India’s Social-Media Lynch Mobs

Over the last decade, India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has cultivated an army of cyber warriors to propagate its message of Hindu chauvinism and hyper-nationalism – and to launch vicious attacks on its opponents. Now, a BJP leader has become a victim of the party's own monster.

NEW DELHI – Social-media platforms are often criticized for their susceptibility to toxic dialogue and vicious attacks. It is a problem that India knows well. Just ask External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, whose recent vilification by members and supporters of her own ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a case in point.

Swaraj has developed a reputation for responding on Twitter to citizens’ appeals for the foreign ministry’s services. What prompted the recent attacks, however, was the punitive transfer of an official who had made bigoted remarks to an interfaith couple when they applied for a passport.

The transfer decision was taken by the Ministry’s senior passport officials, while Swaraj was out of the country. But that did not stop BJP members and supporters – who largely share the penalized passport official’s anti-Muslim bigotry – from unleashing a flood of excoriating tweets against her, referring to her disparagingly as “Begum” (a Muslim honorific) and urging her husband to beat her for getting out of line.

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