The opposition in Kerala has compared Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to his Uttar Pradesh counterpart, Yogi Adityanath, over 119 cases being registered in the last three years against those targeting him on social media. However, top state police sources denied allegations that this amounts to infringing on freedom of expression, stating that the cases were filed in connection with serious social media abuses against the Chief Minister - including death threats.
Police sources told NDTV that "just 25-30 cases" were registered against those creating fake news in the name of Chief Minister or abusing him on social media during the Sabarimala controversy, although the number of complaints received in this regard was much more.
One of the 10 such First Information Reports accessed by NDTV was under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which pertains to sedition. It was filed in December 2018 against Larish Babu, who allegedly forged photographs depicting the Chief Minister, government and police at a time when right-wing groups were agitating against a Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple. His intent, according to the police, was to incite violence, riots and infighting. Other sections such as 153 (A), which concerns promoting enmity between different communities, were also added in his case.
However, NDTV could not access details of all the 119 cases, despite making requests to several state officials. Official figures or estimates on the number of cases filed against people for allegedly targeting the Chief Minister with casteist slurs were not available either.
In one such instance, a case was filed against a woman in her 60s after she referred to Pinarayi Vijayan's caste in an abusive manner. She was booked for posting obscenities and promoting enmity between different communities.
A similar case was registered against one Harikrishnan, who - according to police - used abusive terms to create "disharmony" among different religious communities. In another instance, a man identified as Sreejith Thekkethil allegedly forged Pinarayi Vijayan's signature and the state emblem. He posted the letter on Facebook as a conversation between the chief minister and the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
A case has been filed against him under sections pertaining to impersonation and forgery, among others.
The police shrugged off the opposition's claim that similar complaints lodged by them were not taken seriously. "There is no law that prescribes criminal investigation and prosecution for defamatory messages, regardless of how improperly they are phrased. However, if any message contains obscenities or elements that can cause communal tensions, breach of internal security, or threat to life, a case can be registered. Many complaints do not fall under this category," an officer told NDTV.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala termed the police's explanation as a whitewash. "Only abuses against the Chief Minister are punishable, and the rest of us should just deal with them on our own? A law department employee has been suspended for attributing the left's defeat in recent elections to the Chief Minister. We didn't expect this from a communist Chief Minister. It's understandable in Yogi Adityanath's case, given that he is a fascist," he said.
However, Kerala-based political commentator J Prabhash did not agree with him. "A couple of days ago, there was a newspaper cartoon poking fun at the Chief Minister. But look at Uttar Pradesh, where journalists are beaten and arrested every other day. By comparing the two, the opposition is actually lending legitimacy to Yogi Adityanath's misdeeds," he said.