A desperate attempt is underway to change the narrative over the death of scores of children.
After 70 infants lost their lives within a couple of days at the BRD Medical College in Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath’s constituency, the right-wing twitteratti is in overdrive to prove the yogi’s innocence and reveal the “#TruthOfGorakhpur”.
In an attempt to change the narrative, hundreds of Twitter handles actively started defending the CM, who is under attack for lack of action against those responsible for the tragedy, by tweeting an identical ‘set of facts’ around 8pm on Sunday.
Gorakhpur is the parliamentary constituencyAdityanath represented for all the years he was a member of parliament.
Twitter user @Samjawed65 was the first to point this out. In a series of tweets, she showed how these handles were trying hijack the conversation on the social media platform.
— SamSays (@samjawed65) August 13, 2017
Apart from the usual tweets berating the ‘Lutyens media’ for being unfair to Adityanath, these handles also resorted to whataboutery, one of the right-wing’s favourite tactics, and tweeted an identical text claiming that similar deaths took place during Akhilesh Yadav’s reign in 2014 and 2016.
Unlike previous campaigns, there seems to be some sort of change in the modus operandi as instead of circulating instructions to these paid handles privately via WhatsApp – the medium preferred by social media handlers and PR agencies that run similar campaigns for brands – the template for this mission was openly shared by BJP IT Cell member Yogesh Malik on Facebook and Twitter at 7:14pm on Sunday.
— Trendinalia India (@trendinaliaIN) August 13, 2017
The brief, comprising of sample tweets slamming the mainstream media and Opposition, statistics showing the supposed efficiency of the Adityanath government, and screenshots of anti-BJP tweets by journalists, also included a link to an article published by Rightlog.in, a right-wing website run by Atul Kumar Mishra.
All these ‘facts’ mentioned in the brief are sourced from an article written by Nitiksh Srivastava, an analyst at HSBC Bank in Canada.
Srivastava not only gave Adityanath a clean chit but also claimed, in the oddest set of non-sequiturs, that the “the longest railway platform in the world is now in Gorakhpur, Premchand started his writing career in Gorakhpur and Geeta Press, the world’s largest publisher of Hindu religious text, was also started there.”
One of the first people to share this story with the #TruthOfGorakhpur hashtag was RSS swayamsevak Gaurav Singhal.
Ram Nath Kovind, current governor of Bihar. Dalit and highly educated and learned person. From RSS background
— Nitiksh Srivastava (@zanny_1985) June 2, 2016
It wasn’t just the garden-variety trolls who had been put to work on Sunday evening by their handlers, Twitter influencers followed by Narendra Modi, ministers Piyush Goyal and Nirmala Sitharaman were also busy burning the midnight oil:
Wondering why the prime minister follows handles that are part of propaganda machineries? In February, The Wire‘s editor-at-large Raghu Karnad conducted an experiment by following the same accounts as Narendra Modi and found out that the PM’s personal Twitter feed is filled with rancour and distortion.
This isn’t the only instance of right-wing fake news websites being used to change the narrative in the aftermath of the Gorakhpur incident.
Real hero sacked
Faced with backlash from the opposition and a small section of the media, Adityanath on Saturday sacked Dr. Kafeel Khan, who many hailed as a hero, as nodal officer for the department of pediatrics of Baba Raghav Das Medical College.
The mission to malign Dr. Khan started when an article titled ‘Gorakhpur Tragedy!!! Dr.Kafeel Khan- Hero Or The Villain?’ was published by PostCard.News, a Right wing website infamous for circulating fake news, hours before the doctor was sacked.
The article, that has been shared over 2000 times, claims that Dr.Khan “wants to throw CM Adityanath out and wants Akhilesh back as the CM” and the “entire saga was planned to overthrow BJP government in UP”.
Muslim heroism obviously does not sit well with the Hindutva advocates. After the Amarnath terrorist attack, crude attempts were made to deny the role the Muslim bus driver, Salim Shaikh, played in saving the lives of the remaining passengers with some fake news sites even suggesting he might have been hand in glove with the attackers.
Since his appointment as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the right-wing PR machinery and certain sections of the media have been trying hard to give Adityanath an image makeover. Earlier this year, these websites tried to pass off a medical college admission policy initiated by the Akhilesh Yadav government as an “anti-corruption move” by Adityanath. Later in March, Times Now spent hours trying to normalise anti-the Romeo squads.
The channel’s senior editor, Navika Kumar, faced a lot of flak recently when she slammed a panelist for “running away from the real issue” and seeking to discuss the death of children in the Gorakhpur tragedy.
— Kapil (@kapsology) August 12, 2017
The “real issue”, according to her, was the UP government’s diktat for madrasas to host cultural events on Independence Day and for the singing of ‘Vande Mataram’ as a test of patriotism.
Losing our moral compass
— Shivshankar Menon (@ShivshankaMenon) August 13, 2017
“Losing our moral compass”, Shivshankar Menon tweeted, one of the few times the former national security adviser has spoken about domestic issues.