By Sunday afternoon, ‘no’ led ‘yes’ on Sushma Swaraj’s poll asking users if they supported abusive trolling.
New Delhi: It’s been nearly a week since external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj outed trolls who bombarded her with vicious tweets for helping an inter-faith couple, but none of her ministerial colleagues has come to her defence yet.
In fact, while the Congress has spoken in her support earlier, Sunday brought her a sympathiser in a former ally of her party.
“Horrified by the vicious trolling @SushmaSwaraj ji has been subjected to . Absolutely outrageous! If our own minister of external affairs is not spared, what hope is there for any other woman?” PDP chief and Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.
The tweet came a day after Swaraj launched a Twitter poll asking users to vote whether they supported such abusive tweets. By Sunday afternoon, ‘no’ led ‘yes’, with 57 per cent of the respondents saying they didn’t support such trolling.
What, however, did come as a source of support for Swaraj was President Ram Nath Kovind’s praise as he addressed the heads of missions at Rashtrapati Bhavan Saturday.
“There are higher expectations from us as a country from our citizens living outside. I compliment the external affairs minister for her exemplary leadership. She has given a new confidence to our people abroad in the ability of our government to reach out to them when in need,” Kovind said. The statement was also tweeted by the President’s handle, to which Swaraj responded by thanking him.
However, it is to be noted that Kovind made this statement as be addressed heads of missions and not in the context of trolling at all.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, has maintained a studied silence. But to think this silence is specific to Swaraj would be a stretch. PM Modi has never condemned trolling of any kind on Twitter. Neither has he defended any of his cabinet colleagues against trolls, including women ministers like Smriti Irani, who has often been at the receiving end of vicious, misogynistic trolling.
To be sure, the complete silence of all of Swaraj’s Cabinet colleagues as well as that of party president Amit Shah does have underlying political connotations. It is an open secret that the Swaraj-Modi equation has never quite been the warmest as she was perceived to be in the camp, led by veteran party leader L.K. Advani, against Modi’s appointment as the BJP’s PM candidate.
However, since the Modi government came to power with a resounding mandate in 2014, Swaraj has largely toed the line, making herself perhaps the most social media-friendly minister, routinely addressing complaints made on this medium with promptness.
Swaraj has been among the ministers most widely praised by the PM on Twitter – for her Rajya Sabha intervention on Nepal, for her UN speech on Pakistan. and for her Twitter diplomacy, among others.
In fact, it was Swaraj who launched the English edition of PM Modi’s book ‘Exam Warriors’ earlier this year, making everyone wonder if her switch to the Modi camp was now complete.
However, given the absolute silence in the party and government in the face of the social media attack on Swaraj has exposed the fault lines once again.
While most politicians on Twitter are subjected to abusive trolling that is often ignored, what is jarring in Swaraj’s case is that her colleagues chose to keep quiet even when she did decide to take up the issue and highlight it repeatedly.
There is also little doubt that Swaraj’s move to highlight the trolling, in her own dignified but artful way, is also her way of sending out a message to PM Modi, who is often criticised by his critics for his silence on rampant and abusive social media trolling, especially of women.
Several of the trolls on Twitter claim to be BJP sympathisers and some BJP ministers, including the PM, are often accused of following those who indulge in trolling.