When India contested her first general election in 1952, the grand-old party – Congress – and its educated leader Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru won the election hands down. Since 1952, a lot has changed in India including her political spectrum with the advent of social media.
No one in mainland India would have thought that social media would play a role in re-shaping the fortunes of a party and its leader. In this social media frenzied world, comes a book by one of India’s best known investigative and broadcast journalists Swati Chaturvedi.
The book titled – “I Am A Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army” – tracks Bharatiya Janata Party’s slander and trolling of activists, journalists, and common people who are against the BJP’s ideology and its way of working.
“I am a Troll” opens up with author’s personal experience she faced on the social media – Twitter – about having an alleged “sexual” relationship with a politician.
The author says she used to get endless slander from a twitter handle – @lutyeninsider – in the beginning of 2015; following which she filed a complaint with Delhi police; however no arrests have been made in the case so far.
Comparing the two democracies – The USA and India – the author writes that thousands have been imprisoned in the USA after complaints were filed by the victims who were abused online. On the other hand, none has been booked in India even after unabated online abuses.
The author writes that the leader of world’s largest democracy follows and felicitates these trolls. “I am a Troll” asks the question – why Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi – is alone among world leaders who follows some of his country’s worse online abusers.
Swati says instead of unfollowing or taking any action, the Prime Minister invited around 150 online abusers to 7 Race Course Road on July 1, 2015, in what was called as “Digital Sampark”.
Giving a researched account about how the online armchair “army” of BJP works, the author says that the well-known journalist, who oppose BJP’s ideology, are the regular target of these BJP “warriors”.
The two known journalist, the author writes, Rajdeep Sardesi and Barkha Dutt are the main targets of online trolling of this right wing army. She says even after filing complaints with Delhi police none has been booked for their online slander.
Swati has aptly described the internet trolls as the “goons of internet world”.
To substantiate her arguments, the book is clogged with the screenshots of various twitter handles which incite communal hatred and also slander those who have a different political view.
The author writes how the rightwing party has created a brigade of fake and real user on twitter to spread malicious lies and slander about journalist who do not toe the line of the ruling party.
The “warriors”, writes Swati, continuously tweet till the topic or the news does not get trending.
Quoting a tweet of twitter handle, @rishibagree, which is followed by the Prime Minister, it made an appeal to the BJP President Amit Shah, stating: “We spend 6 to 8 hours on social media for BJP spoiling our health and not giving time to our family only to be attacked by Maneka.” (sic)
“I am a Troll” also talks about the burning issue of Kashmir. The author quotes a handle called @ggiittiikkaa. The handle has 80K followers including the Prime Minister.
When Hizb commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed, @ggiittiikkaa tweeted the picture of Burhan’s funeral and wrote: “20K attended funeral of terrorist Burhan. Should have dropped a bomb and give permanent Azadi to these 20K pigs.” (sic)
Swati writes that this call for the “mass murder” of Kashmiris was retweeted 1184 times and liked 1086 times showing how the BJP spread hatred among the people.
The book also says that these warriors are actually against the Muslims and Dalits of India.
The author has described the BJP’s social media as “superbly organised centre” which is “highly effective” in polarising the various religious communities of India.
Drawing comparison between the two main parties of India, Congress and BJP, she write that BJP was the first to understand the power of social media when it set up party website in 1995.
The grand-old-party Congress became virtual only in the year 2005. Thus showing the vast difference between the working and though process of two main political parties of India.
She writes that all the malicious campaign by the trolls of right wing was basically a build-up to election campaign of 2014 election and preparations for it had been made several years before.
The story of Sadhavi Khosla, a young entrepreneur from US, is backbone of “I am a Troll”.
The story of Khosla has been described at length in the book. She had admired the cult of Modi, thinking that he will transform India and its people and would get rid of corruption and nepotism that had engulfed Indians during the two terms of UPA.
However, she was deeply upset and disturbed once she entered the doors of the dark world of social media of BJP.
The author has described Khosla as “passionate volunteer of BJP.” However, after working only for two years with the BJP’s IT cell, she came to know about the real motives of the party.
Again, the book has been loaded with the screenshot of the cell phone of Arvind Gupte (main contact of Khosla in BJP) asking her to troll the Gandhis and the Khans of Bollywood.
A detailed account is also given about the Arvind Gupte – the manager of BJP’s IT team and social media at 11 Ashoka Road office.
On instruction of Arvind, Khosla was asked to troll Barkha Dutt which she refused as she admired Dutt since childhood. However, instead she was asked to troll Rajdeep Sardesi, which Khosla had obliged to.
The author writes the tipping point between Khosla and BJP came when she was asked to attack the two Khans – Amir and Shahrukh – over their remarks of growing intolerance across India.
Khosla did not take this dictate and quit the BJP for good.
The author writes agencies are now being paid by the BJP to tweet and trend hashtag to attack the anti-BJP people.
Quoting an anonyms email on page number 103, Swati writes that the AAP party was trolled only by paying 40 rupees for seven tweets. As instructed by the BJP, these tweets would go out in intervals so that it gets trending. Social media war between AAP and BJP only stopped after AAP responded by hashtag #bhaktssellforRs40.
“I am a Troll” has researched well how VPNs and addresses across the globe are used to make an impression on online for the benefits of the ruling party. The main foreign location that the author has researched, from where majority of tweets and retweets pop-up, are the three locations in Thailand.
In the last chapter, author has provided a detailed interview with the BJP’s National Secretary Ram Madhav. Swati writes it was actually Madhav who convinced the RSS core group to use the social media for the upliftment of the party, which as per Madhav was not getting attention from the mainstream media.
Madhav had also argued that by using social media the RSS found a way to reach out to more people across India. Social media platform would also help BJP to counter the leftists.
In the interview, Ram Madhav talks about the idea of secret IT shakhas of the Sangh. The idea originated from a group of Swayamsevaks from Tamil Nadu.
Short and lucid, “I am a Troll”, becomes a must read to understand the use of social media by the political parties across the mainland India, especially the BJP.
Daanish Bin Nabi