God Save the Republic
For anyone who thought that Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV could stoop no further than it already has since its launch as a voluble right-wing propaganda channel, the past week proved that it is committed to sinking journalism into a bottom-less abyss. On February 12, 14 students of AMU were booked for sedition. The Aligarh police had received complaints against them from a Republic TV crew and Mukesh Singh Lodhi, district president of the BJP’s youth wing. The complaints alleged that Republic TV anchor Nalini Sharma and a cameraman accompanying her were heckled by the AMU students and staff on the varsity campus and that the students raised anti-India slogans.
The police conveniently ignored another complaint filed by the varsity’s students alleging that it was the TV crew that had trespassed into the campus and, on being asked to leave, abused and heckled them.
The fracas started with the Republic TV crew arriving at the varsity campus on the pretext of interviewing its students for a programme. The crew, according to AMU administration and evident from a video shared on Twitter by a student, had no permission to shoot on the campus. Nalini, reportedly started her piece-to-camera by saying: “We are standing in the university of terrorists.” When the students and staff protested, she and her cameraman, reportedly, said they “do not respond to terrorists”.
Nalini, in a series of tweets, dubbed the version of the AMU students as “absolute lies”. Her warped clarification said she was “reporting on a story that had nothing to do with AMU”. Well, if the story had nothing to do with AMU, why was the Republic TV crew on the varsity campus, without due permission, to shoot?
Prime Minister Modi and the BJP take great pride in the scores of “cyber warriors” (read: trolls) they have on Twitter who help the saffron front whip up a Twitter storm to trend any topic the leadership desires. The success of the lightning speed with which identical tweets hailing Modi and his government or abusing the Congress and Opposition parties go viral on social media is attributed to a master template that the BJP’s IT cell circulates among its followers, which they only need to copy and post on their Twitter timelines. The flip side of this exercise triggered much amusement for Modi critics and a nightmare for the BJP on February 13, when the IT cell’s master template was hacked. AltNews founder Pratik Sinha, in a series of tweets, pointed out scores of Twitter handles, including those of central minister Pon Radhakrishnan, and the BJP’s Assam unit, posting identical tweets criticising Modi. A tweet by Radhakrishnan, who earlier in the day had tabled the controversial CAG report on the Rafale deal in Parliament, said: “#Modi4NewIndia Working for middle class is low on the agenda of Modi govt. Modi govt has successfully failed the mindset that the middle class lives on someone’s mercy which was nurtured by the Congress govt.”
Another tweet read: “Modi4NewIndia Modi govt has not made inclusive development as the focal point of its functioning.” Oops!
Senior Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal, who has launched a news channel, Harvest—name changed to Tiranga—is often seen busy chatting up and sharing details on the channel with journalists at the Supreme Court complex. The conversations mostly occur in a secluded corner of the corridor. In fact, last week, Sibal was seen having an intense conversation with a journalist regarding the SC reporting format of the channel. He asked the journo to visit him privately in his office to discuss the details on the scope of engagement. For many SC-covering journalists, the discussions seem amusing. The reporters often snicker: “Hiring spree in progress in the court complex.” They talk about Sibal’s pleasant demeanour when the discussion is on his TV channel. A journalist quipped: “Imagine the task of reporting on Anil Ambani. What would a reporter do? He speaks in defence of Anil, citing professional compulsions, in the court complex, and criticises him from the Congress headquarters.”
While the terror attack in Pulwama shocked the nation, Hindu right-wing trolls began sharing posts on social media to build a narrative that the Jaish terrorists behind the attack were linked to the Congress.
Fact checker website AltNews called out two such posts that had gone viral. First was a 11-second video shared on Twitter by one Ankur Singh which claimed “Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was laughing at a press conference” soon after the attack. The video was a doctored version of footage from Priyanka’s presser held on February 14 in Lucknow in which she condemned the attack and paid tribute to the martyrs.
Not surprisingly, Ankur Singh, who has been found peddling fake anti-Congress images and videos in the past too, is followed by PM Modi and several BJP leaders on Twitter. He had featured recently as a “tech expert” in a debate on news channel Mirror Now, attacking Twitter for alleged bias against right-wing accounts.
AltNews also exposed a morphed image posted on Facebook page “Once Again ModiRaj 2019” of Rahul Gandhi standing with Pulwama attack suicide bomber Adil Ahmed Dhar. The image was a doctored version of a photograph of Rahul and Congress leader Jitin Prasada at a Sufi shrine in Barabanki, UP. The trolls had morphed Prasada’s face with Dhar’s.
Clearly, spinning fake narratives to take on political opponents, even at the risk of insulting the nation’s martyrs, is part of the brief given to “nationalist” social media trolls—many of whom are “proud to be followed by Narendra Modi”.