Citing 'Relief Work', Sambit Patra Fails to Appear Before Raipur Police in 'Toolkit' Case

An FIR was registered against the BJP spokesperson after he posted a 'toolkit' that was allegedly forged on a Congress letterhead.

New Delhi: The Union government recently registered its emphatic “objection” to Twitter for marking BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet containing screenshots of a purported Congress ‘toolkit” as “manipulated media”, citing that the microblogging platform had “prejudged” a matter which is pending investigation.

However, it appears that neither the Centre nor the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is making any credible effort to clear its books on the issue, which has had both the saffron party and the Congress gunning at each other.

On Sunday, Patra’s lawyer responded on behalf of the BJP spokesperson that he could not make himself available for questioning by the Raipur police, even via video conference. The Raipur police had summoned him to be present at 4 pm on Sunday, either in person or through a video conference.

Advocate Apoorv Kurup wrote to the Raipur police that Patra received the summons on Sunday morning but expressed his inability to attend the session as he was engaged in relief efforts.

“You must appreciate that it is not at all reasonable to expect my client to appear pursuant to your notice in such a short time. Moreover, as my client is the National Spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party, he is currently in the midst of coordinating several critical relief responses, including the approaching cyclonic storm ‘Yaas’. This requires him to constantly and timely interact with the media and personnel in multiple states, so that the public is kept well-informed and adequate relief workers are undertaken,” Kurup wrote.

He also sought at least a week’s notice before Patra can appear for “such a video conference, along with any questions/queries that you may have”.

On May 19, a day after Patra had posted the contested tweet, the Raipur police had registered an FIR against former Chhattisgarh chief minister and current national vice-president of BJP Raman Singh, Patra, and others on the complaint of Akash Sharma, president of the Chhattisgarh chapter of the Congress’s student’s wing, the National Students Union of India (NSUI).

From left to right: Union minister for urban development Hardeep Singh Puri, BJP president J.P. Nadda, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, Union minister Smriti Irani. All of these senior BJP leaders were among those who shared a purported Congress document that the party says is a forgery, a claim Twitter appeared to endorse by adding a health warning to Patra’s tweet.

The complaint alleged that Singh, Patra, and other top BJP leaders, including party president J.P. Nadda and general secretary B.L. Santosh, had forged the Congress’s letterhead to share fabricated content to spread communal violence, hate, and fake news to divert attention away from Narendra Modi government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

As a result, the Raipur police had invoked sections 188 (disobeying public order), 469 (non-bailable offence of forgery with an intent to harm reputation), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace), 505 (1) (b) and 505 (1) (c) (related to rumour-mongering with an intent to cause alarm and incite a particular community).

The “toolkit” matter had snowballed when the fact-checking website AltNews published a long report establishing that the document which many BJP leaders had shared on their social media handles to claim that the Congress had prepared a set of directives for its workers to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the pandemic was in fact fake. It showed that the Congress letterhead on which the so-called toolkit was prepared was digitally manipulated.

The purported Congress toolkit carried a range of directives – from synonymously using a strain of the coronavirus with “Modi strain” to singularly blame the pilgrims who attended the Kumbh Mela for being “super-spreaders”, and absolve those who attended Eid gatherings. The BJP spokesperson Patra also used the opportunity to also allege that the Congress blocked hospital beds for its beneficiaries and that the grand old party’s widely-appreciated endeavour to respond to emergency calls were merely a public relations exercise.

The Congress immediately disassociated itself from the purported ‘toolkit’ and accused the BJP of forging its letterhead to divert attention away from the Centre’s failure to keep the second wave of COVID-19 under control. It went on to file an FIR at New Delhi’s Tughlak Road police station, but the Delhi police is yet to respond on the matter. Meanwhile, the Raipur police also filed another case on the complaint of Sharma, and subsequently made the first complainants Rajeev Gowda, head of the Congress research team, and Rohan Gupta, chief of the party’s social media team, as co-complainants.

Patra’s response to the police summons is curious as the BJP spokesperson hasn’t made his relief initiatives public yet. Patra is known to be a really active social media user but in none of his social media posts or television appearances after his tweet was tagged as “manipulated media” by Twitter, he spoke about any such engagement.

On the contrary, he has defended his tweet by claiming that he has the original copy of the ‘toolkit’ and can prove that it was indeed prepared by one Congress associate Saumya Verma. His less than enthusiastic response to the Raipur police at a time when he could have shared the document to hasten the probe, and absolve himself and his party from charges of sharing fake news, may come as a shot in the arm for the opposition parties, which would see Patra’s reply as only a delaying tactic.