Illustration by Siddhant Gupta
Illustration by Siddhant Gupta
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Twitter trolling seems to have become a part of the right-wing culture. The recent victim was the BJP’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. She helped an inter-faith couple with their passports. For this, Swaraj was viciously attacked by trolls, many of whom claim to be BJP supporters, and accused of ‘Muslim appeasement’.

ThePrint asks: Has BJP thrown Sushma Swaraj to the wolves?


Possible that those trolling Sushma Swaraj are working at behest of opposition

Raghav Awasthi
Supreme Court lawyer and RSS activist

It is rather unfortunate to say that Sushma Swaraj has been thrown to the wolves. The fact of the matter is that there were serious discrepancies in the application filed by Tanvi Seth before the Lucknow regional passport officer. Vikas Mishra was merely doing his job. He should not have been penalised for it.

Ultimately, the decision to reinstate him as well as to revoke the issuance of the passport was done at the level of the ministry of external affairs itself. As far as online trolling and bullying is concerned, it is a serious problem.

It is also not correct to say that all trolls are supporters of the RSS and the BJP. There have been many times when supporters of the AAP or the Congress party have been equally and sometimes more vitriolic. I can post screenshots from my Twitter timeline too, but that would be a waste of my time.

As the late Lord Petyr Baelish says on Game of Thrones – “Words are wind”. Similarly, trolls irrespective of political ideology are best ignored. Sushmaji remains the country’s minister for external affairs and, by all accounts, she is doing a stellar job. I am sure that she will continue to do the same in the future.

There is a possibility that those who have been abusing her are agent provocateurs who are working at the behest of the Opposition. Online abuse is unacceptable but best ignored. However, the actions and decisions of any public personality, irrespective of political party affiliation, can and should be open to public scrutiny.


Obvious that our PM will do nothing but turn a deaf ear

Divya Spandana
Head of Social Media and Digital Communications, Congress

We must remember that the tweets trolling Sushma Swaraj are not from real accounts. These accounts have been created by the BJP IT cells. So, there is just one person sitting and tweeting from different accounts of the BJP users.

The idea is to just amplify their agenda through social media. The very fact that the PM has not condemned it or the BJP has not come forward to say anything goes to show that this was done with their permission.

On social media day, we put out a video urging the PM to unfollow these trolls. But it is obvious that our PM will do nothing but turn a deaf ear. Today, people don’t get any help from the police.

Our country does not even have good cyber laws. On top of that, there are people from the ministry following these trolls. They set a very shameful example. There is no way one can put an end to this culture of trolling. We have done enough campaigning against this culture.

The BJP wants it to be this way because they thrive on this sort of defamation. They are so hypocritical that now they are pulling down their own people. The BJP is winning this game of trolling because they have the money and the business-backing to push their content online and get away with it.


To expect govt or PM to rush to a minister’s defence over online abuse is bit much

Rupa Subramanya
Economist 

I do not have insight into the internal politics of the BJP, so I cannot directly answer the question.

While the trolling of Sushma Swaraj is condemnable, the fact that other senior BJP politicians haven’t come to her defence online is overblown in my opinion.

Swaraj isn’t the only politician, or even the only female politician, to have been subjected to vitriolic online abuse. Hillary Clinton comes to mind as having been at the receiving end of vile and sexist abuse during the US election campaign. In other words, such abuse is not unique to India or Swaraj.

To expect people in the government to rush to a minister’s defence is a bit much. Given the large amount of abuse that politicians face online every day, the Prime Minister or other senior ministers would have to spend half their day defending against such attacks, and not governing.

I myself have been at the receiving end of much vile, bigoted and sexist abuse on social media. But I don’t expect anyone to come to my rescue. If a person speaks up for me or Swaraj or any victim of online abuse, that’s praiseworthy, but one should not expect it as the norm.

Speaking for myself, I deal with the situation, try to filter out the abuse, and move on. And that is my sincere advice to Swaraj as well.

Swaraj has every right to highlight the awful abuse to which she’s been subjected. I fully support her right to do so and I have condemned the abuse she faced. But let’s remember we’re all adults here and we are all in this space by choice. So in the event of abuse, let’s deal with it maturely and move on.


Not okay for 43% people to say it’s alright to troll people

Shiv Viswanathan
Sociologist and professor at Jindal Global Law School

What happened to Sushma Swaraj was uncalled for. For starters, we need to have the same rules for both sides. She has shown integrity and loyalty to the family, and the attacks were unnecessary.

If this attack was a political one, it should have been done in a different manner. There are platforms to engage in constructive debates. Why not explore those?

We need to ask who is it that the trolls want to attack –the foreign minister, the politician or the woman. It is completely incorrect to go after Sushma Swaraj’s character.

It is convenient for trolls to hold a person sacrosanct till the time s/he agree with them. Once they disagree, they are fair game.

The violence or trolling coming from the internet needs to be checked. It is not okay for 43 per cent people to say it’s alright to troll people. There is a complete lack of digital aesthetics and a digital code. We don’t just need laws, but a basic sense of civil and moral understanding as to how one should act on Twitter.

Otherwise, the breakdown of society gets reflected on digital media. Since the impact is more immediate, it only speeds up the breakdown.


BJP’s message to Sushma is clear – shape up or ship out

Jyoti Malhotra
National and strategic editor, ThePrint

Home minister Rajnath Singh is the only minister in the BJP government who has extended a sympathetic hand to Sushma Swaraj. Until he broke his silence, telling ThePrint that he had called her to offer support, Rajnath has preferred to keep a low profile on the matter.

The reason is not far to seek. No one wants to upset the lone occupant of Lok Kalyan Marg, or seen to be doing anything that differs from the way he may or may not think. Since Narendra Modi hasn’t said a word in support of Sushma so far, neither has anyone else in the BJP.

