Noise Matters: Why Patriotic Indians Must Tweet More, Be Heard More
A four-pronged concerted bid by Sangh handlers to get inconvenient voices off social media. BJP no longer has a walkover here.
Signs of change are in the air.
In the small and 280-character world of Twitter, there was a storm brewing, for those who bothered to see. Some “polls” by TV news channels, with questions posing a direct face-off between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, with more than 50,000 votes sometimes, Narendra Modi was being pipped. Contests between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, for the better part of the BJP’s term, had resulted in walkovers for Modi in such polls. But no more. There was something afoot and hard to dismiss as an aberration.
The signs leading to the anxiety in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sangh universe are clear.
2014, especially in the way the UPA was combatted and brought down after 2011, was centred in the social media universe, where the organic presence of supporters of the Sangh Parivar was overwhelming, and nothing anti-Modi or even mildly critical was visible. Modi’s campaign machinery, having realised that mainstream or legacy media was more critical and not so pro-BJP, had used social media as a very effective tool.
Now, just before the 2019 General Elections, it is clear that it is not the case. The Gujarat state polls in 2017 too, started with the unravelling of the social media dominance of the Sangh there.
So now, the plan is to terrorise, control and scare anti-Modi or political voices critical of the Sangh. There are four ways in which this is being done.
1. The Draft rules for Online Intermediaries
It is via amendments to the rules in the IT Act brought in December by the Ministry of IT, through which the Centre, citing public order, wishes to dangle a sword over the heads of social media platforms, to peremptorily stop anything which the government may not consider good to publish. This affects all social media platforms and puts them at grave risk of having a lot of litigation served their way if they do not “comply”.
2. The summons to Twitter by the Parliamentary Committee for IT
Then came the unusual summons to Twitter, its head Jack Dorsey, by the Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology this month. The panel’s summons was issued on February 5, with a meeting with the parliamentary panel scheduled for Monday, February 11. The Hindustan Times on February 10 reported; “A right-wing group, Youth for Social Media Democracy, recently held protests claiming the microblogging site suspends or shadow-bans accounts that appear sympathetic to the ruling BJP and the government. BJP MP Anurag Thakur heads the parliamentary panel on information and technology, asked IT ministry officials and Twitter representatives to be present at the meeting. He said the committee takes a serious note of Twitter’s response and would take “appropriate action on February 11.”
According to an official aware of the letter sent to Twitter, the company was told: “it may be noted that the Head of the Organisation has to appear before the Committee”. Now, the Parliamentary Committee is now set to call Facebook and WhatsApp.
3. For those Journalists who work with mainstream media organisations, newspapers and TV stations, there are reports of BJP leaders serving up “printed sheets of tweets” of working journalists, which are critical of the government/BJP, right up to their owners/Chief Editors and asking for the Journalists to be shut up or face action. At least three mainstream newspapers have warned staff in the past fortnight and two TV channels have held meetings to send the message. One TV channel sent an Editor on leave for ten days, for her Facebook post — “44 deaths and 56 inches.”
4. For those who do not report to mainstream and pliable news outlets, BJP’s infamous army of abusive trolls is being used for a concerted and vicious attack on known anti-BJP independent journalists. So, journalists like Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai (especially those who had reported aggressively from Gujarat in the 2002 riots) are intimidated with abuse, rape threats and other vile comments, in thousands, to silence them. Even student leader, Shehla Rashid, had an FIR lodged against her on a tweet. Ironically, those baying for the blood of Kashmiris in Universities or those with shops and businesses have not been reined in or even told they are doing something unacceptable.
Why Twitter first?
Twitter, has emerged as the shorthand to political opinions the world over. Opinions on Twitter are read as a barometer of opinions in general. BJP ruled here for years, but now is getting pummelled.
Recently, the Railway Minister, Piyush Goyal’s embarrassing tweet, faking the video of the train to run at double-speed from Delhi to Varanasi, became a laughing stock the world over. NYT, Guardian, The Economist and others used just that one tweet and the mocking it saw prominently to call out the BJP’s Photoshop culture and even extended it to use it as a symbol of the BJP government’s running fudged economic data.
So much so that the irate PM, who is all about taking his image very seriously, said that those mocking the Vande Bharat train “must be punished”.
So all this has made the BJP very angry and very nervous.
So what is the moral of the story?
Must tweet more. Far more.