Among the Indian political parties the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has the most robust presence on the social media. Its leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi with 30 and 18 million followers on his personal and institutional account respectively is the world’s second most followed leader on the Twitter, next only to the USA president Donald Trump. Also, the BJP has the largest network of cyber warriors at its beck and call to make posts – real and fake – viral in a matter of minutes. That should have given a sense of confidence to the saffron party on its growing influence especially among the new age Indians.
But that is not so. Instead of using the social media to spread their political message, the perverse minds in the saffron party have taken to deliberate spreading of fake news in the communally sensitive state of Bengal with sizeable Muslim population. Party’s information technology (IT) cell chief Tarun Sengupta had lies with the help of tweaked images and distorted facts on the social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Its latest designs were unleashed when Sengupta posted fake news and a fake video on the Facebook on April 17, the day Hindus were celebrating Ram Navmi. His motives were clear: to divide the Hindus and Muslims and to spread communal tension in the state. The video showed police beating a woman mercilessly and as the CID probe found, it was ironically a scene from the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat riots when Modi was heading the state government. To suit his evil designs, Sengupta had claimed that it was a Hindu woman of Bhirbum who was being beaten by two Muslim police officers. He had the temerity to name two serving Muslim IPS officers as the ones beating the woman in the video. To add to the provocation, Sengupta had wondered if Bhirbhum was turning into another Bangladesh under Banerjee.
BJP is desperate to emerge as a political force to reckon with in the State of Bengal and polarizing the Hindus and Muslims, its mandarins feel, is one surest way to reach the goal. However, the firebrand Mamata Banerjee is no person to get cowed down by the BJP’s designs. Her police has booked Sengupta under the IPC provisions which don’t entitle him to get the bail after conducting a thorough inquiry into his post. The ‘Didi’ has clearly said the BJP was trying to spread hate in the state with the help of fake images; she even said BJP had turned “facebook into Fakebook.”
BJP leaders and their followers called ‘Bhakts’ have a track record of using photoshop tool of the internet to distort images and use of fake news for furthering party’s agenda. However, they went in an overdrive in West Bengal after tension had gripped a small town of Basirath, ironically after someone had posted a fake image of Kabah coming under attack, apparently to provoke the Muslims.
The BJP pulled no stops in stooping low in dividing the Hindus and Muslims in the sensitive Bengal. Sengupta’s antic was followed by yet another one from his colleagues, Pratap Simha, BJP Member of Parliament who had even used photoshop to create the fake news about killing of a Hindu woman by Muslim goons in Bhirbhum. The MP had used a screenshot of the Times of India page to create the fantasy of a news. He claimed the killers were Muslims and the victim a Hindu and posted it on his Twitter page. The post was given an ‘appropriate’ headline “Hindu girl stabbed to death by a Muslim man.” The TOI denied the story and claimed someone had photo-shopped its story on a crime in Delhi where stalkers had killed a woman and the crime was captured by a CCTV camera. The MP has since deleted this post from his Twitter page.
However, the same image had been shared by BJP’s flamboyant Delhi-based spokesperson Nupur Sharma and so many others. According to Alt News, an online portal that is busting the ecosystem of fake news in India, the BJP has unleashed a slew of fake news on the social media in the wake of riots in Bauduria, West Bengal. A self-proclaimed BJP loyalist Bhabtosh Chatterjee had used a scene from a 2015 Bhojpuri film in which a woman was being molested in full view of public to project it as a real scene from the riot-hit Bauduria. His post on Twitter read Hindu women not safe in Bauduria. In the same post he had beseeched Hindu supporting Mamata’s party Trinmool Congress, to rise to save the honour of their women. Many BJP leaders including a prominent one from Haryana Vijeita Malik fell for the post. Malik posted the fake image on Instagram and said women were not safe in Mamata’s Bengal. Another ‘Bhakt’ Geeta S Kapoor, who is significantly followed by PM Modi on Twitter, had used the image of a Bindi-wearing women on whose face blood was trickling from a possible injury and her husband as “Sauvik’s parents who were attacked” in Bengal with a hashtag #notinmyname. The image in reality is that of a Hindu family from Bangladesh, who were attacked by Muslim extremists.
In another instance, the BJP followers had projected the video from Guatemala –in which a crowd was shown lynching a woman thief – as a Marwari woman of Gujarat being lynched by Muslims men. The idea was to spread hate against Muslims. The Alt News had gone a detailed investigation and exposed that the person behind the post was a typical BJP man who used fake identity – in this case a Muslim name – to hoodwink those trying to unmask them.
Why does the BJP, its fringe groups and their followers, use fake news? This practice, it seems is in sync with the strategy of Narendra Modi who uses the social media to his advantage. However, the party’s mandarins are going berserk about it and deliberately use the fake news to spread lies and fan hatred in the country. It’s no secret that BJP has an army of trolls who go after anyone challenging the party’s ideology or try to present counter narratives to the ways of the saffron brigade on the social media platforms. According to Swati Chaturvedi, author of “I am a troll,” BJP has the largest number of cyber volunteers who troll people and issues threats to them and yet are roaming free. It’s this army which is responsible for trolling Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on the social networking sites and calling him “Pappu’.
The BJP’s cyber warriors not only indulge in spreading hate and trolling rivals and anti-BJP persons on the social media but they also use fake images to bolster government’s image. Babul Supriyo, the singer- turned- MP had used a representative image of a bus stop to claim it’s an existing one in Rajkot, Gujarat. The Press Information Bureau had used a morphed picture of Modi going on an aerial tour of the flood affected area last year. While the window of the aircraft showed sky, the morphed picture had floods in it.
The use of fake news can always be checked through the available tools but since most of the Indians don’t use these add-on tools on computers, they tend to fall prey to the rumour mongering. This is the reason why BJP’s fake news goes mostly unchallenged. In the West, thousands of people are arrested each year for spreading fake images and messages on the social networking sites. However, India is yet to pick up this trend. Media experts are warning that in a country like India, where social media is spreading fast in spite of the prevailing low literacy, is fraught with dangers. But BJP would not listen to them since it’s trying to grab power everywhere by hook or by crook.(Published on 17th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 29)