OFFICIAL TROLLS

The Indian government’s Twitter accounts are posting some surprisingly vile and jingoistic messages

Quartz india
Quartz india

Something curious and dangerous is going on behind some social media accounts of the government of India. And it does not augur well.

On Thursday (Sept. 08), the Twitter handle of Digital India, one of prime minister Narendra Modi’s flagship programmes, tweeted a poem in Hindi. The tweet, captioned “Heights of #Patriotism..!!!”, by @_DigitalIndia chillingly called on the Indian Army to fire away at protesting Kashmiris.

India-Kashmir-Twitter
In cold blood. (@_DigitlIndia)

A typical stanza of the poem, first posted by one Abhay Kumar, went like this:

“Kill to your heart’s content, army!
Beat them till their bones break,
If Mehbooba calls in the police,
Modi shall handle the situation.”

The reference here is to the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and the prime minister himself. The poem goes on to warn Kashmiris that “this is just the beginning and expect a lot more firing by the army.”

The government of India is currently struggling to restore normalcy in the restive Jammu and Kashmir state. The killing of a young terrorist had sparked an unprecedented uprising in the state that saw dozens of protesters and security personnel getting killed during clashes over the last two months. The Indian home minister is now in the process of negotiating with all sections of the state to soothe frayed tempers. The stunning tweet, coming amidst such turmoil, obviously left the government red-faced. For, Digital India has more than 5.3 lakh followers on Twitter.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, the information technology minister in Modi’s government, expressed regret and said the contents of the tweet do not reflect the government’s views. He said the person who tweeted the poem had been suspended.

Prasad’s statement came after the vitriolic tweet drew flak.

The whole fiasco, seemingly settled after Prasad’s prompt action, has heightened the unease surrounding the blatant belligerence displayed by the government’s social media managers. For this is only the latest in a series of such goof-ups.

A few days ago, All India Radio’s Twitter handle waded into an ongoing controversy over the killing of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mocking Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his shifting stands in a defamation case, @airnewsalerts asked: “Why he got scared earlier?”

The case was filed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) against Rahul who had referred to its role in the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. The RSS is the ideological parent of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While Rahul initially accused it of being involved in the murder, in court he apparently took a softer line and said that he had only spoken about RSS members being involved in the crime and not RSS itself. However, after he was lampooned for going soft, the Congress vice-president reverted to a more aggressive stand and prepared to face trial.

Though the tweet was later deleted, it strengthened the impression that official bodies that ought to stay off politics were being used to promote the government’s ideology and agenda.

A few months ago, the Twitter handle of Startup India, another major Modi government initiative, was caught retweeting something targeted at sections of the Indian media perceived as being critical of the regime. This time, too, it was the Indian Army that was called upon to “take care” of #Presstitutes.

Incidentally, the term #Presstitutes itself was coined by Gen VK Singh, a former Indian Army chief and a current minister of state in the Modi government.

Another disturbing aspect of the trend is the different treatment meted out to the accused depending on their ideological or political hues.

“Interestingly, the authorities have shown far greater resolve when dealing with any hint of violence online when the perpetrator happens to be Muslim,” an article on Scroll.in said on Friday (Sept. 09).

While vile trolls have been around for a while on social media, often given legitimacy by the prime minister himself, the recent tweets show that a few now have government jobs, too.

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