I have not been a great admirer of social media and have kept away from it generally all this while. My wife is on Facebook and I was aware of the rubbish which was uploaded through it. I kept telling her that the opinions expressed were not really representative of the ground reality, that it only provided an opportunity to irresponsible elements to vent their ire against people they did not like - and that too in a language that was often uncivilised and offensive. A year ago, however, I myself fell victim to the urge when I allowed my friends to persuade me to join Twitter. Since the number of characters in Twitter is limited, I imagined that the scope for mischief would also be limited. How wrong was I?
Shatrughan Sinha and I met Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, on the afternoon of March 28. No sooner did the news become public on social media than the trolls got after me with the vilest of abuses on Twitter. Many of the trolls referred to Mamata Banerjee as "Mamata Bano", described her as being strongly pro-Muslim and totally anti-Hindu; referred to the communal clashes taking place in Asansol and Raniganj and how Hindus were being allowed to be butchered by Muslims under her rule; accused me of hobnobbing with such undesirable elements and roundly condemned me for joining hands with her. When I could not take it anymore, I decided to respond and tweeted late in the evening the same day that "a simple thing like meeting an old ministerial colleague from the Vajpayee days like Mamata Banerjee has upset the trolls so much that they are resorting to pure abuse. Shows that the message has gone home. Keep it up, Bhakts
This was clearly a mistake on my part, for it let loose a new avalanche of the vilest abuses by trolls. This time they went further and accused me of betraying the BJP, of being a traitor to the cause, and warning me of dire consequences. Some of them criticised me for jeopardising the career of my son, and even went to the extent of doubting his paternity! My tweet though was retweeted 1,671 times and had 4,103 'likes'. When the abuses got even worse and would not stop, I tweeted the next day: "Sorry to note that social media has become a platform for anti-social elements to abuse and curse those they are told to abuse and curse. Shows the depths to which we have descended as a society. Can anyone justify such vile abuses?" To this somebody responded by saying that social media had provided a mechanism and voice to common people and an opportunity to call the bluff of journalists and politicians. I responded to this tweet as follows, "Express your views by all means. But do it without abusing others." This brought some support for me but also another torrent of abuse. The trolls accused me of doing what I was doing because I was marginalised and not given a post by Prime Minister Modi, that I was prepared to go to any extent for 'kursi'
which had been the sole aim of my life all along. Some trolls went to the extent of saying that if I dared to criticise Narendra Modi/Amit Shah, then I deserved worse treatment.
On April 1, when it was said that my status in the BJP was like a torn shoe which truck drivers hang in front of their trucks, that I had become totally irrelevant in politics and that Modi would not throw me out of the party and make me a martyr, I responded by saying, "He cannot fire me because he is scared.' This again led to a flood of abuse. I responded to one by saying, "Your abusing me shows I am still relevant.' At this stage I was travelling by car between Pune and Mumbai and my internet was fortunately working. I noticed that the trolls would not give up. They kept haranguing me, abusing me, challenging me and praising the powers that be. I again made the mistake of responding, perhaps because I had time on my hands, and therefore tweeted as follows, "I did not realise that a simple tweet from me would lead to so many dogs barking. Please continue to bark. I am enjoying it."
All hell broke loose after this. I tweeted again, and again all hell broke loose, after which I closed the chapter by saying, "I am taking the advice of well-wishers and not responding now so that I deny the trolls their Rs 10 per abuse." The abuses have not stopped, the trolls are still cursing me and it is going on and on.
What is the narrative the troll are using against me? For want of anything else to accuse me of, their constant refrain is that I want a job even at this ripe old age and I am frustrated because Modi will not give me one; that I am useless in any case and do not deserve any post; that Modi has done right by casting me aside and making me irrelevant; that he is smarter than Vajpayee whom I had conned into giving me important jobs in his government; that I am a 'nalayak'
(ill -intentioned) father who does not even bother about the future of his son; that I should retire, go to the jungle and spend the rest of my life in spiritualism and in seeking God.
The second part of the narrative is more dangerous. According to this, by criticising a Prime Minister who has been elected by hundreds of crores of people of this country, I am behaving like a traitor and an anti-national who deserves nothing except abuses. Modi is not only India, he is the world, so goes the refrain. Anyone who does not agree with this should be drowned in the sea.
Social media has clearly become anti-social. One can block, bar, "unfriend' those that one does not like but that will not shut them up. They will carry on except for the fact that you will not see what they are saying against you. As lots of people have told me, some of our netas
maintain an army of trolls who are paid to abuse people they do not like. The trolls are generally less educated or uneducated, are ignorant, know nothing about people they are asked to abuse and their backgrounds, and tweet what they are given to tweet without thinking, without verifying. Some of their abuses are unprintable. If such language is used for those in power, the law of the land is enforced without losing any time. But that is the privilege of the high and mighty, not of ordinary mortals like me. The choice before me is stark - walk out of social media and avoid those heartaches, or continue, face the criticism and go on challenging the narrative.
I have enough strength of character to settle for the latter.(Yashwant Sinha is a senior BJP leader and former Union Minister of External Affairs.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.