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Is Internet trolling of India’s foreign minister an inside job?

S. N. M. Abdi

Published: Updated:

India’s Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, who has rescued many Indians caught in nasty situations abroad after they tweeted her, is now fighting a lonely online battle against Hindu hardliners viciously trolling her. Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah, haven’t sprung to her defense.

The high profile woman minister appears friendless as except her husband, former Governor Swaraj Kaushal, and two ministers, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, who handle the Home and Transport portfolio respectively, not a single right-BJP heavyweight has backed her.

Swaraj is being relentlessly abused by right-wing Twitter users after a passport officer in Lucknow was punished for harassing a Muslim-Hindu couple. As passports are handled by Swaraj’s ministry, right wing trolls instantly targeted her for “victimizing” a Hindu officer to “appease” Muslims.

A troll even advised the minister’s husband, Swaraj Kaushal, “to beat her up and teach her not to do Muslim appeasement”. As threats of violence against her escalated, the feisty minister started a Twitter poll to find out whether people were for or against abusive trolling that she was being subjected to for days.

Trolling approval

An astounding 43 percent of 124,305 respondents “approved” what the trolls were doing. “As many as 53,451 Twitter users backing the trolls is a dead giveaway. Such a big number can be mustered only by IT Cell of the BJP which, in turn, means that the BJP itself is targeting Swaraj”, Uttam Sengupta, Consulting Editor of the National Herald newspaper, told Al Arabiya English.

Earlier, The Hindu daily reported that when it reached out to BJP IT Cell in-charge, Amit Malviya for comments, there was “no response amid reports that many of the accounts posting abusive comments belonged to party supporters, and were followed by members; and none have tweeted or issued statements in her favour.”

According to Sengupta, “the no-holds-barred campaign against Swaraj clearly enjoys the blessings of Modi as Swaraj was one of the few BJP heavyweights who opposed the selection of Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate prior to the 2014 elections – and Modi doesn’t forgive and forget easily.”

Sengupta added: “I won’t be surprised by Swaraj is denied a BJP ticket to contest the 2019 election. She was made the Foreign Minister to placate her but her wings were clipped from day one. And now they are determined to hound and evict her. She comes from a socialist background and the RSS (BJP’s ideological fountainhead) has no sympathy for her.”

Studied silence

While BJP ministers and party colleagues have maintained a studied silence, the opposition Congress Party has declared that Swaraj is a victim of a Frankenstein monster created by the BJP to intimidate and silence critics.

“Anybody who created a Frankenstein monster must remember that the definition of Frankenstein monster is that it swallows you up. Anybody who rides a tiger must know that the tiger has to decide when to eat you up. You can’t decide when to dismount. This is the tiger put beneath Swaraj by her party. She can’t say so – so I’m saying it on her behalf”, remarked Abhishek Singh, Congress spokesperson.

Mehbooba Mufti, the recently dethroned Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, tweeted that she is “horrified by the vicious trolling Swaraj has been subjected to. If our own Foreign Minister is not spared, what hope is there for any other woman?”