The PM’s silence over several issues these past four years – from the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri in 2015 to the killing of Shujaat Bukhari in Srinagar in 2018 – has been often castigated. But the fact that the BJP has refused to publicly demonstrate collegiality means that the party wants to show Sushma Swaraj her place.

In the BJP worldview, a straw poll on Twitter has come to showcase dissent. Perhaps, the party hasn’t forgotten that Sushma Swaraj was the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha during UPA-2 when Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat. What if she becomes a challenger in the future?

Since all potential challenge must be nipped in the bud, the message to Sushma Swaraj is loud and clear: Shape up, or ship out.


Attack on Sushma is to purge unwanted comrade by mental destruction. But she’s very tough.

Shekhar Gupta
Editor in Chief, ThePrint

That Sushma Swaraj is facing vile online abuse isn’t exactly the story. Every public figure today, from Donald Trump to Dalai Lama, has to endure trolling. Politicians are inured to it, and Sushma Swaraj is seasoned enough to take it in her stride, except for one difference: she’s being abused by her own party’s cyber-commandos and defended by its committed critics and rivals.

It’s bad for her politics any which way. Within the “system”, this has spread the word that she is no longer in the boss’s good books. Sympathy from the BJP’s adversaries is complicating the matter. Where does she stand vis-a-vis her own party? And where does she stand in terms of her own future politics? This is the story.

To unleash your own party’s mobs on your own senior colleagues is a tactic from the book of old Communists: Stalin and Mao. Give a dog a bad name through whispers, then run an anonymous campaign, and finally purge it. Remember Trotsky and Lin Biao. The BJP/RSS is also a deeply ideological, cadre-based formation with a Supreme Leader. I know how much my friends in the RSS detest the Communists. But ideological parties are only likely to have similar playbooks.

Today, it is too clever by half to say that a senior politician like her should not see the need for her Prime Minister or party bosses to come to her defence. Or, to say that what can anyone do to protect somebody from social media trolling.

Because, even if they made the diplomatic pretence of defending her, the political point has been made: that the powers-that-be have cornered and black-balled the most amiable and personally popular face in their own top echelon.

This is India of 2018 and not China or Soviet Union of half century ago. Party purges here will be different. This is an attempt to purge someone through mental destruction. Ricky Ponting had perfected this strategy against his rivals until he ran into Sourav Ganguly’s spirited Indians at Eden Gardens in 2001, and was undone. I believe the BJP bosses are in for a surprise too. Swaraj is very strong, much stronger than her adversaries or “friends” imagine.


Compiled by Deeksha Bharadwaj and Prerna Chatterjee.

Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. Sushma jee is a great leader. Even she has not got support from PM & her party, but she fighted alone. Lady Iron after Indiar a Gandhi. No one in BJP is much greater than her. PM should speak and support her.

  2. What is the reason for the targetting? Internal party politics or defying the don’t speak without sanction from the top code.

    If the later is true, does it mean that all those vicious comments that many newly elected BJP members like the Tripura CM’s comment are sactioned from the top?

    Then that means these are not isolated but a strategy to condition Indians to more and more divisive politics. A sort of salami tactic?

    Worrying and scary.

    Ms. Swaraj is a tough politician. That was some guts she displayed in taking on Sonia Gandhi in the then Congress stronghold of Bellary, Karnataka. She began speaking kannada by the end of that campaign.

    She deserves kudos for her first and later action.

  3. Pray tell the world about Mr Vikas Mishra. Why the officer doing his duty in passport office had to be transferred in an hour by the EAM secretary? Everyone here benefitted Madam Tanvi Anas Siddiqui by getting passport in an hour, Sushma ji by becoming victim and playing to gallery but not Mr Vikas mishra. Such a shame.

  4. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala (Punjab)
    I am really amazed to find that the menace of TROLLING is being tossed like a “shuttlecock” here and there now when Mrs.Sushma Swaraj Union External Affairs Minister has fallen a prey to this evil !

    Undoubtedly, the music which the Minister had to face at the hands of trollers is very unfortunate and worth flaying ! Has not this incident really opened up our eyes shaking us from our deep slumber ?

    Ironically, there are many big question marks before the system in wake of this particular episode ?
    Were we not earlier on adopting a silent posture towards this vice ?
    Is this malady a new one ?
    Is it not astonishing, why there is a lot of hue and cry ” now ” because the mental agony of a VIP Minister is concerned ? Has not the mental agony been in vogue and prevalent in the Indian Society for quite long ? Had the media persons, the politicians, jurists, leaders and so on not been facing the onslaught of this malady ?

    Does not the Indian Constitution provide that there is right to equality ? Should not have we felt concerned equally for those too who had to endure the mental agony triggered by the trollers so far ?
    Why Mrs. Sushma Swaraj and her family did not bother to raise their voice against this when many others had to pass through a severe
    ordeal prior to them? In this context, an American Nobel Laureate Mark Twain’s thought-provoking words cross my mind,
    ” The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer somebody else up.”
    Has the nation not already been grappling with manifold problems of sensitive nature ?
    Will not it be worthwhile to learn the art of living amidst problems in Narendra Modi regime?
    Should not like many others, Mrs. Swaraj too see this trolling episode as a bad dream in the sweet and fanciful era of
    Acchhe Din(Fine Days) foreseen by our Honorable PM Modi in the year 2014 ?

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest,Barnala(Punjab)

  5. Whatever the logic of argument that minisyers in Govt.would be taxed to defend Ms.Swaraj,what about party leaders?Further,PM tweets (& is appreciable)birthday wishes etc.(as per his likes/dislike),so a single one liner of disapproval sends d message.As not supporting has also send d message.Its all about d kind of culture leaders wants to build.

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