JNU has been a hotbed of student politics and bastion of the Left-leaning intellectuals since it was founded in late 1960s. For decades now, it has been the only Indian institution, apart from the IITs and IIMs, that has been able to maintain its reputation at the international level.
When Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, it was expected from some quarters that there will be a clampdown on Left-leaning institutions like the JNU. But still there was a majority who believed that now that he has been elected he would indeed act like a statesman and rise above petty politics to become a true leader. While most of his first year was spent globetrotting, the HRD minister Smriti Irani, whose education is itself under a lot of scrutiny and questioning, left no stone unturned to make sure that she does not end up being a student favorite, especially those perusing higher education.
Be it the Ambedkar Periyar Student Circle (APSC) case of IIT Chennai or FTII, Pune incident or the tragic death of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, the central government and HRD ministry’s role has been marred with controversies. It has been at odds with the student community, especially those with a leftist bend of mind or from the minority and other deprived communities. And then JNU happened.
On February 12, Kanhaiya Kumar, president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNUSU) was arrested by the Delhi police and the next day slapped with sedition following complaints by BJP MP, East Delhi, and close associate of Art Of Living chief Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Maheish Girri.
The sedition charge was filed as Kanhaiya allegedly made anti-national remarks at a JNU rally on February 9, which was organised by some students against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. On February 15, two news channels aired footages claimed to have been recorded at the JNU campus on February 11 in which Kanhaiya was shown shouting anti-India slogans. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra showed the same video on another channel during a debate.
Any person with an iota of love for the motherland would for sure be infuriated by the video and so it happened. Kanhaiya was roughed up by lawyers in the high court premises amidst high security. In another incident, mediapersons, including women, were beaten up and their mobile phones smashed by rampaging lawyers. One of the three BJP MLAs in Delhi, OP Sharma, was recorded beating up CPI leader Ameeque Jamei on camera. All this in the heart of India’s capital city.
The source of this entire outrage was the video aired by the two media channels and showed by Patra on another channel. On social media, BJP’s official IT team was leaving no stone unturned to make sure that the video reached far and wide. The verified account of their national IT and social media in-charge tweeted out the video in which he claimed that “Kanhaiya Kumar leading the seditious JNU student group along with comrade Umar Khalid.”
Kanhaiya Kumar leading the seditious JNU student group along with comrade Umar Khalid.. https://t.co/bpafG0VndS #OhSoInnocent— Amit Malviya (@malviyamit) February 18, 2016
However, two more media channels challenged the authenticity of the video within half an hour of it being aired and it was pretty evident that the video was doctored. Despite that the Delhi police has made the videos the base of the sedition charges instead of taking any statement from the policemen who were posted in plain clothes to cover the JNU protests.
The bigger question however is, who morphed the video and were the people propagating the video actually fooled by it or doing it on purpose.
It has been six years since I became a social media activist and having led the Aam Aadmi Party social media and IT team since its inception, I have come face to face with the BJP IT cell thrice in elections. In the two Assembly elections, we came out on top and in the Lok Sabha they beat us. However, with this experience I have also gained insight of how the BJP’s official and unofficial teams function.
Many of you might have forgotten Muzaffarnagar, but if you do some research, you will come across news articles in which the use of WhatsApp as a propagation medium for hate videos has been documented. Similarly, in the recent Dadri killing, the accused accepted that they received messages via WhatsApp that a cow had been culled by a Muslim for consumption and the killing was an act triggered by the messages.
This is a pattern. A doctored or unrelated and most of the times granular or pixelated video is put out of context to suit the political needs, a message is propagated via Whatsapp groups and broadcast channels with the hook "SHARE IF YOU ARE A REAL HINDU" and somehow it ends up inciting violence or as a mainstream media article thus providing more credibility to the hoax.
The people who make these doctored videos go viral have mastered this art of deception over the years. They know how to package a content so that it incites people, fuels a false feeling of nationalistic pride in them and at the end of the day, makes them pawns in the game.
As AAP we were able to counter this in the political scenario as we were in a comparatively better connected and aware constituency. But in a place like Uttar Pradesh or Haryana, where the religion and caste divide already runs deep, and where the constituents are not very literate, such videos can cause mass panic and havoc.
The challenge needs to be accepted and answered by theeducated and especially the government authorities and journalists. In the recent incident where Delhi Police tweeted using Twitter screenshot of an unverified account of JUD Chief Hafeez Saeed, the Delhi police gave the account and its content much more publicity than the actual tweet would have ever got.
ALERT!@MumbaiPolice @KolkataPolice @hydcitypolice @CPBlr @CPMumbaiPolice @TelanganaDGP @BlrCityPolice @ANI_news pic.twitter.com/DIFWKrGZME— Delhi Police (@DelhiPolice) February 12, 2016
Similarly, the morphed video was picked up by mainstream media channels and thus reached to audiences it would otherwise never have reached.
As I said, the challenge is upon us. It depends on us whether we can take a call of what NOT to share and how much to rely on information received via Whatsapp and other unverified sources.
The current government departments, especially the law enforcement agencies and the media need to earn this. The sooner they learn, the better they will be able to thwart this threat to India.
Last night, when senior journalist Ravish Kumar turned the screen dark and said that, “TV is not doing the work of TV,” he was not exaggerating. He was just stating a fact which most people are shy of accepting.
The bigger challenge right now is to tame the Digital Monster and make sure that technology is used for constructive purposes and not to break the society. Hope some of you will not just like and share this article but also act!