‘We’ll do what we do to save our religion’: Meet the people running Karnataka BJP’s incendiary Twitter handle
Kapil Kajal | Feb 27, 2020 | 8 min read
It is not uncommon for BJP leaders, party workers and other right-wingers to browbeat detractors by trolling them into silence. However, the troll game hit a new low when Twitter had to block Karnataka BJP’s official Twitter handle after words like “Jihadi” were used against a senior journalist known for her criticism of the Narendra Modi government.
On February 8, election day in Delhi, BJP Karnataka Twitter handle posted a video in which Muslim women were seen holding their voter identity cards and showing it to the camera while waiting for their turn to vote.
“‘Kaagaz Nahi Dikayenge Hum’" !!! Keep the documents safe, you will need to show them again during #NPR exercise,” BJP Karnataka said in the tweet.
Renowned journalist and author Rana Ayyub replied to this tweet saying, “This is the official handle of the ruling party of India with a direct threat to Muslims. Does the world need any more proof of Narendra Modi's agenda to reduce Muslims as second class citizens. So many of us have been accused of misplaced paranoia. The threat is at our doorstep.”
To this, BJP Karnataka Twitter handle replied, “Relax, Miss Journalist? Since when did asking people to keep their documents safe become Threat? Issuing threats is a norm in your Jihadi World, not in our Hindutva Bharat. Muslims may be second class Citizens for you, but for PM Modi they are Indians. Bharat Mata Ki Jai.”
Later on, this tweet was removed by the party and Twitter blocked the social media handle for 24 hours. After it was restored, the BJP Karnataka Twitter handle posted, “Dear Friends, It is unfortunate that Our Handle was locked out by Twitter for speaking the truth about Liberals. We will not step back in our efforts to bring out the truth in the public domain. A BIG THANKS for Your support and encouragement. SATYAMEVA JAYATE ! Jai Hind”.
We show facts: BJP
Karnataka’s BJP IT cell head Vinod Krishnamurthy blames the “Left-liberals” for the ban by Twitter.
“The Left-liberals, as well as the Congress, are plotting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC), etc. They are trying to give a false narrative and we were breaking it down with facts,” Krishnamurthy, also the state vice-president, BJP Yuva Morcha, told Newslaundry.
Taking responsibility for all the tweets posted on the BJP Karnataka Twitter handle, he said he has a team that posts tweets for the party but not without his approval.
When asked about the Rana Ayyub controversy, Krishnamurthy said that since many Left-liberals were creating a “false narrative” of “Kagaz nahi dikhaenge” during Delhi elections, their tweet wanted to show that people had identity cards in their hands.
When asked about the propriety of using words like “jihadi”, he said, “I am not using that word for protestors, I am talking about Rana Ayyub. Why should she create an anti-national narrative! This thing is not meant for that, why she created a different narrative!”
The BJP leader also made it clear that he is against life and sexual threats to those who post messages against the party. “We are not involved in any of such things and we are not even aware that these things happen. We never take a stand that way. If any individual is doing it, we do not know who is doing it. I am not aware of this thing. But doing this is wrong.”
The Rana Ayyub episode wasn’t the first time the BJP Karnataka handle posted something controversial. On January 31, BJP Karnataka tweeted that the gunman who had fired at anti-CAA protestors outside the gate of Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi was a “reaction” of the Sharjeel Imam’s speech. The tweet was, however, deleted later on.
Who dictates BJP’s IT cell?
Kamran Shahid, an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) social media handler in Bengaluru who claims to have worked with the BJP Karnataka IT cell volunteers closely, explains that the BJP’s IT cell is organised and systematic but the volunteers do not apply their mind as they just follow what is being ordered to them.
“I know some BJP IT cell volunteers whose main job is just to circulate the posts and not write them. The heads of IT cells write these posts,” Shahid said, adding that the “narrative” comes from the top.
“They know what to do and what not. They posted on BJP Karnataka Twitter only because they can not post these things on BJP Delhi or India Twitter handle as the Election Commission is strict during elections,” he added.
A BJP Yuva Morcha volunteer who left studies after completing his school to work with the IT cell in Karnataka alleges that journalists show their biases when they talk about the rights of Muslims and not Hindus and that too in a country where the Hindus are in the majority. “We will do it to save our religion and remove the hypocrisy and biases of journalists. The ‘jihad’ word is used there because she is a jihadi. What is wrong in that! Truth is truth and no one can deny that. Secularism is the biggest threat to our nation,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
A study by the German Institute of Global and Area Studies concluded that ideological/religious polarisation and suppression of opposition are among the major tactics used by BJP’s IT cell. Their offensive against journalists, academics, and critics of the BJP and the RSS was scaled up systematically since 2014.
Likewise, research by Yale University revealed that the BJP saw a 0.8 percentage point increase in their vote share following polarisation of the electorate induced by riots prior to an election and India would have faced 10% more riots and thousands of more riot casualties prior to a defeat of a Congress leader.
Recently, NDTV Managing Editor Ravish Kumar—known for his anti-establishment views—became the unsuspecting subject of the BJP’s jibes. A photograph of a burqa-clad woman, who had half her face covered, at Shaheen Bagh was widely circulated as a photograph of Kumar-in-disguise at the anti-CAA protest.
[Link to one tweet]
Ravish debunked the conspiracy theory in a lengthy Instagram post. Fact-checking website Boomlive too termed the BJP's claim fake and misleading.
Senior journalist and author Paranjoy Guha Thakurta opines that the BJP has used social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to spread hatred, half-truths, untruths and falsehoods to polarise the country across religious lines. He said it is unfortunate that people who spread hatred are being followed by the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament (MPs) on Twitter.
“The so-called WhatsApp army of the right-wing ruling regime has been weaponised to influence the outcomes of voting,” he said. “They want to influence the minds of young people and all kind of people to promote what they called their Hindutva agenda. They want a Hindu Rashtra and that is their aim. They also spread hate against Muslims to balance the main purpose. Also, they want to whitewash the image of the BJP and criticise its political opponents,” he added.
Hate tweets are dangerous
A study by the social media portal Reddit had identified the number of accounts that served as sources of misinformation and propaganda. While 17,779 pro-BJP accounts were identified, the number for Congress stood at 147, according to a report in The Print.
Political psychologist Pavan Choudary said hate speeches or tweets have dangerous consequences. “Hate speech or tweets will say such and such people are bad. For example, the word vermin was used again and again for Jews till the people started believing that is true. When you think some community is just like vermins, or insects, then you are not hesitant to stomp on them. This kind of stereotyping is done through hate speeches or tweets which targets your unjustified anger, or excessive anger towards the community.”
Former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi, in the book I am a Troll by Swati Chaturvedi, argues that the funding limit for candidates and political parties should hold true for social media too. He believes even the content used by political parties in advertisements ought to be cleared by the Election Commission (EC) to ensure that no sections of the Indian Penal code, including communal incitement and Section 150 (hiring, or conniving at hiring, of persons to join unlawful assembly), are violated.
With real-time campaigns being carried out on social media, the EC, according to Dr Quraishi, is incapable of monitoring hate content or incitement. Anonymity on Twitter gives a further fillip to such incendiary content, giving political parties the shield of deniability, the book states.