Swati Chaturvedi’s book I Am a Troll has exposed the connection between abusive social media accounts (trolls) and the BJP. It has been published by the Delhi based publishing house Juggernaut. The 171 page book by the investigative journalists accounts experience of Sadhavi Khosla, an ex-member of the BJP social media cell. The former volunteer has alleged that the BJP asked them to troll the e-commerce company Snapdeal on Aamir Khan’s remark on intolerance. The actor who is brand ambassador of Snapdeal had joined the debate over "rising intolerance" in India, saying his wife Kiran Rao had asked if they should move out of the country. The book accuses the party of backing social media trolls who abuse its political opponents.
Sadhavi Khosla, in order to prove her claims has also sent Chaturvedi WhatsApp messages she claims were from BJP’s IT cell head Arvind Gupta. One of these messages reads, “Sign the Petition to Snapdeal India. Appeal Snapdeal to drop Aamir Khan from their ads”. Screenshots of the message, among several others, can be seen in Chaturvedi’s book.
Chaturvedi in her book has also claimed in that the trolls also routinely target Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Party President Sonia Gandhi, journalists – especially women – and other critics of the Modi government. In the book, Khosla is quoted as saying, “It was a never-ending drip feed of hate and bigotry against the minorities, the Gandhi family, journalists on the hit list, liberals, anyone perceived as anti-Modi.”
“If there was even an unfavourable mention of Modiji anywhere, Gupta’s digital tracking tools would pick it up and the pack of hyena-like trolls would descend,” Chaturvedi quotes Khosla in her book. BJP IT Cell head Arvind Gupta’s core team managed 20-21 WhatsApp groups, Khosla claimed. These groups were used to send out directions on what should be tweeted.
The former volunteer had left the team because of this rampant harassment strategy of the BJP team. “Every day some new person was a target and they would attack like a swarm of bees with vile sexual innuendoes, slander, rape and death threats … It made me feel suffocated as a woman,” she told the Guardian. Journalists like Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Student leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar, and Political leaders like Sitaram Yechury have been prime target of this internet army. Most of these trolls are abusive and misogynist.
Online harassment of political leaders, actors, activists and journalists has been the hallmark of the Modi regime. There is a common link between all those who have been trolled. Each one of them questioned the ruling party at the Centre or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Anyone criticizing or questioning the government has been labeled as anti-national. Leave aside the media team, BJP’s Cabinet ministers like Manohar Parrikar had attacked Aamir and Snapdeal . He had said that “I am only trying to point out… If anyone speaks like this, he has to be taught a lesson of his life. Some of our people are very smart, I know. There was a team working on this. They were telling people you order and return it… The company should learn a lesson; they had to pull his advertisement.” This shows the deeply rooted relationship between the abusive social media handles and BJP leadership.
Unfortunately, there has been no legal action on this systematic online harassment. The trolls under the patronage of the ruling BJP are enjoying impunity while critics, rational voices and their integrity is being questioned on day to day basis.