Sunday, April 11, 2021

Trolling Sushma

The trolling on social media of union external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for acting on an inter-faith couple’s complaint alleging harassment by a passport official in Lucknow is a shocking case of the genie coming to haunt its own creators. The minister since last week has been the victim of sexist comments and threats of death by social media users who are fans of prime minister Narendra Modi. Some of them are the same handles who have been targeting Modi opponents including intellectuals, activists, actors and journalists on the social media and a book ‘I am a troll’ by journalist Swati Chaturvedi revealed the shocking manner in which some of them were directly being patronised by the prime minister’s office. In all these cases, the government which has otherwise been using the draconian provisions of the Information Act with respect to online material against the dissenters over frivolous pretexts, maintained criminal silence, or at best distanced itself from the trolls despite glaring evidence. Such trolls reflect the nature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s online following and are a grim reminder of the all time low that public discourse in this country has reached. The previous trolls revealed there was a systemic pattern in which opponents of Hindutva ideology were constantly being harassed on the social media. But when the victim becomes a minister who espouses the same Hindutva ideology, it raises the vital question whether Swaraj is being victimized as part of the same sinister plan or the troll army, patronised by the Hindutva groups and no less than the prime minister, has proved to be their Frankestein which has worryingly gone beyond their own control. Sushma Swaraj firmly places her belief in Hindutva ideology but as a minister she has so far not been found to discriminate against citizens on basis of caste, colour and creed. Her tweets on the social media are measured and display remarkable degree of calm unlike the sycophancy and rashness of many of her colleagues within her party. As external affairs minister, her help to an inter-faith couple in getting their passports is being viewed by hardcore saffronite fans as an onslaught on the Hindutva ideology. This makes one thing clear that the troll army is not essentially a paid agent of the BJP but essentially of prime minister Narendra Modi and mesmerized by his hardcore Hindutva idea which believes that all other religions and communities other than upper caste Hindus need to be annihilated. The trolls are clearly outright Modi fans and subscribe to the hate soaked Hindutva ideology. Is Sushma Swaraj being targeted for being a soft advocate of that ideology or for posing a formidable challenge to Narendra Modi’s leadership within the BJP? More light on this may be shed in the coming days. But what is clear is the worrying prospect of the ugly public discourse that smacks of not just fascist ideology, an abusive content and imbues with intolerance to ideas and words that are out of sync with hardcore Hindutva. The trolls are not just abusive in nature, they are also a celebration of hatred and abusive commentary as a badge of pride. This indeed is a sad reflection of the times. That Modi or any of his senior ministers (except Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday) have not even expressed even an iota of concern in the manner in which their ministerial colleague is being hounded on the social media, is an even more worrying reflection of the stature of the rulers and manifests where their sympathies lie. The prime minister with his abject silence on these recent bouts of troublesome troll army has only proved that the latter are his loyalists or paid agents. If that is not the case, the Frankstein he has encouraged for his short-term benefits has become a loose cannon with no check. In either case, this is extremely worrisome as it signals a deeper moral decay in the jarring public discourse and the patronising political silence.