New Delhi: Following a series of tweets by international celebrities over the ongoing farmers’ protests, the Narendra Modi government believes the creation of the ‘toolkit’ is just the “tip of an iceberg” even as it is looking into the role of an “organised coalition” behind these social media campaigns, ThePrint has learnt.
According to multiple official sources, Sikh extremist groups like Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) are now “feeling the heat” due to the government’s constant monitoring, which is why they have begun operating several smaller organisations that run online campaigns and have offices around the world.
These organisations, which mostly operate as fly-by-night operators, are trying to create disturbances within the country by “piggybacking” on the farm laws issue and the farmers’ protests, an official told ThePrint.
While the government has ruled out that the farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders have any role to play in this, sources believe the agitation has been “hijacked” by certain groups that want to create internal disturbances through social media.
The WSO, the official said, has opened a media wing that works in a “well organised” manner and is “well-funded” by Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI and others. These bodies have set up multiple agencies through which payments are made to run such international campaigns, the official added.
“We know for a fact that these tweets by international celebrities and certain foreign individuals were not all of a sudden and they were not spontaneous. We know there are groups working on this. And this is not unique only to India but many countries are facing such an organised social media campaign against them,” said another official, who did not wish to be named.
The official added, “We are all now in the middle of a new information era, and hence the only way to deal with such attacks is by quick and dynamic response… Today because of technology and global networks, the lines are getting blurred.”
According to the official, the celebrities tweeting about it may not even be aware at whose behest they are doing this.
‘Befitting reply’ to organised groups
The government believes that by issuing a statement against the tweets by international celebrities, it is giving a “befitting reply” to those organisations and not to any individual.
India has alerted all its missions abroad, especially in the US, Canada, Europe and a few Southeast Asian countries, to keep a watchful eye on all such groups operating overseas, said sources.
In its statement on tweets by international celebrities and activists, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Wednesday said vested interest groups have “tried to mobilise international support against India. Instigated by such fringe elements, Mahatma Gandhi statues have been desecrated in parts of the world. This is extremely disturbing for India and for civilised society everywhere.”
The MEA also categorically said the “temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible”.
American pop singer Rihanna, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, lawyer and niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris, Meena Harris, and National Football League athlete Juju Smith-Schuster were among some of the international personalities to tweet on the protests.
On Saturday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said the toolkit “revealed a lot”.
“We have to wait and see what comes out. You can see there was a reason why the foreign ministry reacted to the statements which some celebrities gave out on matters on which they obviously didn’t know very much,” he said.
Ajai Sahni, executive director, Institute for Conflict Management, said, “There is no global conspiracy going against the government on social media. Toolkits are available all over the world and anyone can pick it up and use them.”
He added: “The Khalistani issue is being promoted only by a small group of diaspora. If prominent people are taking notice of the present situation (farmers’ protest) then the government should know it has to act. The Khalistanis are taking advantage of the government’s vulnerabilities, but that doesn’t make every critic of government policy a Khalistani. The solution to silence all these lies in directly talking to the farmers and resolving the issue.”
Pressure from US increases
Meanwhile, following a statement by the US State Department and the US Embassy in India last week, Congressman Brad Sherman, co-chair of Congressional India Caucus, asked the Narendra Modi government to “make sure that the norms of democracy are maintained”.
“I urged the Indian government to make sure that the norms of democracy are maintained, that protesters are allowed to protest peaceably and to have access to the Internet and to journalists. All friends of India hope that the parties can reach an agreement,” Sherman said in a tweet Friday.
I urged the Indian government to make sure that the norms of democracy are maintained, that protesters are allowed to protest peaceably and to have access to the Internet, and to journalists. All friends of India hope that the parties can reach an agreement. (2/2)
— Rep. Brad Sherman (@BradSherman) February 5, 2021
His tweet came after a meeting he convened with Republican co-chair, Congressman Steve Chabot, and vice-chair Congressman Ro Khanna with India’s Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu.
In response to the US State Department’s statement, the MEA had said any protests must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, and the ongoing efforts of the government and the farmer groups concerned to resolve the impasse.