Social media trolling of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud “presenting him as an internal enemy, a foreign agent, and a threat to democracy” are strongly tied to digital influencers who lean towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, new research published on Monday shows.

Chandrachud’s “judgments and positions are presented as an immediate threat leading into [the general elections of] 2024 which his tenure extends to”, wrote Joyojeet Pal, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, in a summary on Twitter of the findings. The paper he co-authored with Sheyril Agarwal, a researcher at the same institution, can be accessed here.

Pal said that Chandrachud’s detractors claim that he is “driven by globalist interests, indoctrinated by liberal thought, institutions like Harvard, globalists like Soros, and that in turn, he is a puppetmaster in Indian politics”.

He added: “The second line of ‘Globalist’ attacks is to undermine his positions, especially on gender, and present them as disconnected from mainstream Indian reality.”

The social media attacks on Chandrachud are also related to the notion of nepotism, since his father YV Chandrachud had been chief justice from 1978 to 1985. “The narrative behind these claims is that Chandrachud, is unelected, and a law unto himself,” Pal said on Twitter. “Not just the CJI, but the institution of the Supreme Court itself as seen as something that needs to be reined in.”

The researchers said that “unlike in other trolling situations in which politicians and mainstream media play active parts, here, the aggressive action comes from influencers”.

Examining Twitter activity between January 1 and April 20, Agarwal and Pal claims that the top accounts influencing the narrative about Chandrachud online are Radharamn Das, spokesperson of the ISKCON religious group, an account with the name Ram Prasad that is followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter, and Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a commentator and a columnist at pro-Modi site OpIndia.

Studying the timeline of the messages about the chief justice, the researchers noted that they typically peaked around key developments in court.

The researchers said that tweets by these three accounts were posted within one or two days of the online activity relating to Chandrachud peaking in the general discourse. “So, while these influencers don’t initiate attacks against the CJI, they can be seen piggybacking on the sudden public interest, and influence the discourse with their inflammatory content,” the researchers claimed.

Alleged anti-Hindu values

One of grounds for which Chandrachud is trolled is his alleged “anti-Hindu bias”, the researchers said. “There are multiple ways in which Chandrachud is presented as anti-Hindu, but the two most common approaches are through direct attacks at his judgments as antithetical to Hindu values, or by calling out his support from liberal or Opposition quarters as evidence of his being anti-Hindu,” the researchers said.

By engaging in whataboutery, or posting counter-examples, over judgements involving the human rights of minorities, Chandrachud is presented as being indifferent to cases where Hindus are allegedly under attack, the researchers said.

“[Such] tweets … vary on a spectrum from dog whistling to explicit islamophobia,” the researchers added. “Similarly, there is a spectrum of misinformation in these messages, extending from innuendo to explicit and known falsehoods.”

‘Nepotism’ and ‘wokeness’

Similar to the BJP’s attacks against the Opposition over dynastic politics or nepotism, there are attempts by BJP-leaning influencers to discredit Chandrachud’s career by highlighting that his father, YV Chandrachud.

Such efforts were evident in online activity against Chandrachud for recommending Saurabh Kirpal, himself the son of a former chief justice, BN Kirpal, as a high court judge. Kirpal is gay and his sexual orientation was seen as the main reason for the BJP-led Central government to object to his nomination.

Chandrachud’s backing of the collegium, without reforming it, is also used to project him of being casteist, the researchers found. Under the collegium system, the five most senior judges of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice, decide on the appointments and transfers of judges to the top court and the High Courts.

However, the collegium is seen as lacking representation from marginalised communities. The BJP has tried to change the system. In this case, social media influencers, including some prominent caste activists who may not lean towards the BJP, have used hashtags such as “#Casteist_Collegium” and “#Ban_Casteist_Collegium”.

Similarly, Chandrachud has been attacked online for his advocacy of liberal values. Hashtags such as “#NotMyCJI” have been used to attack Chandrachud over what is seen as his feminist positions in judgments, such as the one allowing women to enter the Sabarimala temple.

These attacks are align with aggressive social media activity claiming that India is under attack from global left-leaning elites “indoctrinated” through American universities, the researchers said. This feeds into creation of a notion that Chandrachud, in a high Constitutional position, is a puppet master – a person or group that covertly controls others.

To strengthen these claims, influencers deliberately juxtapose Chandrachud against elected representatives such as Modi to insinuate that he is encroaching on the prime minister’s authority.