India is using all its resources to fight the deadly coronavirus. Hotels are being turned into hospitals. Trains are being converted into isolation wards. Leaders are becoming messengers. Police have taken the additional responsibility of keeping people inside their homes during the lockdown period. Opposition leaders are standing with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to make sure that people follow the lockdown. All in all, India stands united. Except one group — the BJP’s IT cell.
In the midst of the Narendra Modi government’s war-like preparations to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the BJP’s IT cell continues to engage in spreading hate and misinformation. It seems that the IT cell has vowed to become an enemy of its own party and the country. Its troll armies have taken to the Covid-19 pandemic as if a Lok Sabha election was going on and they have to make sure the BJP wins, by hook or by crook.
In 2018, then BJP president and now Union home minister Amit Shah had said that his party workers are capable of delivering any message to the public. The BJP’s WhatsApp group has over 32 lakh subscribers. He recounted how an IT cell worker had once pushed a fake news about Akhilesh Yadav slapping his father Mulayam Singh, which went viral.
In his radio programme Mann Ki Baat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recounted several incidents over the years, marvelling every time how they would go viral on social Media. Both Modi and Amit Shah are very familiar with the idea, and the importance, of something going viral. So why is their IT cell not using its abilities to share with the masses correct and useful information on the ongoing health crisis instead of doing what it does best?
What IT cell is doing now
The BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya is leading his pack from the front. Most of his tweets are ridiculous and hilarious. It appears that he wakes up every day with a mission to spread fake news. The resources of most websites involved in busting fake news are spent on misinformation that Malviya and his IT cell team spread when they could have been used to impart useful health-related information to deal with the ongoing pandemic that has locked more than a billion people inside their homes. Malviya’s Twitter timeline shows he isn’t much concerned about the coronavirus.
In February, when the whole world was figuring out ways to prepare for the coronavirus crisis, the BJP IT cell was busy telling people about the benefits of cow urine (gaumutra) and cow dung (gobar). WhatsApp groups were flooded with messages exhorting people to drink cow urine and lace their homes with cow dung; if they did that, the messages said, even coronavirus’ father wouldn’t dare come near them. Not only this, to make their propaganda seem credible and give it an Ayurvedic colour, they added basil and neem leaves. To attract the religious ones, a message was put out that if you light as many diyas as the number of sons you have, then the coronavirus will not come near you.
But what happened? By March, the coronavirus had spread to many parts of India. The number of cases started to double every five-six days. But for the BJP’s IT cell, which had until then been busy publicising US President Donald Trump’s rally and India becoming a ‘Vishwa Guru’, the pandemic was still a conspiracy by other countries. Until the Modi government announced a complete lockdown, the IT cell continued to mislead the public. It is quite possible that due to this propaganda, people also became casual and many stopped taking the situation seriously.
But it did not stop here. When Prime Minister Modi demanded a 14-hour Janata curfew and asked people to bang pots and pans, the IT cell spread the misinformation that the sound will dispel the threat of coronavirus. On Friday, when the PM asked the people to light diyas and candles “for nine minutes at 9 pm on Sunday”, the IT cell immediately started propagating the ‘scientific’ aspect of lighting diyas.
The exodus of labourers
Even the poor, working-class labourers weren’t spared. After PM Modi announced the national lockdown with only four hours’ notice, thousands of labourers began walking home from different cities, hungry and without public transportation, to their villages hundreds of kilometres away. The Modi government has repeatedly asserted that the workers were given wrong information “that the lockdown would continue for more than three months” due to which this exodus happened. But who gave them this wrong information? Apart from the IT cell, no one is connected to the public on such a massive scale.
The rumour about the Delhi government planning to disconnect power connection in houses of migrant labourers if they stayed in the city further panicked them.
Hitting the mother lode
And then came the Tablighi Jamaat. It was as if the BJP IT cell had struck gold. From the moment some coronavirus cases began to emerge among Muslims linked to Tablighi Jamaat, which had held a religious gathering in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz in mid-march, the IT cell went into overdrive to shame the community and put the blame entirely on them — as if each Muslim in India was responsible for the foolishness of a group. The IT cell had been relentlessly targeting Muslims, even accusing them of “deliberately” spreading the coronavirus. There is no consideration for administrative lapse or behaviours common to all religions; it’s all hate.
Indians are fighting against coronavirus and the BJP IT cell is fighting against Indians on top of everything else it does, such as engaging in vendetta politics and spreading the daily dose of hate against India’s minorities. What can be achieved with this attitude? It is obvious that the well-equipped IT cell with deep pockets hates any semblance of peace in the country. The IT cell must be disbanded after every election because that is the only time when the BJP may claim any need of this machinery.
Not to say it isn’t so during polls, but beyond elections, everything the IT cell does makes it a permanent threat to Indians’ peace and security.
Views are personal.