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India: The right wing’s use of rumour and fake news precedes social media and the current political resurgence | Akshaya Mukul

17 July 2017

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The Hindu

The charge of the right brigade

The right wing’s use of rumour and fake news precedes social media and the current political resurgence

I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew):

Their names are What and Why

and When

And How and Where and Who.

I send them over land and sea,

I send them east and west;

But after they have worked for me

I give them all a rest.

Rudyard Kipling’s six honest serving-men would have been a disillusioned lot now, hunting not for news but busy correcting fake news, lamenting how the sacred 5Ws and one H that ran through the veins of all news have been sacrificed at the altar of hate politics. Now, news is created without them. Its practitioners are not the professional journalists but a fast-growing tribe of politicians and peddlers of hate, mostly among the right-wing establishment who, with a fake Twitter handle, use altered news, pictures and videos to alter the truth.

Rosenthal’s iconic Iwo Jima picture is photoshopped with a tricolour, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s spokesperson goes to TV studios celebrating a surgical strike and an actor and BJP MP relies on an interview in Pakistani media that writer Arundhati Roy never gave but wants her to be tied to an army jeep in Kashmir. Someone else attacks A.R. Rahman that gets retweeted by a Central minister and later, thankfully, deleted. Pictures of the Gujarat violence are being used for the BJP’s Bengal project. The list of achievements of this regime that floods our WhatsApp is staggering. Thanks to a section of social media samaritans, the BJP’s bluff gets called these days. But this is how it has always been. The right wing’s tryst with rumour and fake news precedes social media and the current political resurgence. It is integral to the macho nationalism and their contested past.

Echo from the past

In their pantheon of fake news, nothing beats a pamphlet of 1946 that emanated from Bengal and soon spread through the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) and even Maharashtra. The Bang Kanya Ki Marmasparshi Appeal (A Heart-Rending Appeal from a Bengali girl) was a graphic account of a Hindu lady from Noakhali allegedly raped by Muslims in front of her father, father-in-law and children. More than 71 years, later it still makes a chilling read as the lady of the pamphlet makes a fervent appeal to the Shankaracharyas and asks them what happened to their dharma and berates her Hindu brothers for not having blood hot enough to boil on the travails of their sister.

The colonial administration of Bengal and the United Provinces could never find who the lady was or the source of the publication. What got discovered was the choreography among the Hindu Mahasabha, Gita Press and other organisations in publishing and disseminating the pamphlet with the goal of fomenting communal trouble.

The pamphlet made an innocuous appearance in the Malaviya Ank of Kalyan (the monthly journal of Gita Press) in 1946. It was a special issue of Kalyan in honour of Madan Mohan Malaviya. Kalyan’s circulation of over two lakh a month and a charged atmosphere did the trick. The pamphlet became the talk of the province. By the time the provincial government could be alerted, thousands of pamphlets were discovered by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to have been published and printed at Allahabad by the secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, Prayag. The CID told the provincial administration that the pamphlet “appeals to Hindus and specially to Hindu women to counter the Muslim tyranny with the sword.”

The CID was in favour of proscribing that issue of Kalyan . F.R. Stockwell of the CID told Home Secretary Rajeshwar Dayal that “Kalyan has a very wide circulation in India and the effect of the article mentioned may be extremely bad.” Averse to taking any stern action, Dayal came up with a middle-of-the road solution. Admitting that the implications of the article could be “unfortunate”, he also said it was “profitless to take any action in respect of the October issue which is already in circulation.” The district magistrate of Gorakhpur was asked to warn the editor, Hanuman Prasad Poddar, to refrain from “future publication of such incitory matter…”

But the fake news had assumed a life of its own, throwing the police and the CID into a tizzy. Soon, 4,000 more copies of the pamphlet were discovered printed by Kailash Press under the aegis of the Hindu Mahasabha and also by Central Press, Allahabad. Stockwell renewed the demand for proscribing Kalyan and even imposing a big fine. He had the support of Allahabad Collector T.B. Crossley but Dayal was being cautious, or maybe soft. Meanwhile, Kalyan — the journal of bhakti (devotion), gyan (knowledge) and vairagya (asceticism) — continued to spew venom, listing out incidents of Muslim excesses of rape and arson in subsequent issues. In December 1946, Poddar admitted that many of the incidents of violence mentioned in his November article did not take place. But Dayal was in a forgiving mood and did not even take a note of Poddar’s admission.

Fake pamphlet news had become real now. G.C. Drewe, Home Secretary of the Bombay government, found the pamphlet published in Mahratta of Poona in December 1946. He proposed to take action against Mahratta under the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931. But he was limited by the fact that the United Provinces government had taken no action. Dayal did not budge. But the news of the pamphlet had become real by now with many publications reporting on it.

The biggest irony was yet to take place. Raghavacharya Swami of the Ramanuj Sampraday took up the cudgels on behalf of Gita Press and others and petitioned the governor of the United Provinces saying that proscribing Kalyan was nothing but “encroachment of the liberty of expression of opinion”. Four months before Independence, the pamphlet was distributed again in Gwalior. But now it was about the freedom of the Fourth Estate. Fake news had won.

Akshaya Mukul is a researcher and the author of ‘Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India’


The above article from The Hindu is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use