Of fake news and political agendas

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Of fake news and political agendas

Sunday, 14 July 2019 | Kumar Chellappan

Of fake news and political agendas


Publisher - HarperCollins, Rs 399

The authors of India Misinformed make an attempt to uncover the pattern of fake news and identify the purveyors of misinformation, but fail to address the reality of ground attribution, writes Kumar Chellappan

Ashwatthama, son of Drona, is an important character in Mahabharata, the great Indian epic. He is one of the seven Chiranjivi (immortal living being) in Hindu mythology. The Kurukshetra War took a different course because of Ashwatthama. The moment Pandavas learnt that they would not be able to defeat the Kauravas as long as Drona was the commander of the rivals, they devised a strategy to remove him the battlefield. As per the advice of Lord Krishna, Bhim killed an elephant by name Ashwatthama while Yudhishtira shouted from the battlefield that Ashwatthama is dead. A heart-broken Drona put down his weapons and left the battlefield. This facilitated the victory of the Pandavas.

The incident holds true of the adage: “All is fair in Love and War”. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to discuss love here, since I feel that is something sacred. There are many kinds of war. Life itself is a war. In addition to it, there are wars fought between countries, kingdoms, dynasties, siblings and of course the political battles.

The recent General Election to the Lok Sabha was a battle royale which saw all kinds of tricks, fair as well as unfair, being deployed at every stage of the election. The run up to the election saw a wanton use of charges and allegations of all kinds by all the main contenders. What we saw was a “media blitzkrieg” similar to the one employed by Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister of Adolf Hitler during the Second World War. Though there were no mobile phones or WhatsApp or other forms of social media, Goebbels used radio and newspapers to build up support for his Master, many times airing lies and half lies as truths and facts.

Though Goebbels is gone long back, his strategy is blindly followed by some of the political leaders of modern era. The social media and modern technology are being blatantly used by major political players. Though it may not help them to win the ‘war’, it vitiates the atmosphere. The basic principle of sports — Let’s Play the Game in the Spirit of the Game — is blatantly violated. Our politicians are yet to learn some lesson from the Internal Emergency of 1975 which saw the subjugation of the media and the misuse of the mass media to propagate the diktats of the powers that be.

The book “India Misinformed: The True Story” authored by Pratik Sinha, Sumaiya Shaikh and Arjun Sidharth is an attempt to expose the persons and groups spreading fake news with ulterior motives. It makes an interesting reading and sends out a warning message to the gullible readers not to believe all what is being seen in social media like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and the online news portals. After reading the book, one gets the impression that the BJP and the Right Wing Brigade are the ones responsible for spreading fake and counterfeit news and facts.

The posting and forwarding of fake news was at its peak during the Lok Sabha election campaign, even though this unpardonable crime had begun immediately after the change of government at the Centre in May 2014.

Ravish Kumar, a journalist who wrote the foreword of the book says: “Analysis of fake news reveals that much of it is related to spreading hate against the Muslim community. Earlier too minorities were perceived on a certain manner by the majority community. Fake news has exacerbated this tendency”. Kumar has also quoted from a speech delivered by BJP’s Amit Shah in which the latter disclosed that during the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, BJP’s social media workers propagated fake news of how Akhilesh Yadav slapped Mulayam Singh though no such thing has happened. “Mulayam and Akhilesh were 600 km apart. But the social media team of the BJP spread it and it spread everywhere,” Amit Shah is reported to have said.

But a perusal of the video recording of Shah’s speech gave an entirely different version. Yes, Shah had spoken about the 3.2 million strong WhatsApp group operated by the BJP’s UP team. In his speech Shah spoke highly critical of the person who misused the social media for spreading a fake message and also exhorted the party workers and the IT wing cadre not to propagate fake message.

“The party president asked us to avoid committing mistake of posting fake pictures, data and messages on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. He said such action endangers our credibility before the people,” Times of India had quoted a participant as saying according to a report about the same carried by a news portal. Shah had used the word “chaalaak” to describe the person who posted the particular message. The meaning of this word itself is cunning, clever and crafty and the same is not used to denote a positive nature.

In chapter 2 dealing with the “gruesome details of assault on Paresh Mesta”, the authors have found out that the BJP’s claim that Mesta was murdered by “jihadi elements” not true. The finding of the decomposed body of Mesta (24) in a pond in Honnavar town had created a furore all over with the national media highlighting the same for days. The authors quote a TV channel as reporting that Mesta been castrated and his head split open and that boiling oil gad been poured on him.

According to the authors, the Karnataka Police Inspector General Hemant Nimbalkar said: “There is a deliberate attempt to create a divide in society by circulation of false news as well as rumours through press notes , social media and particularly WhatsApp for personal gain. We are booking all those people who are trying to circulate false news and rumours through false media and already 20 cases are booked. Anybody who is abetting or circulating false news without authentication shall have to face the law”. It would have been proper if the authors had disclosed the fact that Hemant Nimbalkar’s wife Anjali is a Congress MLA.

Since the authors have blamed BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje as alleging that Mesta was brutalised and killed by jihadi elements, this writer spoke to her. She had this to share: “It was a gruesome murder and I stand by what I told earlier. The surgeon who performed the autopsy was threatened to write a report to suit the convenience of the authorities. Let the investigation be held by the CBI and the truth will come out”.

There were many instances of all political parties in the country engaging in peddling fake news. The authors somehow missed this reality while taking a lot of pain in preparing a compendium on the fake news spread and propagated by the Right Wing cadre. The sad fact is that despite the progress made in technology, especially the information technology, we do not have means to find out the sources of these fake news and who are the people behind the whole process. If a technology is developed by our information technology scientists, the menace of fake news will soon come to an end. As on today, that’s the only solution we have in a world where we saw the fake propaganda of Chowkidar Chor Hai reverberating across the country.

There are enough sections in the Indian Penal Code to bring to book fake medical doctors but we lack rules to trap fake journalists. As per international norms, only medical doctors prefix the title doctor to their names. Author Sumaiya Shaikh is aware of that practice.

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