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Communalism

Bihar Man Who Spread 'Migrants Tortured in TN' Disinfo Is Now BJP's 'Caste Politics' Poster Child

Political weaponisation of fake news and hate speech via ‘viral’ videos helped in pushing a polarising narrative in Bihar. Only one side stood to benefit.

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has spent the last few months fending off demands for a caste census from the ruling coalition of Bihar, seems to have found the antidote to its problem in the form of Manish Kashyap. Kashyap has now been charged under the National Security Act by Tamil Nadu.

Kashyap is the ‘citizen journalist’ from Bihar who, in the first week of March, 2023, had made and uploaded fake news videos that showed migrant workers from Bihar being ‘attacked’ in Tamil Nadu.

Since his arrest on March 13, 2023, the BJP has been playing him as a martyr of caste politics, alleging that he was targeted because he is from the Bhumihar caste – a land-owning class in Bihar. The Bhumihars have always opposed Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which focuses on the upliftment of ‘lower’ castes and Other Backward Classes (OBC). The RJD is part of the Mahagathbandhan or grand alliance in Bihar today. 

On March 23, Brahmin and Bhumihar groups in Bihar called a bandh to protest against Kashyap’s arrest.

Earlier, on March 15, in an interview to Kashyap’s YouTube channel, Vijay Kumar Sinha, the BJP leader of the opposition in Bihar, had said: “The elder brother (Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United), the chief minister of Bihar) and the younger brother (Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu Yadav’s son and the deputy chief minister of the state) had taken an oath that they will create a casteless society and a corruption free society. They are sitting in the lap of corrupt people and using the wave of caste poison to affect Bihar. They are persecuting Manish Kashyap for being a Bhumihar. You should remember that this community (the Bhumihars) led to the downfall of your jungle raj.”

The Kashyap strategy

According to Neel Madhav, an independent journalist and researcher who writes on politics and the media, the Manish Kashyap case has given the BJP the perfect opportunity to take on the Mahagathbandhan at a time when the party has been put on the backfoot in Bihar.

Traditionally, the Bhumihars have voted BJP and though they constitute just about 4% of the state’s population, they wield enormous influence and can even persuade other communities on which way to vote, said Madhav. 

Last year, however, when the Mahagathbandhan took power after Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) quit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and joined the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan, Tejashwi Yadav had announced that the coalition’s policy now included every caste and class, including the Bhumihars.

This caught the BJP off guard, because for several years, the saffron party has not had a senior Bhumihar leader in the state, according to Madhav. At the same time, the Mahagathbandhan began vociferously demanding a caste census, which the BJP found difficult to counter.

Also read: Why the BJP Is Afraid of a Caste Census

In these circumstances, using Manish Kashyap’s arrest as an example of the high-handedness of the RJD towards the forward castes makes an excellent strategy for the BJP, explained Madhav. Those Bhumihars who might have been interested in the Mahagathbandhan after Tejashwi Yadav’s announcement will now be drawn back to the BJP, while those who thought that a caste census would be bad news for ‘upper’ castes will have that belief confirmed. 

“To hike ‘upper’ caste insecurities, the BJP needs to find ‘upper’ caste martyrs,” Madhav said. “Manish Kashyap makes the perfect martyr – he is the common man who fights bad politicians. Kashyap’s case can also be used to sway ‘upper’ castes outside Bihar, including Brahmins, to show that the jungle raj, as the RJD governments were often called by their opponents, is still present in the state.”

That Kashyap’s personal interests seem to be aligned with BJP policies makes the saffron party’s task of portraying him as an ‘upper’ caste victim easier.

When Kashyap released one of his fake videos on Bihari labourers in Tamil Nadu, he had accompanied it with a tweet about the caste census.

“Tejashwi Yadav ji, remove the spectacles and look at this photo, there are wounds on the faces of the labourers and the mobile number of the media who did the recording is also there. Talk once and see who knows you are lying and the labourers are really troubled in Tamil Nadu. At the same time, let’s talk about caste census, then once you ask these people about their caste, you will get some peace of mind,” he wrote in Hindi on Twitter.

The YouTuber is also aligned with the BJP’s communal narrative – many of the videos he makes as a citizen journalist are anti-minorities – and, like the BJP, he appears to oppose the RJD. He has frequently accused Lalu Yadav’s party of being led by corrupt dynasts and complained that Bihar is being ruled by uneducated people.

Also read: On the Lookout For an Emotive Issue Ahead of LS Polls, BJP Suffers a Setback in Bihar

A criminal background

In portraying Kashyap as a victim of caste politics, however, the BJP appears to have forgotten the YouTuber’s criminal background and history of violence. 

Kashyap has no less than nine criminal cases against him: three in the fake news video matter, one in the matter of an attack on Kashmiri shawl vendors in 2019, and others in matters of cheating, forgery, wrongful confinement, rioting, assault, trespass, criminal conspiracy, issuing threats and causing grievous hurt. 

He has also been charged under the National Security Act by the Tamil Nadu police for the recent fake videos matter. 

Born on March 9, 1991, Kashyap, whose real name is Tripurari Kumar Tiwari, hails from Bihar’s Champaran district. He completed a civil engineering course in 2016. 

Before he rebranded himself as “the son of Bihar” – a ‘citizen journalist’ fighting corruption and raising local issues – Kashyap was associated with the Hindu Putra Sangathan, a Hindutva outfit accused several times of anti-Muslim violence and with numerous cases against it in Patna and Hajipur. The Hindu Putra Sangathan was one of 18 organisations whose details were sought by the Bihar Police Special Branch in May 2019. 

