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BJP's affair with Twitter trolls: Narendra Modi may call for restraint but party can't distance self from online bullies

What does Prime Minister Narendra Modi gain by following @nikhildadhich on Twitter? Or, how does he benefit by following the likes of @aashish81us (Hindu and Team PM Modi), @SouleFacts (allergic to Ittar) or @RitaG74? Or for that matter why do several Union Ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders follow either of these or others with proclaimed monopoly over following labels: nationalist, proud Indians?

For those who may not have kept track, the Twitter handles mentioned above, are in the cauldron of controversy over certain extremely offensive Tweets in the wake of the Gauri Lankesh's murder. In name of countering those who concluded that the Sangh Parivar is involved in the assassination even before investigations started in real earnest, these tweets mounted a virulent and abusive counter-narrative.

At least, one was so offensive that Twitter later was forced to inadequately clarify that his fury was not directed at the slain scribe. The "b**ch" who died a "dog's death" and for whom "all the puppies were yelping", Dadhich clarified, was not Lankesh. He did not elaborate who he wrote the loathsome line for.

For public leaders, the race to be the most followed on Twitter is well known and Modi's supporters have trumpeted his high position regularly. According to Twiplomacy Study 2017,  the prime minister is the third most followed world leader, after Pope Francis and US President Donald Trump.

But there is no race for the number of people who the leader follows. @Pontifex follows eight handles; Pope's handles in different international languages. Likewise, @realDonaldTrump follows just 45 handles. On the page of @SushmaSwaraj, the eighth most followed global personality, the number of people she follows is not visible.

In contrast, Modi followed 1779 at the time of this writing and the number is growing by the day. @CitiznMukherjee, @M_Raj03 , @mandhana_smriti, @ImHarmanpreet ‏are some of the handles, he has begun following in recent past.

 BJPs affair with Twitter trolls: Narendra Modi may call for restraint but party cant distance self from online bullies

Tweeple followed by @narendramodi often pin gushing Tweets about the "honour" and describe it as a "golden day" or "historic achievement". But, within the larger picture, this matter is not about these individual tweeters but more about leaders who choose to follow other handles. Regardless of proclamation that following someone does not mean endorsing the person's stance universally, it nonetheless is a recognition as being worthy of the leader's attention.

Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted on Wednesday against the sentiments of Ashish Mishra who claims to be social media advisor to IT ministry from September last. Prasad condemned social media messages "expressing happiness on the dastardly murder".

Quite likely, Mishra may not be engaged by the ministry but because Prasad follows him on Twitter, Mishra succeeds in leveraging his position for personal and professional benefit. Should one therefore not expect @rsprasad, @narendramodi and other party leaders to be more judicious when pressing the follow button on the Twitter page?

The moot point however is whether any of them have a political inclination to disassociate from the fringe forces. The BJP success story has been scripted significantly by enacting the narrative of Hindu indignity heaped by Muslims and pseudo-secularists. It is myopic to single out Modi and hold him solely responsible.

Almost every leader of the Parivar, from the time the fraternity became a dominant force in Indian politics in the course of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has taken recourse to extremist postures. If the Ram temple agitation was about declaring that "hum mandir waheen banaenge", foot soldiers of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad painted walls of the towns they crossed while marching to Ayodhya with slogans laden with sexual violence, "main Babur ka damaad hoon" being among many such.

A file image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reuters

A file image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reuters

Advani may have publicly declared that 6 December, 1992 was the "saddest day" in his life, but he did not actually bemoan the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Instead, he regretted error in judgment about controlling the fringe at will. A mob, does not behave like a music amplifier: its volume knob can only be used to raise the temper and not in the opposite direction.

Not just the BJP but the entire Sangh Parivar has historically spoken with a forked tongue. Though VD Savarkar was never part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh despite inspiring KB Hedgewar for establish the organisation in 1925, he retains massive following within the Parivar.

Visitors to houses of several leaders of the BJP and RSS, including for instance BJP president Amit Shah, would have noticed a large portrait of Savarkar adorning the wall importantly. Ideologically, there is a flourishing Savarkarite lobby within the fraternity though his views on several issues were different from MS Golwalkar's .

It would be pertinent to point out that Nathuram Godse, a former swayamsevak, was Savarkar 's follower till his last days. The RSS may not have formally been involved in any way with Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, but both Savarkar and Godse were part of the political ecosystem nurtured by the RSS leaders of the time.

Likewise, the RSS or its connected organisations may not be involved in either cow vigilantism and attacks on Muslims, but the ideology and programmes that prompts activists on the path of violence, is endorsed by the organisation. Rationalists murdered in Karnataka or Maharashtra, and this must now include Gauri Lankesh, may not have been targetted by members of organisations with direct links to the RSS but symbiotic connections with the political fraternity are hard to dispute.

Undoubtedly, the central argument of the need to avenge indignity heaped on Hindus over a period of "twelve hundred years of slavery" motivates a violent response. Because such forceful actions cannot formally be part of the agenda of either the RSS, the BJP or any of its affiliates, the job is undertaken by the shadow armies of hate.

Enthusiastic response to violent actions by publicly accepted supporters of the BJP, for instance the tweets cited above, demonstrates that violent actions generates gains for the Parivar.

There is an extreme fringe, which though not formally associated with the party, nonetheless supports the BJP in elections and on other social programmes. The degree of separation between mainstream and fringe is not significant intrinsically but only functionally. At times even the fringe appears mainstream and vice versa.

Modi and Mohan Bhagwat have repeatedly called for restraint and condemned violent retributive action on basis of faith and cow protection. But this is not backed by simultaneous declaration of desisting from programmes that encourage such action.

Pursuing cow protection programmes with renewed fervour will only result in frequent individual suo moto action against minorities. The whisper campaign that the fraternity specialises in, vitiates the atmosphere by arguing various arms of the State are inherently anti-Hindu.

For instance, the latest Supreme Court directive to appoint district level nodal officers to check cow vigilantism will be slammed in every likelihood. It will predictably lead to backlash by increasing the level of animosity against minorities and Hindus who are not majoritarian in their worldview.

Like it or not, the BJP and its associate organisations will never completely disassociate from the fringe but stick to providing lip service just asking them to remain within limits of law. But when there are transgressions, the response, at best, will remain tepid.

Did anyone tell me that the BJP does not practise "vote bank ki rajniti"?

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Updated Date: Sep 07, 2017 15:16:29 IST