Whatsapp forwards create the impression that the truth is something other than what the mainstream media is presenting.
The flight of diamond businessmen Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi from the country has hit the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi running a government that does not tolerate corruption. It has also fuelled opposition attacks, media scrutiny and a million memes on social media.
But there’s a parallel Whatsapp universe, where the Modi government magically looks good on this issue. This alternative universe has a distinct deja vu feel to it: somehow, it’s like you’re back in 2013, when all the scams were caused by the Congress-led government.
A perception crisis as big as Nirav-gate can potentially hurt the government’s image even among its own supporters. At a time like this, the peer-to-peer medium and the best friend of fake news, Whatsapp, is coming to the government’s rescue. It creates the impression that the truth is something other than what the mainstream media is presenting.
Here are some examples:
1. One meme credited to a website called “TheIndiaEye” says the opponents of demonetisation have received a karara jawab (strong reply). It quotes a Hindi newspaper as saying it was thanks to demonetisation that Nirav Modi’s bank fraud was exposed. “Now you know why all the thieves and the corrupt were crying hoarse over demonetisation,” it says in Hindi. At the bottom of the meme are images of leaders from the opposition.
2. Another one from “TheIndiaEye” has a then-and-now comparison between the Manmohan and Modi regimes. The Nirav Modi scam, it says, was taking place when Manmohan Singh, the great economist, was prime minister. But the scam was exposed when Narendra Modi, a chaiwala, became prime minister.
This is contrary to the photograph of Nirav Modi being seen with prime minister Modi in Davos, or how the scam continued until recently, or how the businessman managed to escape the country under the Modi government’s watch.
3. An obviously fake cheque suggests Nirav Modi made a donation of Rs 98 crore to the Congress party in 2011.
4. An emotionally charged video, with a voice speaking in Hindi in the background, names various industrial groups and claims the Modi government’s recovery of loans from all of them is forcing them to sell their assets. News channels, it claims, won’t show you this “breaking news”.
5. Another meme questions how the Manmohan Singh regime gave loans to Nirav Modi when he’s a British citizen, his brother is a Belgian citizen, and his wife an American. It concludes that Sonia Gandhi looted the country after having installed a dummy prime minister.
The meme claims that Nirav Modi did not commit any fraud after 2014. If Nirav Modi was a Belgian citizen, how does the Modi government claim to have cancelled his passport?
6. “You may not know,” says a message in Hindi, “but the stunning news is that 5,200 bank employees have been arrested since 2014. One bank employee gets arrested every four hours. No corrupt person will be spared under the Modi government. Every penny will have to be accounted for.” Obviously, no such large scale arrests of bank employees have taken place.
7. Another visual meme, complete with the Congress’s election symbol, lists large loans “given by Congress government in 2004-2013, all NPA now” and claims that the BJP government is cleaning up the Congress’ mess by recovering these loans. The beneficiaries include Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya. This meme is credited to a web platform called “Modinama”.
8. A list of 14 questions in English seeks to shift the blame for Nirav Modi fraud to the opposition. Did Nirav Modi speak to Robert Vadra on the phone before fleeing the country? Did a Congress-friendly businessman (names redacted) deposit Rs 48 crore in the Swiss bank account number 35833342181 that belongs to Nirav’s aide? If yes, why? Did ‘Raul Vinci’ meet Nirav Modi during his 2016 trips to London and Bangkok? There’s even an accusatory question for Raghuram Rajan.
9. A text-heavy photo meme lists of 14 industrial groups who were allegedly “given” loans by the Congress government – as though getting a bank loan itself is a crime. The meme alleges that all these industrial groups are run by friends of the Congress party.
It requests all “Modi bhakts” to widely share the meme to expose the Congress party.
“It is to hide its own crime that the Congress party’s yuvraj (Rahul Gandhi) is screaming on the top of his voice that all the nation’s wealth is in the hands of a few industrialists who are being saved.”
10. An old fake news item that claims the BBC declared the Congress as the world’s fourth most corrupt party. The BBC never made any such declaration.
Shivam Vij is a political commentator based in New Delhi.