The BJP's Social Media Armies Seek To Divide

This past week, I made a speech in parliament in response to the Motion of Thanks following the President's Address. The President's Address takes place at the beginning of the first session in a calendar year. It usually inaugurates the Budget Session and has the government, through the President, explaining its assessment of how the previous year has gone, and giving an idea of how it sees economic and developmental challenges in the near future.

While the odd line in my speech may have hassled the Hindutva hordes on Twitter and social media, I'm happy to point out that the bulk of my text was not wasted on them and their vile propaganda. Neither was it a personal attack on the Prime Minister or any individual in the government. It was a critique of the government's economic agenda and the social tensions it has unleashed. And a warning of what was going wrong with our country.

The government is celebrating demonetisation. But it cannot ignore that at least 120 people have died as a direct consequence of demonetisation. Take two of the several examples I used:
  • Sudarsin Surin lives in Marangabahal village in Odisha. When his two-year-old son fell ill, he took him on his bicycle and rode seven km to reach Meghapal hospital. Once there, he was advised by the doctors to take his child to Sambalpur hospital, another 40 km away, as the condition of the baby had deteriorated. A desperate father pleaded with auto-rickshaw drivers to take him to Sambalpur, but they refused as he had only Rs. 500 notes with him. After three hours, the child died.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, Suresh, an 18-year-old second-year B.Sc student, hanged himself as he could not withdraw money from the bank to pay his college examination fees.

The media has listed details of these 120 deaths. Shouldn't the government acknowledge them? Shouldn't parliament mourn these unsung martyrs of demonetisation, or should I call them sacrificial lambs?

This is a government of gimmicks and PR, which is fine as long as it doesn't cause tragedies and bring misfortune to the lives of ordinary people. Demonetisation is a perfect example of this mess. Every second day since November 8, the government has changed its mind about the reason for demonetisation - unearthing black money, fighting terrorism, promoting digital payments, widening the tax net, boosting the real estate market.

And despite all this, we still have no concrete numbers about the so-called black money that has been identified. We were told to wait till December 31. Now we are told to wait till March 31. Let's see if that deadline too is extended.

Amid this tamasha-baazi, India is losing time. The BJP government was elected in 2014 to solve some large and pressing problems. One of these related to the culture of crony capitalism that had sunk Indian public sector banks. It was meant to crack down on the corrupt, get crony businessmen to pay up and rescue the banks. What has it done, other than allowing Vijay Mallya to escape? Next to nothing. Today, non-performing assets worth Rs. 6 lakh crore have piled up in the banks (as of March 2016). The government has sanctioned a paltry Rs. 10,000 crore for bank recapitalisation. Are we supposed to hail this as an embodiment of achhe din?


As it happens, the only party that has consistently attacked the government on economic issues is the Trinamool Congress. We have paid for it. Central agencies have targeted Bengal and arrested our party MPs on trumped-up charges, without sufficient evidence. The social media armies of the BJP have systematically threatened religious harmony and social peace in Bengal. I stressed this in the Rajya Sabha, explaining how "Digital India" was being turned into "Divisive India". The examples I gave should be scary and worrying for anybody in government. Out of nothing, a Twitter trend was created by manipulating timelines and using hashtags like '#BengalIsBurning'. A mischief-maker uses Photoshop to concoct an incident and his cohorts ensure it goes viral. They pretend it is an organised religious attack. Actually, it is a made-up case, a hoax.

Who is behind all this? What connection do some of the Twitter handles and social media accounts associated with such campaigns have with the ruling party in Delhi? Why is Bengal being singled out? Is it because Trinamool has taken such an adamant and principled stand against the BJP regime's whimsical and irresponsible policies?

Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.

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