BJP’s troll army bullies, abuses and fights dirty with Narendra Modi as the general
A first-person narrative from someone at the receiving end of BJP’s troll army attacks
- Who are the soldiers in BJP’s social media army?
- The more high profile the victims are, the worse the abuse gets, with women often facing the brunt.
- Even BJP ministers are not safe from the social media cell as the horrific trolling of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj revealed.
New Delhi: Narendra Modi has made 50 plus international visits during his four-and-a-half-year tenure as India’s prime minister. Clearly, he revels at sitting on the global high table. Then, why is it among all world leaders that he alone follows vicious trolls who routinely make rape and death threats and indulge in incitement? Why does he invite them to his official residence for a selfie meet and greet?
Before riots could break out, Delhi Police had to issue a quick clarification that this was an outright lie. But they did not act against the handle for incitement or even register a case against the individual.
Then there’s another notorious abuser, also “blessed to be followed by PM’’. He had been briefly suspended by Twitter. Modi, in fact, follows two handles who have been suspended by Twitter, for vile abuse. A tweet to Navendu Singh, a supporter of the rival Aam Aadmi Party, on August 16, 2016 is so crude and vulgar that it cannot be published.
This was one of the questions I asked in my book, I Am A Troll, where I investigated the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) links to online trolls. I argued that the party had an organised army of paid workers and unpaid volunteers, which they used, along with sophisticated bots, to attack journalists, politicians and anyone who opposed them. They also disseminate false images and facts to heighten communal tension.
Who are these trolls?
Trolls are the goons of the online world. In the case of India, online trolls usually have Hindu Right wing views and are highly nationalist. They tend to attack anyone who appears to be against the government, BJP and the nation. Some have large followings. They usually have Hindu gods as display pictures or the twitter egg. Others have adopted display pictures of beautiful women to increase their follower count. So you will have a picture of Bollywood star Sonam in a bikini, tweeting hate against Muslims.
The more high profile the victims are, the worse the abuse gets with women often facing the brunt. Apart from rape threats, the anonymous swarm often send sexually explicit messages such as images of pubic hair to women with vulgar messages attached to it. Well known TV journalists such as Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai are among some of the most targeted in this country. I, too, am a victim. Our mobile numbers are shared on WhatsApp to get more feral trolls to join in the blood sport. Slurs such as “sickular presstitute” are now par for the course.
This pattern of trolling has led many to speculate whether there is an organising hand at work. There is. The BJP has a wide network of volunteers and paid workers scattered across the country and in their offices in Delhi’s Ashoka Road, which sends daily instructions on Whatsapp. Each troll has a contact point in the Ashoka Road central cell, who sends them daily instructions.
Soldiers in a social media army
I spoke to a number social media workers for the party—some of whom had attacked me online—for this investigation. None of them was willing to come on record, but a portrait emerged of the typical troll. He is a young man in his 30s, often with anxieties and bitterness about his lack of opportunities. Some of them believe the lies they peddle. They are staunchly anti-Muslim and chauvinistic and resentful of the liberal elites English speaking journalists represent. Some are more pragmatic. It is a job like any other.
Then I met Sadhavi Khosla, an attractive, bright woman in her 30s. She had lived in the US for a number of years and had her own business in Gurugram. She was a passionate Modi supporter and had enthusiastically agreed to be an unpaid volunteer of the social media cell during the 2014 national elections, even putting her own business on hold.
Within a year, her zeal had changed to disenchantment. There were the daily messages against the Gandhi family and attacks on prominent journalists. But she finally cracked when she was ordered to threaten e-commerce company Snapdeal into dropping their brand ambassador – the Bollywood star Aamir Khan, who had made headlines with a statement, which was seen to be anti-government. Snapdeal did drop Khan.