It's an open question whether communal tensions in West Bengal worsened when one of Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) more active faces on social media tried to fan the fire with “fake” images. Nupur Sharma, a spokesperson for the ruling party, had tweeted a photo shot during the 2002 Gujarat riots (by Manish Swarup for the Associated Press) claiming that it was from West Bengal's Basirhat, where communal violence had ensued on July 3 over a supposedly derogatory post about Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.
Sharma — whose false claim was immediately busted on social media — had not deleted her tweet at the time of writing this piece. She used the image to urge the masses to “Save Bengal” and “Save Hindus” asking them to join in and protest against the rising lawlessness in West Bengal.
The original picture.
Communal repercussions or not, Nupur Sharma's tweet did have legal ramifications. According to ABP Ananda News, the Delhi Police on July 10 filed a non-bailable case against the BJP spokesperson for her tweet after a complaint was filed against her at Kolkata's Gariahat Police Station.
Sharma’s tweet wasn’t the only one to float a fake image on social media in the context of the Basirhat riots. The barrage of fake images included a screengrab of Aurat Khilona Nahi, a 2014 Bhojpuri film, that was being passed off as a scene from the lawless badlands of West Bengal.
That too has been tackled by the police. On July 8, the Kolkata Police arrested the 38-year-old man who had shared the image that he had claimed showed the reality of what was happening in North 24 Parganas.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP and national spokesperson for the party, Derek O’Brien has accused the BJP of "manufactur(ing) a communal conflagration" and drawing "votes in blood". “People react to the social media post and the state administration calms nerves. It is a challenging situation but hardly a crisis. What do the BJP and the RSS do? They pour gallons of oil in an attempt to enlarge the fire,” said O’Brien in a blog.
According to a Times Now report, the police is yet to take action against Sharma in the case.
The BJP spokesperson being booked for a tweet raises two very important questions: Should one be punished for a social media post asking to "save" a community? The draconian section 66A of the IT Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015. So how does Nupur Sharma's tweet qualify as a cognisable offence, especially when it does not directly instigate communal discord?
On the other hand, she is not only an influential public figure, but also the spokeperson of the ruling party. So, shouldn't both Sharma and BJP — the party she represents — be held accountable for what she posts on her social media feed?
Punishing her for pushing fake news or misrepresenting facts might prove to be a humbling exercise for the government at the Centre that has been time and again accused of peddling communal propaganda.