When Tables Turn for Trolls

26 Jun,2018

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

To be an internet troll is to display the least appealing aspects of human behaviour all the time and clearly without sense or discrimination. It is in fact an art. Or, possibly, the less generous would call it a disease or an infection.

The basic nature of the most successful Twitter troll in India has been pro-Narendra Modi and anti-everyone else. The pro-BJP troll is a lesser species. As the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj discovered, for all that she is an external affairs minister in the Narendra Modi government. When the trolls find a target, they find a target, regardless of whether the target is on their side or not. Swaraj had made the fatal mistake of helping an inter-faith couple. She may have followed the law and the laws of good sense, but rightwing internet trolls will have no truck with either. They follow different laws: those of bigotry and prejudice.

Swaraj’s “crime” was simple. A passport officer in UP, Vikas Mishra, asked a Muslim husband to convert to Hinduism and pulled up the Hindu wife for marrying a Muslim. When Swaraj got to hear of this, the passport officer was pulled up and transferred out. This was enough for rightwing trolls to try and start a hashtag trend in support of Vikas Mishra and then attack Swaraj.

Swaraj was asked if she followed the law because of her “Islamic kidney”, she was told she did not have long to live anyway – all the usual toxic rubbish that is spewed at anyone on Twitter who is not a rabid Islamophobe or anyone who criticises the BJP or anyone who appears pro-Dalit and so on. Anyone who is not a bigot that is.

https://www.thequint.com/hotwire-text/swara-vishal-dadlani-defend-sushma-against-trolls

https://www.news18.com/news/india/sushma-swaraj-shares-abuse-she-faced-online-for-helping-lucknow-interfaith-couple-in-passport-row-1788883.html

Ironically, this comes at a time when several well-known Twitterati and commentators appear to have suddenly changed their minds about being Modi cheerleaders. They have, some recently, others over the past few months or a couple of years, have even turned extremely critical. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, SadanandDhume and Rupa Subramanya spring to mind.

Is there something brewing here?

But to get back to Swaraj, Twitter suggests that no one from the BJP has condemned the attacks on her and although many of the abusers are followed by the PM and senior ministers, they are all silent. Journalist Swati Chaturvedi however reminds us that Swaraj is part of the BJP and therefore by extension party to the toxic atmosphere of trolls created by the party.

https://newscentral24x7.com/poor-sushma-think-again/

Of course, switching sides is not a new phenomenon and nor is moving from reasonable to vicious. Here is an opinion piece which Subramanian Swamy wrote for The Hindu in the year 2000, on the 25th anniversary of the declaration of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi. Although he was ever the maverick, we see Swamy in a forgotten light in this piece and all thanks to SaikatDatta for posting it on Twitter.

http://www.thehindu.com/2000/06/13/stories/05132524.htm

Watching India via Twitter has been a fascinating experience especially as news in the UK is all Brexit, the weather and now football and international news is mainly about Donald Trump (how can it not be).

Later this week, I shall be back with the usual drama.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

 

 

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