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The trusted ally that went rogue

By Ruhi Tewari

In an amusing twist of fate, the political Right-wing in India, and supporters of the ruling BJP, that thrived on Twitter for so long and had a symbiotic relationship with it, has launched a sudden, blazing war against it. That is what happens when someone you believe to be among your most trusted and valuable allies appears to be part of the enemy camp.


It started as a street protest against Twitter but soon dragged in Parliament too. On 3 February, members of a volunteer group held protests in Delhi against Twitter for its alleged ‘anti Right-wing policy’. The volunteer group didn’t quite stop there. It wrote to the parliamentary committee on information and technology about what it perceives to be the platform’s bias against Right-wing and pro-BJP handles.

Soon enough, the committee — headed by BJP Member of Parliament Anurag Thakur — summoned Twitter’s CEO and top officials to appear on 11 February. But it was snubbed, with Twitter saying it was too short a notice for its top officials to travel to India.

The panel has now asked CEO Jack Dorsey to appear before it on 25 February over the issue of ‘safeguarding citizens’ rights on social media platforms’.

Meanwhile, the Right-wing and BJP ecosystem went into their trademark overdrive against Twitter, expressing outrage on, well, Twitter. When the protests against the group were on, the hashtag #ProtestAgainstTwitter was made to trend – again, on Twitter. When Twitter officials declined to appear on 11 February, #TwitterInsultsIndia was the favoured hashtag.

Using Twitter to slam Twitter may appear absurd, but it is the perfect example of how dependent the BJP and its ecosystem have been, and continue to be, on the platform.

Let’s rewind a bit. It was as early as in 2009 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi — then Chief Minister of Gujarat — joined Twitter. He has since used the medium with a vigour and purpose quite unseen in Indian politics. In that sense, Modi has been a pioneer of sorts among Indian politicians. In fact, his success on Twitter, and his effective use of the platform as a campaign outreach tool compelled many other leaders to follow suit.

Modi’s love for Twitter is no secret. Not only was he an early adopter, but he continuously urged all his ministers and top leaders to join the platform, and be active on it. Not surprisingly, they have followed his instructions quite diligently.

In November last year, Modi took out time out from his hectic schedule – no mean feat given it came right in the midst of key state polls – to meet Dorsey during the latter’s trip to India. The relaxed image of a beaming Modi with a very casual, black leather pants-clad Dorsey was but a representation of the larger equation. Of course, just days later, the Twitter CEO landed himself in a soup as he held a controversial ‘smash Brahminical patriarchy’ placard.

So, why did the mushy BJP-Twitter saga turn bitter?

In 2014, BJP and its warrior army dominated the political discourse on Twitter. Besides their expertise in managing Twitter, their shining political fortunes and early-mover advantage ensured they had it easy on the medium, decimating any opposition. It was perhaps only Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party that came even remotely close to the BJP’s potency on Twitter.

But soon, the Right-wing ‘troll’ brigade and Modi following ‘abusive’ handles became a topic for many a national debate.

Gradually, other players – though slow beginners – also took the cue. The laggard Congress upped its social media game, with party president Rahul Gandhi, leading the way with a more cheeky, brazen approach on the platform. The Congress and the Left ecosystem have increasingly become hyper-active, combative and ascendant on Twitter, often even overpowering the BJP family.

Twitter – once its prized ally – is no longer the BJP’s fiefdom. The party and its leaders often get slammed and in the great hashtag war, the Right-wing is no longer an unopposed winner, with its rivals managing to win the day on many an occasion.

Clearly, this change is both unsettling and upsetting to the BJP ecosystem, turning its equation with its great friend from gratifying to pungent. However, the real irony lies in how much the BJP and its community continue to rely on Twitter to amplify their message.

Just late last week, after loud anti-Twitter protests and the parliamentary panel’s summons, The Hindu brought out fresh revelations in the Rafale deal through a government note. And what did the BJP promptly do to counter the publication? It brought out the complete note and claimed The Hindu had been selective, putting all its weight behind the hashtag #CropLikeTheHindu, even managing to make it the top trend. Well, as they say, go figure.