Who commands the troll army?

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Former human resource development minister Smriti Irani was, until recently, known for her daily Twitter spats. Her Twitter battle with Bihar Education Minister Dr Ashok Choudhary, who addressed her as ‘Dear Smriti ji’, left people stunned. It all started when Choudhary made a query about education funds for Bihar and used the innocuous ‘dear’ as a suffix. Irani took exception to the term and asked how he could dare to address her so.

Irani has called Barkha Dutt a ‘liar’ during the JNU student leader crisis, much to the orgiastic delight of trolls, and has regularly attacked journalists rudely. The most extreme episode was when a minor Congress spokesperson, Priyanka Chaturvedi, was threatened with a ‘Nirbhaya-style’ rape by trolls on social media for sharing her views on the goods and services tax (GST) which the BJP was trying to introduce in Parliament. Irani, tone deaf to another woman’s plight, wanted to know why Chaturvedi was worried about her security and proclaimed in an interview to NDTV that by attacking Chaturvedi, Irani had given a new lease of life to her faltering career.

What has never been clear is how organized this trolling is, or if the trolls are officially linked to the party or are simply a horde of unruly and enthusiastic fans. In the following chapters, a few trolls and an ex-member of the BJP’s social media cell provide for the first time eyewitness accounts to the workings of the party’s digital wing.

Officially, however, PM Modi has always kept silent on this issue. Senior BJP leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said that while he personally does not approve of the horrific trolling that BJP supporters indulge in, there is nothing that the government can do about it. Many party leaders take such a line to distance themselves from the online viciousness. Yet what’s clear is that some office-bearers of the party – Arvind Gupta, Giriraj Singh and Priti Gandhi – have publicly supported these trolls, while the PM himself continues to follow some of the offenders.

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