May a good source be with you.

Poor Sushma? Think Again.

Don’t forget, Sushma may be a victim but only tangentially so.

So Sushma Swaraj, Union Minister for External Affairs faces unprintable abuse on social media for just doing her job. You would reckon that the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi would rush to his senior and popular colleague’s defence and the President of BJP Amit Shah who possesses unparalleled aggression would stand by like a shield for her? You would be wrong on both counts.

Modi, Shah and the BJP have maintained a deafening silence. Wondering why? Because most of the handles wishing death on Swaraj are patronised by the BJP’s humongous and much feared IT cell. The cell brooks no other master but Modi and Shah and routinely peddles incitement. Modi is the general of the IT cell, the only leader in the world who follows handles that routinely make death, rape threats and indulge in incitement.

Of late, the IT cell has taken to attacking senior BJP leaders who they see as a threat to Modi in the changing political scenario. These include Swaraj and Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister.

When I wrote my investigative book “I am a troll” :

Inside the BJP’s secret digital Army which involved a documented account from a former volunteer in the BJP’s IT cell and an interview with powerful BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, I had no idea that powered by the biggest war chest, the cell on steroids would triple in size in a year.

What has also tripled and mutated is the steady drip feed of mainstreaming hate and bigotry. The kind of abuse Swaraj faces for innovating and helping ordinary citizens is a telling indictment of Modi’s new India.

Swaraj was wished death, called a “Pakistani medical Mata” and other unprintable abuse. Ordinary I would diagnose as someone who faces death and rape threats on a routine basis like most non embedded “Panna pramukh” journalists from the IT cell.

Most of the handles which send out rape and death threats and peddle incitement are “blessed to be followed” by the Prime Minister of India, which I also documented in my book. Modi even had a meet and greet with his “yodhas” (warriors) in his official residence- 7 Lok Kalyan Marg. The Yodhas all had their picture clicked with Modi and were thus doubly blessed.

Modi’s doppelgänger and the only other leader to matter in today’s BJP Amit Shah has recently also had well-publicised outreach with the IT cell warriors.

Swaraj and Singh are not the first BJP leaders to be attacked. Earlier Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, had set up troll helpline and was attacked by the same handles some tagging Modi and saying that “Gandhi was targeting the party’s supporters”. The helpline was a non-starter and Modi taught his colleagues a salutary lesson – Don’t mess with my trolls. Poor Gandhi was like Swaraj only doing her job, but if you are seen to be helping Muslims or Christians, the IT cell will not tolerate it anymore.

Going into general election season, Modi has set aside huge funding and hiring for the IT cell say sources. While during 2014 he would have twice a day briefings with them on a teleconference, it is once a day now say sources. A powerful union minister and Shah make up the slack say sources. The BJP has also “helped” in funding of fake news and propaganda websites which can aid the “war” as the IT cell describes it and provide grist to the “hate lists”.

The “hate lists” include journalists, politicians, activists and now interestingly BJP leaders disliked by Modi.

Despite international opprobrium after the journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down and a handle followed by Modi tweeted “a bitch has died and her puppies are crying”, Modi has not unfollowed a single handle except for a BJP supporter who sought his help in a case of sexual harassment. Modi’s Twitter usage is more problematic than even Donald Trump’s, and yet it is his signal to his bigoted base – “I am watching and always blessing you” says a senior BJP minister wryly.

Small wonder that with state-sponsored trolling police cases go nowhere. So far despite, 100 of cases registered under the cyber laws, the police has not even acted in one despite even having the IP addresses.

Swaraj drew a line in the sand by retweeting and liking the vilest abuse she garnered. The message she sent was unmistakable, yet Modi and Shah have not blinked.

Brace yourself as Modi has decided that citizens that he does not like including his own ministers will be attacked by his own private stormtroopers subject to no law. Welcome to new India and a diffused emergency.

Don’t forget, Sushma may be a victim but only tangentially so. She was happily and quietly riding the tiger who has now thrown her off its back and is snarling at her. If you’re going all ‘Poor Sushma’ you may want to think again.


Swati Chaturvedi is a Delhi based journalist.

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