SHIV NAIDU | 4 JULY, 2018
What if Sushma Swaraj Had Spoken Out For Priyanka Chaturvedi….
A great deal is being made about Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj’s confrontation with the trolls from within her side of the fence as it were. That she has stood up, without really standing up, is being appreciated by writers and twitterati alike although really she has done little except block a few tweets, and flag some others for social media users to take note of.
The trolls, on the other hand, have had a heyday and taking advantage of being followed by the likes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have kept up an incessant attack on the Minister for transferring a regional passport officer for not issuing passports to an interfaith couple. The attack was so vicious that it had opposition parties coming to her rescue.
The Congress defended her on Twitter with, "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.” Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee also came out in her support with, "Strongly condemn the language used on the social media against @sushmaswaraj Ji . She is a senior politician. We must respect each other and must never indulge in any form of verbal abuse.”
One could have thus expected Swaraj to support Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi who has been threatened by trolls with rape of her daughter. This could have compensated for part of her silence on the issue earlier, and served as a departure from the ostrich like approach that seems to have been adopted by the entire Council of Ministers. It would have also confirmed lessons learnt from the Frankensteins monster, and demonstrated that Swaraj is now imbued with hitherto elusive empathy. However, the silence basically confirms that the Minister is still too glued to her seat to risk becoming unstuck. And despite the viciousness of the attack on her, is not planning to rock the boat to a point where she herself is rocked off it.
But what if Swaraj had decided to speak for Chaturvedi. What if….. ? Well for one, PM Modi would not have sacked her for this as it would have been too obvious and too controversial for him at this stage, besides giving a boost to the sulking BJP leaders on the sidelines. He would have at the most further undermined her, but Swaraj is already pretty low on the BJP scales as the troll attack has so ably demonstrated.
On the other hand, she would have gone up in the estimation of the opposition and actually got some genuine support for her stand in favour of Chaturvedi. Women legislators in particular would have supported her, and Swaraj would have earned more respect, and perhaps even acquired a seriousness that her political career continues to lack. It would have been perhaps the first issue for which Swaraj would have stuck her neck out, and given the trolls and their mentors a pause for thought. After all she is the Foreign Minister of India, and her voice carries that weight even if not that of her own persona.
Trolling has become an industry but while it can be amusing, and yes even entertaining at times, it has acquired a threatening, abusive and very nasty character intended to demoralise and initimidate. That this has gone to the extent of threatening murder and rape to those who are perceived as opponents is serious, and needs to be acted on. And if Swaraj had supported Chaturvedi it would have given a huge fillip to those at the receiving end of abusive trolling and strengthened their resistance and their resolve to fight back.
The government that in the states has been arresting individuals for little more than an innocuous Facebook post, seems to have taken the backseat insofar as the trolls---many of them as reports have repeatedly point out followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior BJP leaders---are concerned. And the attack on Swaraj was met with silence, as has been the rape threat to Chaturvedi. But Swaraj by virtue of her position could have broken this silence and contributed to an environment where trolls, and not respectable citizens, feel isolated and threatened.