In 2019, Kashyap was accused of attacking Kashmiri shawl vendors in Patna’s Lhasa market following the Pulwama terror attack. One Nagesh Samrat, a close aide of Kashyap and a prominent functionary of the Hindu Putra Sangathan, was also apprehended by the Patna police at the time. Two years later, Samrat’s name surfaced in connection with the violence against Citizenship (Amendment) Act protesters. In the violence, one Amir Hanzala was reportedly bludgeoned to death, allegedly by activists of the Hindu Putra group. 

Nagesh Samrat was also arrested in connection with the fake news storm in Tamil Nadu, according to Sushil Kumar, the superintendent of police at Bihar’s Economic Offences Unit. When the police took Manish Kashyap to court, the van in which Kashyap was transported was followed by Nagesh Samrat. Given Samrat’s proximity to Hindutva leaders, the police believe the idea of following the van to the court was perhaps to pressure the law enforcers. Kumar added that Kashyap had been in constant touch with Samrat when the videos went viral.

Militant against minorities

When Kashyap designated himself as a citizen journalist, it took him four years to establish himself. Now, however, he and his channel Sach Tak have a total of one crore followers across all social media platforms. The combined following on his six YouTube channels is close to seven million and he has over 40 lakh followers on Facebook. This is apart from the dozens of fan pages in his name.

A screengrab of the homepage of Manish Kashyap’s YouTube channel.

Before the alleged attack on Kashmiri migrants in Patna, Kashyap became famous for a viral meme video titled “G*** par goli maar denge”. In the video, Kashyap abuses and threatens Exide battery workshop employees for a faulty bike battery. In another viral video, this one against interfaith marriages, Kashyap repeatedly declares in a loud and angry tone, “Nahi honi chahiye (they should not happen).” Though he has made several videos on crimes against women, these videos almost always involve a Muslim perpetrator and a Hindu victim as can be seen from the names on the thumbnails.

In 2020, Kashyap contested elections as an independent candidate from Bihar’s Chanpatia assembly seat. When he lost the election, he began to focus his videos on local issues, aggressively shouting at local officials and voicing problems concerning people with little legal recourse and representation in mainstream media. This was when his follower counts went up.

His videos use a variety of comical and theatrical techniques. In one viral video, he catches an auto driver after a dramatic car chase and accuses him of rash driving. In another video, he follows an overloaded bus in Bihar and then shouts at the driver. In yet another video, he claims that he has stopped the actor Shah Rukh Khan from shooting a web series in Mumbai. 

Kashyap represents a militant brand of citizen journalists who become part of the story. Sometimes they even become the story. Many of his most viral videos have titles such as “Why did Manish get angry with X?”

The Wire trawled through several videos, interviews, tweets and posts on Kashyap’s channels and found that they are rife with abuse against minorities – his second favourite target after Bollywood. Old tweets on his verified Sach Tak account are filled with abuses and violent tropes regarding Muslim and Islam. The tweets mock Muslims as ‘puncturewalas’ and Islam as ‘a headache’. Some carry open threats against the minority community and politicians like Asaduddin Owaisi.

The anti-Bollywood ecosystem

The recent social media video wave in support of Manish Kashyap carries videos from the anti-Bollywood video ecosystem that often makes propaganda videos against the opposition and Muslims. In December 2022, The Caravan magazine carried a detailed report on this ecosystem, whose viral videos often disrupt news cycles in India. 

Kashyap had also made several videos on the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case and amplified conspiracy theories regarding the case. He was closely associated with the ‘Justice for SSR’ social media storm and featured in multiple videos with Nilotpal Mrinal, the man managing this campaign. In the same way that his fake videos of Bihari labourers in Tamil Nadu caused national tension, his videos on the Sushant Singh Rajput case stirred up enormous trouble in Mumbai. 

“From the initial probe, it seems that Rhea Chakraborty had taken wrongful control over Sushant Singh Rajput and was transferring his money in an illicit way into her account…She is this country’s biggest thief,” he says in one of the videos.

In a video in which he is asked about Rhea Chakraborty’s relationship with Mahesh Bhatt, Kashyap says, “If he is like a father figure to her, then I feel like shooting such a father.” He adds: “They didn’t kill her, that’s a big favour. Till now, she should have been finished.” 

Media personnel surround Bollywood actor Rhea Chakraborty as she arrives at NCB office for questioning, in Mumbai, September 6, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo

The YouTuber also participated in the ‘Boycott Pathaan’ campaign that targeted actor Shah Rukh Khan’s first new film since 2018, alleging that Pathaan defamed India and that it was funded by the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. 

One of his problems – a reasonable one – with Shah Rukh Khan and other Bollywood stars is that they promote tobacco products. But he presents this problem in a crass manner, saying things like he will “spit gutka on Shah Rukh’s face’ and make him lick it and say whether it tastes good. 

He also recorded a video outside Shah Rukh Khan’s house in Mumbai after the arrest of the actor’s son Aryan Khan, in which he says: “This is Mannat, where Shah Rukh Khan lives and in this house his elder son Aryan Khan also lived. Right now, he’s in jail. We have made him a star. Look, people come here to click photographs and feel as if they are in heaven. Now, tell me, a person whose son takes drugs and a son whose father tells you on TV that his son will grow up to be a womaniser and be involved in drug addiction … Who have we made a superstar?”

He then proceeds to lambast Shah Rukh Khan because the road outside his house is not clean.

In India, fake news and hateful rumours go viral all the time. These theatrical antics, lies and hateful utterances often violate all journalistic ethics. Kashyap’s recent propaganda videos were perhaps the breaking point for the authorities, since similar disinformation campaigns have sometimes resulted in multiple mob lynchings and large-scale riots in the past. Whether his ‘martyrdom’ will work in favour of the BJP, only time will tell.