A Change.org petition to remove Raheel Khursheed as head of Twitter India is viral on social media and has done well to get 28000+ supporters so far, presumably from the Indian right-wing. The petition only has one small problem – Raheel Khursheed is NOT the head of Twitter India.
Raheel Khursheed is no stranger to such petitions and has been the target of at least four of them in the last few years. “Twitter ‘SACK Raheel Khursheed for suspending twitter accounts Abhijit & other Indians” reads one more such petition. This one has not been so popular and has only managed less than 700 signatures. The petition threatens in bold: “AS A MARK OF PROTEST WE NATIONALIST INDIANS WILL DELETE THE TWITTER APP ON OUR PHONE TILL ACTION IS TAKEN“. Unfortunately, the threat has not yet been carried out.
The right-wing obsession with Raheel Khursheed goes back to January 2014 when he was appointed the Head – News, Politics and government for India & South East Asia by Twitter. There was yet another petition to remove him from this position. Around the same time a tongue-in-cheek petition asked to “Sack Raheel Khursheed as Head – News, Politics and government, Twitter India and replace him with Mr. Kanchan Gupta“. Both the petitions didn’t see much support but at least that time they had got his position within Twitter correctly.
Since then, for some reason, every time Right-wing Twitter users in India have a problem, be it blocking of accounts or abuse on the platform, they seek Khursheed out. It is not just a matter of crowding his mentions. He has been mercilessly trolled by right-wingers for issues that have nothing to do with him.
He has clarified his position several times, but to no avail. On May 24th, in response to an abusive tweet he clarified yet again, “I lead News Partnerships at Twitter, but don’t let facts come in the way of you parading your stupidity on a global platform“.
This brutal put-down had no effect on those who wished to continue to parade their stupidity. A quick glance at the replies shows numerous tweets asking him to explain the suspension of Abhijeet Bhattacharya’s account. Didn’t he just explain in simple English that blocking/unblocking people is not his area of responsibility within the organisation?
A tweet by Swarajya columnist, Shefali Vaidya accusing him of “protection his own” was retweeted 700+ times whereas no one was really interested in Khursheed’s clarification that his role is only restricted to News Partnerships. “Do read up on my role – News Partnerships, India/SEAsia – & what team at Twitter makes these decisions before you say stuff like this“, he tried to explain but this simple fact was not understood by the 150 people who replied to him asking him the same question and holding him responsible for account suspensions. His answer was not bought by Vaidya either who neither acknowledged it, nor deleted her tweet. The troll attack continued unabated.
It is quite hilarious that despite repeated clarification that he is only the Head of News partnerships, many continue to tweet in support of the petition to sack him from a position he doesn’t even hold.
Khursheed faced a similar backlash after Twitter suspended user Sonam Mahajan’s accounts. The news articles that covers the trolling continued to identify him as the Head of Twitter India.
For the record, Twitter India was headed by Rishi Jaitly for a period of four years and after his resignation in 2016, Taranjeet Singh was elevated to the position of Country Director, India in early May. These facts however don’t really matter. It is not about what role he holds but about Raheel Khursheed himself. Ever since Twitter announced the hiring of Khursheed, he has faced the right-wing backlash. As per an article in The Hindu, the storm of protest by right wingers on his joining Twitter was because he was allegedly seen as “anti-Modi,” pro-separatist, and a “Hindu-baiter.’’
Apart from being trolled for actions and policies of Twitter which he has no say over, Khursheed has also been targeted over his tweets from 2011-12. In this period, which is prior to his taking up the position at Twitter, there are several tweets where he is critical of PM Modi. While this by itself is enough to drive a right-wing obsession, the fact that he is a Kashmiri as well, provides further reason. The tweet which is part of the current petition is a six-year old tweet. In a reminder that what is once on social media is never really forgotten, these tweets are brought up each time the discussion turns to him. Screenshots of another tweet from 2012 have been repeatedly shared by Twitter users, asking him to explain. A tweet which he had tagged as #TrollBaitTournament continues to act as a troll bait even after 5 years. The tweet read, “U say Narendra Modi for PM? I say Narendra Modi in jail for being a mass murderer #TrollBaitCompetition“.
Personal views aside, in a professional capacity, Khursheed has been appreciative of how Modi government is “Transforming India through Twitter”. In an article written by him on the second anniversary of the government, he spoke about how Modi’s Twitter following has grown and how he has successfully used Twitter to communicate and connect with the citizens.
While right wingers are busy obsessing over him, linking him with account suspensions and calling for action against him, Raheel Khursheed is one of the three Indians named as a Yale World Fellow. Each year, the University invites a group of exemplary mid-career professionals from a wide range of fields and countries for an intensive four-month period of academic enrichment and leadership training. As he pointed out to someone recently in a tweet, attracting such attention from trolls is an occupational hazard.
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