Two years of Modi trolls, India's ugly face of intolerance

Angshukanta Chakraborty
Angshukanta ChakrabortyMay 26, 2016 | 18:12

Two years of Modi trolls, India's ugly face of intolerance

There might not yet be a consensus on whether the "idea of Modi" is over or not, but something that has become carved in stone, so to speak, is the existence, and indeed, the reign supreme, of the Modi troll.

It's two years of Modi Sarkar and in these two years, which have seen an explosive, exponential, technology-facilitated privatisation of opinion-making, and what we have witnessed is ourselves writhing on the wall. Some of us may feel that we have been out-voiced, out-opinionated and out-performed by a no-longer nebulous mass of troll zeitgeist, frenetically typing away at invisible, innumerable keyboards or keypads, acting in a vicious cacophonous togetherness.


We are compelled to feel it's us versus them.


They send us (Nirbhaya-like) rape threats, mutilation threats, abuses and profanities and watch us shriek and recoil in horror. They hurt our "refined sensibilities" with their poor English, and we never miss an opportunity to point that out in our pristine, Microsoft Word-aided Queen's language.

They virtually assault beef eaters, left-wing students, political opposition, actors who plain-speak, Muslims, the Gandhis - all in the service of loving Bharat Mata. When the assaults go offline and become real world horrors, when an Akhlaq is killed by a lynch-mob or two young cattle-herders are beaten to death and then hanged from a mango tree in western Uttar Pradesh, there's an organised "defence" of the indefensible, simply criminal, spillover from the virtual to the real and back.

A hideous feedback loop of majoritarian half-truths, a flowchart falling back into itself, trapped in a hall of distorting mirrors, feeding off imagined pasts of glory - a militant glory whose springboard is Hindu Rashtra.

They trend "Nehru letter bomb" and disseminate memes that declare our first prime minister was a lascivious, illegitimate child of a Muslim and a communist stooge. They boast of Modi's mythical 56-inch chest and see Nehru deflate into an effeminate, bastardised version of himself, a grotesquerie by inference.


They act like an ad hoc army that can be assembled and customised and unleashed on Modi critics, like the gaggle of Imhotep's evil battalion raised from the dust in The Mummy. They retweet a line (probably originating from one of the tech war-rooms of our ruling political party) tens of thousands of times in order to make an attack on a particular journalist or columnist or writer "trend".


Democracy or demonocracy?

The Guardian columnist Owen Jones had recently voiced a similar confusion. He asserted that trolls are vitiating political discourse with their ill-informed, ungrammatical, relentless, ideological insanity in the name of democracy. Elsewhere, in America's most prestigious political and literary magazine, The New Yorker, we have seen attempts to warn against the "political troll", usually a white supremacist Donald Trump aficionado, but in a way a description extended to include Trump himself.

Like the Trump troll who sees himself as an extension of Trump and the political theatre as a reality TV set, the Modi troll too feels emboldened and empowered, touched by the man himself when the prime minister "honours" 150 of the chosen ones in a closed-door meeting.

Like Adam was made in God's image, the Modi troll is made in Modi's image, imitating the high-decibel staginess of the showman, screaming, screaming in such staggering numbers all at once, a chorus chanting a deranged dithyramb for their Dear Leader.


There's fulfillment in this, like a religious cult.

Is the Modi troll a "little Modi"? Is Trollistan a shadowy penumbra of the man himself, a zone of influence where horrific political experiments are incubated, tried out and then normalised?

When the PM "follows back" Twitter handles that are known to run squadrons of abusive exchanges, exactly what is the message that gets across? The message isn't very different when the prime minister fails to act against the "fringe elements" in his own party, indeed some of them elected representatives and members of either Parliament or the Assemblies, letting them off the hook with an indulgent scolding, like an avuncular uncle.

There is an electric symbiosis between Modi and Modi trolls. So much so that it's often difficult to correctly tell them apart - who is empowering whom, who is broadening whose dominion, who is enacting whose revenge against the Nehru-Gandhis, against seculars and liberals, against non-Hindus.

Are we being over-sensitive? Is trolling the only way a democracy can fully express itself? And how to reconcile the liberal lament for the curbs on free speech by resurrection of laws old and new - defamation, sedition, national security - with the inability to stomach the growing dominance of troll-speak, definitely a language, if not the only language, of those erstwhile excluded from the political mainstream?

It might partially be that, but it's certainly much more.

This is not a pub brawl where the great unwashed get high and clash over "emotive" issues. This is not the accidental violence of individual duels, or local group antipathies. This is territorialism as a disease, a great deluge of cow urine that threatens to drown out the homeostasis of a functional democracy.

What is or could be the real world equivalent of trolling? Or is it a false distinction? The recent public plea for help by the national spokesperson of the All India Congress Committee, Priyanka Chaturvedi, would suggest the latter.

Last updated: May 26, 2016 | 18:36
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