Sushma Swaraj, one of the Modi government’s most powerful ministers, found herself on the receiving end of the troll army on social media after her ministry transferred a passport officer alleged for harassing an inter-faith couple.
In a series of tweets to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj last week, Noida resident Tanvi Seth had alleged that one of the officials who interviewed her at the Regional Passport Office in Lucknow did not approve her application and verbally lashed out at her for marrying a Muslim and not changing her name. Her husband said that the ministry of external affairs (MEA) employee also asked him to change his name into a Hindu one and also take ‘pheras’. A day later, the MEA handed over their passports and promised “appropriate action” against the employee concerned.
The taken action angered right-wing Twitterati who felt that the minister had acted impulsively in an attempt to “appease minorities” and hence, they started abusing and trolling the minister.
Swaraj, who returned to India after a week-long trip abroad, called out the abusive handles by ‘liking’ their tweets. She even retweeted some of the abusive tweets to highlight the level of vitriol directed at her.
“I was out of India from 17th to 23rd June 2018. I do not know what happened in my absence. However, I am honoured with some tweets. I am sharing them with you. So I have liked them,” she wrote on Twitter while “liking” numerous tweets abusing her.
The incident is a sad reflection of the way abuse, threats and bullying have come to dominate the discourse on social media and have restricted the space for civilised debate.
In fact, a Hindustan Times analysis revealed that 41 BJP parliamentarians, who are either ministers in the union cabinet or elected MPs to the Lok Sabha, follow at least one of the accounts that tweeted out a message which Swaraj had liked to showcase trolling.
Hence, this raises some serious questions that whether the right-wing troll army is now attacking its own leaders and is not ready to listen to even its own ministers? Have these trolls gone out of control, those who don’t want to listen to any sane voice and want to crush anyone having a different opinion or viewpoint? Don’t these trolls get a validation by being followed by top leaders and lawmakers in the country? How are these vicious trolls getting encouraged day by day and why is no stringent action being taken against them?
At the time when Sushma Swaraj was savagely trolled on Twitter, the BJP has been maintaining a deafening silence. Officially, BJP leaders claimed it was an internal matter of the Ministry of External Affairs that did not warrant any reaction from the party.
Ms. Swaraj, however, got support from some unlikely quarters. The official handle of the Congress tweeted in her favour.
No matter the situation or reason, nothing calls for threats of violence, disrespect & abuse. @SushmaSwaraj ji, we applaud your decision to call out the heinous trolls of your own party.https://t.co/qcB0qemRGZ
— Congress (@INCIndia) June 24, 2018
Sushma Swaraj, who is the most followed female leader in the world on Twitter, has been lauded for using Twitter effectively to respond to people asking for help, whether it is for visas or rescue.
The leader has been called India’s ‘best-loved politician’ by the Wall Street Journal. During her four-year tenure, she has completely changed the perception about her ministry: Removed the snobbery, inefficiency and brought it closer to people. She has led by example when it comes to using social media for governance. Indians around the world believe that no matter the difficulty they are in, help is just a tweet away.
There are numerous examples that exhibit the high degree of professionalism that Swaraj has presented before us by using Twitter as a medium to both reach out and allow others to reach her. The fact that someone of her stature would be subjected to such online vicious attacks is a clear sign that the ‘troll army’ is out of control and is ready to trample anyone online just for having different viewpoints and opinions.
If a person like Swaraj with all authority and influence can be subjected to such abuse, we can imagine what happens to the rest of people, especially independent journalists, activists, and outspoken women who fight such online hate and abuse on a day-to-day basis.