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Is there no space for saner voices today? Journalist Manak Gupta on Sushma Swaraj’s twitter trolling

Socio-political churning in India is at its peak and one of the biggest reasons for this is social media

india Updated: Jul 02, 2018 15:35 IST
Manak Gupta
Manak Gupta
New Delhi
twitter,Sushma Swaraj,Sushma Swaraj twitter troll
Sushma Swaraj at Parliament Annexe in New Delhi.(HT File Photo)

Socio-political churning in India is at its peak and one of the biggest reasons for this is social media. Views and ideological standpoints are getting polarised into two extremes, with logic usually being the casualty.

Last Sunday, I decided to stand up against the abuse and ‘trolling’ being meted out to MEA Sushma Swaraj on Twitter but earned a label for myself for daring to question injustice and condemning abusers who indulged in offensive and obnoxious treatment of a senior female Minister.

The story began with alleged harassment of an inter-faith couple Tanvi Seth and Anas Siddiqui by passport officer Vikas Mishra at the regional passport office in Lucknow. Social Media went to town with one side of the incident. It’s understandable to some extent because social media has its limitations. But the way ‘victim’ and ‘guilty’ were decided instantly was disturbing.

Worryingly, the mainstream media too got carried away and declared the officer guilty. Primetime TV debates started questioning the government for vitiating the religious environment of the country as well as the whole administrative system. The officer’s version was missing or was not taken at face value. There was nationwide outrage against Mishra.

Under pressure from the media and the opposition parties, Mishra was transferred with a show-cause notice. To put an end to the controversy, the regional passport officer apologized to the couple; their passports were printed overnight and given to them in front of TV cameras.

I decided to dig deeper. Mishra told one of my colleagues that there were discrepancies in Tanvi’s form.

I sent out a few tweets underlining the discrepancies in Tanvi and Anas’ forms and questioned RPO’s decision to bypass a basic rule like police verification of the address; why were the passports handed over to the couple personally when the rule is to send them by post, I asked. I tagged Sushma Swaraj in these tweets and asked for an investigation so that the truth comes out.

By this time, Swaraj was already being abused for doing “injustice” to the passport officer. Disgusted, I instantly stood up for her and condemned those using abusive language. Sushma Swaraj is one minister who has best used Twitter to widen her ministry’s outreach. Even opposition leaders appreciate the way she has used it to help Indians in need all around the world.

As a response, the minister or her team decided to highlight the trolling by ‘liking’ their tweets, ignoring the difference between ‘trolling’, and ‘journalism’. Some of my tweets were ‘liked’ too though I was simply questioning the violation of rules and condemning trolls.

Unfortunately, this was picked up by Hindustan Times when it looked at the tweets the minister’s team had highlighted. Nobody cared to check if my tweets had any abusive, hateful or offensive content or anything remotely related to indecent behaviour.

My tweets are for everyone to see on my handle @manakgupta. What was also ignored was that my tweets had subsequently been “unliked” by Sushma Swaraj or her team.

I am aware that abuse and intimidation has taken both physical and a virtual dimension. People converge online to perpetuate verbal abuse against a virtual opponent particularly when the opponent is independent, skeptical and courageous. But dissent and resistance are part and parcel of a healthy democracy; sadly, between two extremities rational voices get not only killed, but are also misinterpreted.

We should question everything.

In this case, punish the officer if he has done any wrong, but if not, why let anyone take the government for a ride? There have been reports, including in HT about anomalies highlighted in the police verification of details provided by Tanvi in her passport form.

(Manak Gupta is a TV journalist with 20 years of experience in electronic media. He is currently a Senior Anchor with News 24 channel and hosts a debate show ‘Rashtra Ki Baat’ at 8PM from Monday to Saturday)

First Published: Jul 02, 2018 15:34 IST