It requires a particularly perverse mind to pass off a photograph of the Gujarat killings of 2002 as one taken in West Bengal, parts of which have been facing violence in the last few days. Muslim groups erupted after a nasty Facebook post and as the government tries to calm things down, the BJP has waded in with a concerted campaign to show how bad the situation is.
There is enough coming out of the place to prove that point, but instead, Nupur Sharma, a BJP spokesperson, used a photograph of a burning vehicle that was taken in Gujarat 15 years ago. Online fakery is hardly new and the saffron army is among its finest practitioners, but even by the low standards of the past, this example is particularly egregious.
The Sangh parivar – members and and fellow travellers – has refused to acknowledge the brutality of the pogrom in 2002 in which an estimated 1,200 people are said to have been killed. The images that came out of there during the three-day danse macabre told the world another story. To share a photo from Gujarat to indicate the mayhem in Basirhat and hashtagging it #saveBengal displays low-level cynicism. At the same time, there is an inherent irony in drawing upon an image from a state where the riots happened under Narendra Modi’s watch and where the hashtag #didnotsaveGujarat might have been more appropriate; that may have escaped Sharma, or worse, she did not care about it.
This particular tweet is not the only example of hate being spread online with the aid of fake or distorted material. BJP MP Prathap Simha on Sunday tweeted an image purportedly showing a headline in the Times of India that said “Hindu girl stabbed to death by Muslim man”. No such headline ever appeared in the Times or any other newspaper – it was undoubtedly created by some photoshop wizard. Simha did not bother to check its veracity but because it fit in well with his – and his party’s – sensibilities, went ahead and tweeted it, though he deleted it subsequently.
A few days ago, actor and MP Paresh Rawal, always on the lookout to take a swipe at his party’s ideological enemies, tweeted a quote in Hindi by ex-president Abdul Kalam claiming he had been approached by Pakistan to work for them, but he did not because he was a patriot. “Strictly for pseudo liberal,” said Rawal, though the connection between what Kalam allegedly said and pseudo-liberalism remains tenuous. Here again, it was a fake quote. Sambit Patra, the BJP’s irrepressible television face, tweeted a phoney story from Times of Islamabad that claimed to quote an NDTV story, declaring, with glee, “Hmmm…Agenda.” Only, it was an article written by P Chidambaram for the Indian Express.
Why have these worthies fallen for such obvious faleshoods and why did they not get their researchers to do basic due diligence? One possible answer is that they get the material from the party and simply forward it. Alternatively, they are in such a hurry to hit out at the party’s ‘enemies’ – sickulars, libtards, presstitutes and Congi slaves – that they grab every opportunity; to them, the veracity of what they post does not matter, only its contents do. Plain lies has become an important weapon in the BJP’s armoury.
There is also a third, more sinister possibility: that they – and this includes not just the average bhakt but also the influencers – are fully aware that they are circulating lies, but they want it to have an impact before they withdraw or delete it (without any apology). The idea is to reach the maximum number of fervid believers who swallow all kinds of rubbish claims as long as these conform with their prejudices – if the message comes from someone high enough, like an MP, it carries even more weight. It then gets further circulated and amplified via WhatsApp and word of mouth, maximising its impact.
Thus, old style rumour mongering has been given an extra edge by technology. The question of whether the information is real or fake becomes redundant in these circumstances. In fact, as the fakery-busting site Alt-news has shown, there is an entire cottage industry of fake news coming out of Basirhat.
The persona of individuals and organisations is defined by a few words. Mention ‘dynasty’ and we immediately think of the Congress, say the word corruption and the UPA comes to mind. The BJP is beginning to own the word ‘fake’. At one time, it was low-level supporters or bots from troll factories that were putting out these obviously false messages. Now the party’s own important functionaries have begun doing it. This cannot be a coincidence. Nupur Sharma’s tweet indicates that the party is now beyond caring about truth and authenticity in its messaging. The stakes are now higher and the political opponent has to be attacked by any means possible. Truth and fact-checking, in the circumstances, are a needless luxury.