A day after nearly 30,000 BJP supporters swamped her Facebook page to downgrade the ratings, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj faced unprecedented trolling by the supporters of her own party. It was due to her ministry’s decision to fast-track the passport application process of one interfaith couple, who had alleged harassment by a Lucknow-based passport officer, Vikas Mishra.
Soon after receiving complaints from Tanvi Seth and her husband Anas Siddiqui, the MEA had acted swiftly and ordered Mishra’s transfer to Gorakhpur. This appeared to have angered the fanatic elements within the BJP, who moved with lightening speed to communalise the issue. They first trolled the minister in her absence as she was on a foreign trip and then launched a concerted campaign to downgrade Swaraj’s Facebook rating, forcing the minister to remove the ‘Reviews’ button from her page.
On Swaraj’s Facebook ;page, BJP’s troll army posted nasty and abusive comments against the minister while reviewing her page negatively. Such was the campaign that the rating of Swaraj’s page went down from 4.3 (out of 5) star to 1.4 star in just a few hours.
There was a fresh push by fanatic BJP supporters in their campaign against their own leader on Sunday, when Swaraj arrived back in India from her trip to Italy, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and European Union.
However, far from being fazed by the nasty trolling, Swaraj took to Twitter to not just announce her return but also name and shame her trolls. Her tormentors on Twitter included some, who are followed by high-profile BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In her tweet, Swaraj even sarcastically wrote that she was ‘honoured with some tweet’ adding that she was sharing them with her followers.
It read, “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.”
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.
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) June 24, 2018
Notable among them was a tweet by one Captain Sarbjit Dhillon from Punjab, who astonishingly mocked Swaraj’s health condition. His tweet, retweeted by Swaraj, read, “She is almost dead woman as she runs on only one kidney (borrowed from some one else) and any time that can stop working.”
Dhillon, many journalists pointed out, had served in the Indian armed forces and was associated with the BJP in Punjab. He was refering to Swaraj’s reported kidney transplant that she underwent in 2016 in Delhi. Another tweet by one Indra Bajpai, a resident of Haridwar, wrote, “Shame on you mam” before asking if her ministry’s decision was an “effect of your islamic kidney?” Interestingly, Bajpai’s Facebook profile describes her an ‘artist’ who owns ‘3D Mural Arts.’
The biggest shocker came from a user called Bharat1, who called for the minister’s assassination. Using a morphed photo of the external affairs minister, being portrayed as someone with a soft spot for Pakistan, the user issued a chilling warning. Calling people to assassinate her, Bharat1 wrote, “She will come out in public sometimes- Must finish her ASAP wherever & whosoever spots her.”
There were many who tagged the Uttar Pradesh Police and the Delhi Police for urgent action as the user was openly seen instigating people to kill a union minister. Even in the face the public outrage, the user has not deleted his tweet, giving rise to suspicion that he and other vicious trolls enjoyed the tacit blessing of powerful individuals within the central government.
This user also went on to abuse Swaraj calling her an illegitimate child.
Another troll, who targeted Swaraj with ‘Shame on you’ message was one Rishi Bagree. A serial peddler of fake news, his other claim to fame is that the man is followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani among others. His tweet targeting Swaraj was among the abusive tweets ‘liked’ by the external affairs minister on Twitter.
Swaraj, however, received plenty of support even from her political rivals and politically neutral journalists and commentators. The dominating theme of their conversations on Twitter was an unequivocal condemnation for Swaraj’s trolls.
The Congress party tweeted from its official account applauding Swaraj’s decision to call out the ‘heinous trolls of your party.’ “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,” the Congress party’s tweet said.
Former diplomat KC Singh wrote, “Look at the irony. Sushma Swaraj has blocked on Twitter voices like mine for berating her Lalit Modi dalliance. Now over
#SushmaExposesBJP when Bhakts singe her over helping interfaith couple with passports she needs people like us to defend her. All one can say is.”
Journalist Sagarika Ghose wrote, “Unbelievable. @SushmaSwaraj is a natural-born leader from the Vajpayee @BJP4India which always abided by parliamentary democracy.”
Some analysts believe that the vicious campaign against Swaraj was created by a design within the top leadership in the BJP, which plans to contest the next year’s Lok Sabha polls using the hardcore Hindutva narrative. This, according to experts, will help Modi hide his failures in governance in the last four years.