Was it inappropriate drafting or the firestorm of angry responses from Mumbaikars that led the prime minister to do what he has rarely done, delete a tweet?
New Delhi: In the eight years he has been on Twitter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tweeted as many as 16,722 times. One of those tweets – in which he expressed his condolences over the loss of life in the stampede at Mumbai’s Elphinstone Road station – has now been deleted but the reasons for this remain unclear.
While the cause of the accident that killed at least 22 people and wounded 36 on Friday is being investigated by the authorities, witnesses say the stampede took place after a cloudburst caught commuters off guard, leading to a huge buildup on the station’s pedestrian overbridge that was too narrow to accommodate the surging crowd.
“My deepest condolences to all those who have lost their lives due to the stampede in Mumbai. Prayers with those who are injured,” Modi had tweeted.
Apart from the poor draftsmanship – condolences are offered to the families of deceased persons and not to the dead themselves – the prime minister was slammed on Twitter for focussing on vanity projects like the bullet train and the Rs 3,600 crore-statue of Maratha ruler Shivaji. Sample these replies which Modi’s ‘condolence’ tweet elicited:
My Maharashtrian taxi driver has a msg for the govt, don’t spend crores on Shivaji statue Instead provide better infrastructure #Mumbai
— Rohit Khilnani (@rohitkhilnani) September 29, 2017
Mumbai City needs is basic infrastructure not a giant Shivaji Statue at Cost of Rs 3,600 of Taxpayers. No appeasement politics #elphinstone
— Manoj Kumar Sahu (@ManojSahuG) September 29, 2017
But govt’s priority is fancy bullet trains at the cost of lives of millions who commute in ordinary trains for their livelihood. Not safety. https://t.co/hvN6gPT9EL
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) September 29, 2017
Not enough to merely express regret! Firm action must and accountability to be fixed! https://t.co/LR810EimLC
— Saurabh Bhat (@SaurabhVBhat) September 29, 2017
— Vikas Mishra (@vikasmishraa) September 29, 2017
We only condemn & give condolences but what about the lives of the people who lost for no reason. Instead of improving old infrastructure. https://t.co/pv8Rx7g5cd
— DigiMonk (@_hyderali) September 29, 2017
— Nikhil Nair (@Nicky4Nair) September 29, 2017
Replying to an RTI question filed in 2015, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had claimed that Modi himself tweets and posts content on his personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. Presumably this means that he himself deletes content, which is why no one in the government or the BJP is able to say exactly why he got rid of condolences message.
It appears that Modi deleted his tweet sometime Saturday morning as it was last ‘quoted’ by Twitter user @DhirajDev at 9:39am on September 30, 2017.
Around the same time the newly-appointed railways minister Piyush Goyal was heading a meeting of top rail officials in Mumbai, after which he announced a slew of safety-related measures and blamed the UPA government for the accident.
Sharing decisions taken today in a high-level meeting on Railways Safety in Mumbai pic.twitter.com/8IQ1d9iKpF
— Piyush Goyal (@PiyushGoyal) September 30, 2017
“I am not giving an excuse, but problems in Indian Railways aren’t one or two years old, they were accumulated over years and were given to us in 2014 as inheritance,” Goyal told the media.
The Wire sent queries to Amit Malviya, BJP IT Cell head, Frank Noronha, principal spokesperson of the government and principal director general of Press Information Bureau, and Jagdish Thakkar, public relations officer (PRO) in the PMO, for comment.
While Thakkar and Malviya did not respond, Noronha said he was unaware of the reason why the prime minister had deleted his tweet and said he would get back on Monday. This story will be updated with any official response as and when The Wire receives one.
Two days after the tragedy, the BJP governments at the Centre and state continue to face flak for ignoring frantic warnings about the unsafe bridge by journalists and Mumbaikars:
— Varun Singh (@singhvarun) September 29, 2017
— bilal motorwala (@bilal_motorwala) January 14, 2016
— Srideep Datta (@srideepdatta) January 25, 2017
The Indian Railways replied to some of the tweets but in a templated response, which promised action.
Boomlive.in assembled a number of tweets that show how the public sought to make the railways aware of the fact that the Elphinstone-Parel overbridge was a ticking time bomb:
Meanwhile, Twitter also saw a lot of counter-propaganda seeking to assign blame for the tragic incident to anyone but the current government. One Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha spokesperson, Amrita Bhinder, blamed the victims, while the pro-BJP film director Vivek Agnihotri blamed the siphoning of “Bofors money … to Italy”:
Tragic stampede in Mumbai was preventable if only Bofors money wasn’t siphoned off to Italy. https://t.co/VZA8vMJx0T
— Vivek Agnihotri (@vivekagnihotri) September 30, 2017
Stampede at Elphinstone railway station leaves 60 injured, 22 dead
Stampede? People should take responsibility too! https://t.co/4IiV2vNrEu
— Amrita Bhinder (@amritabhinder) September 29, 2017
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) September 29, 2017
For whatever it’s worth, the Modi government did fix something about the over-crowded Elphinstone Road station recently. It renamed the station ‘Prabhadevi’ to get rid of its ‘colonial’ name. The station was earlier named after Lord Elphinstone, the governor of Bombay Presidency from 1853 to 1860.