The social media assault on India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, one of the BJP’s senior-most parliamentarians who had been a part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Union Cabinet as well, should not come as a surprise. The troll Hindutva army, which saw its rise along with the India Against Corruption movement in 2012, has never been the server of the BJP.
They have their unflinching loyalty to just two people in the party. One is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the other is BJP president Amit Shah. These two are the only untouchables apart from the overarching idea of Hindutva of course which in turn means demonising Islam and Muslims and anything to do with them. These individuals who pounced on Swaraj are not normal supporters of the BJP and the RSS.
That is why, without any evidence whatsoever that Swaraj was involved in the transfer of a passport official who apparently harassed an inter-faith couple, the troll army turned on her, calling her names, saying she was “better off dead”, that she has an “Islamic kidney”, that she was taken in by the “sickular, libtard” ideas, that she was a “good for nothing”. It is ironic that Swaraj, far from one of the BJP’s moderate faces, still ends up at the receiving end of the ire of the Internet Hindus despite being a staunch advocate of Hindutva. The trolling ecosystem, vicious, personal and as recklessly abusive as it can be, has given rise to people who grew up under its shade and can act independently as soon as they perceive someone or the other is out of line. The diktats no longer need to come out of the central IT cell. They are fully capable of identifying a cause and getting down to business.
That way, independent women, journalists, activists, writers, filmmakers, actors, opposition politicians have long been used to online vitriol being directed against them every time they have questioned decisions of the government or condemned acts of communal violence and lynchings which have become routine across India. But, for BJP leaders, this is new. The chicken has finally come home to roost. Sushma Swaraj has been bitten by the very snakes her party has nurtured and encouraged in its own backyard.
Once you promote a culture of hatred and abuse, sooner or later, it is going to consume you. In spite of having the façade of a democratic party, the BJP and the government it leads at the Centre have been effectively turned into a two-men show. Even at the government level, one finds that leaders like Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj, basically those who have their own currency in terms of mass bases and history of being in active politics, have been repeatedly targeted by these trolls. And, on the other, you have the likes of Smriti Irani, Piyush Goyal and Ravi Shankar Prasad.
They are all Rajya Sabha members, all relative green horns and known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Their Twitter handles carry an abnormally high number of retweets of Modi and Shah, apart from the paeans that they sing about the Modi-Shah duo almost on a regular basis.
The Twitter army of Modi and Shah has zero morality, their compass of ethics has no moving hand. That is why the trolls who are extremely imaginative and creative when it comes to alleging outlandish accusations of corruption against opposition leaders are the first ones to come to the defence of the government and its puppeteers even when Amit Shah’s son’s company registers a 16,000-times increase in turnover in a year. This is a bunch for whom nothing is indefensible when it comes to Modi and Shah. This is a pack of operators for which no low is the lowest. The BJP needs to decide, as a responsible national party, whether it would still nurture these elements when even its own leaders are no longer immune from their invectives.