing the windows in their homes in retaliation. 

Meanwhile, on Jan. 14,  Microsoft India released this statement on Nadella’s behalf:

“Every country will and should define its borders, protect national security and set immigration policy accordingly. And in democracies, that is something that the people and their governments will debate and define within those bounds. I’m shaped by my Indian heritage, growing up in a multicultural India and my immigrant experience in the United States. My hope is for an India where an immigrant can aspire to found a prosperous startup or lead a multinational corporation benefitting Indian society and the economy at large.”

His position—even if it was a pro-business statement rather than sympathy for minorities—has other dissenters rejoicing. For instance, historian Ramachandra Guha, who was earlier detained by police during anti-CAA protests in Bengaluru, tweeted that he was glad Nadella was vocal. “I wish that our own IT czars had the courage and wisdom to say this first. Or to say it even now,” he added.

Last month, BJP member of parliament Tejasvi Surya had said only “illiterates and puncture-wallahs” are opposed to the Citizenship Act. Now it’s clear, that’s not true.

Vocal critics are slowly coming to the fore. Harsh Goenka, the chairman of the conglomerate RPG Enterprises, shared a photograph in December about Hindus and Muslims being equal, captioning it, “The essence of all religions is one.” Consumer goods firm Marico’s former board member Kishore Mariwala on Jan. 5 said he was “ashamed” of India’s reputation overseas upon being perceived as anti-Muslim because he is Hindu. His nephew and Marico chairman, Harsh Mariwala, condemned the violence against protesters.  Automobile industrialist Anand Mahindra, Biocon’ managing director Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, and Axis Bank executive director Rajiv Anand have all criticised the violence against anti-CAA protestors.

It remains to be seen whether Nadella’s statement encourages other leaders to join in, or whether the onslaught of disparaging comments scares them off. Sanjay Jha, national spokesperson of Indian National Congress, is betting on the latter. A tweet from him read, “India Inc has the spine of a Maggi noodle.”