New Delhi: The Hindu right-wing ecosystem – purportedly to help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam to influence the majority of Assamese voters on communal lines in the coming assembly polls – has been circulating on social media a morphed video of Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, the chief of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), to claim that he was prodding the Muslims of Assam to vote for him because he would then set up “an Islamic nation” with the help of the Congress and not leave “a single Hindu” without converting them to Islam.
The original speech of Ajmal – uploaded in 2019 on YouTube from a public speech – spoke exactly opposite of what the right-wing twitter handles had tried to establish in poll-bound Assam since March 9 evening.
Criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi in that speech in the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary polls, Ajmal had said, “The Mughals had ruled this Bharat Varsha for 800 years. It never dreamt of making it an Islamic nation. If that would have been their dream, perhaps not a single person in this country would have remained a Hindu. Everyone would have become a Muslim. Did they? No. It never tried, never dared to. Then came the British for 200 years. They too didn’t dare to make Bharat Varsha a Christian nation. Did they? No. In independent India, the Congress has run this country for 55 of the 70 years. From Nehru to Shastri, to Rajiv Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, Narasimha Rao, no Congress leader had dreamt of making Bharat Varsha a Hindu Rashtra. Modi ji, please don’t dream such a dream. Your dream will not be fulfilled….”
The doctored video was circulated on March 9 by Legal Rights Observatory (LRO), a wing of the sangh parivar, which claims to do “legal activism to safeguard Indian interest, human rights of armed forces and Hindu cause”. Its tweet had said, “Shocking, Badaruddin Ajmal threatens converting entire Assam into an Islam with the help of INCAssam (Congress a party it is in alliance with for the assembly polls) and INCIndia. Is Congress in SECRET understanding with Ajmal for Partition 2?” It also tagged the Election Commission of India (ECI) to “look into the issue and initiate action” against the AIUDF.
— Legal Rights Observatory- LRO (@LegalLro) March 9, 2021
The fake video was thereafter not only circulated by the right-wing ecosystem from across the country on twitter but was also run on March 10 without any verification by the Assamese news channels, including NewsLive, owned by the wife of BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma.
The Assamese news channel Dy365 later deleted the story from its site without an apology to its readers and ran both the original and the doctored versions on its channel.
Interestingly, the fake news was tweeted on March 10 morning by Deepak Chaurasia too, consulting editor of NewsNation TV. His tweet was thereafter quoted for nearly 350 times by the right-wing trolls to circulate the fake news. It was liked over 13,000 times and retweeted over 3,000 times, before he deleted it in the evening.
Reacting to the fake news on March 10, AIUDF MLA Hafiz Rafiqul Islam tweeted the original video and called out Assamese news channels – NewsLive and DY365 – and the “right-wing groups” for “clearly (circulating it) with a vested interest”.
Several media outlets including @NewsLiveGhy, @DY365 along with right wing groups have been sharing a doctored video of Honourable @BadruddinAjmal Sahab, clearly with a vested agenda. Here’s the original video from where parts are clipped to make the doctored one pic.twitter.com/DVck0wE4kD
— Dr Hafiz Rafiqul Islam (@HafizRafiqulMLA) March 10, 2021
Speaking to The Wire, an AIUDF senior member said, “We have already tagged the ECI about the circulating of the fake video aimed at influencing the elections. Our legal team is looking at taking further action.”
In a hurriedly called press meet at Hojai on March 10, Ajmal said LRO has been circulating fake information about him and his party for some time now. “A fake NGO which doesn’t have an address and no name as to who runs it is circulating this doctored video to upset the chances of the ‘Mahajut’ in the coming Assam elections. They don’t know that neither the Congress nor the AIUDF has at any time said anything communal. It is a completely adulterated video pushed into the market clearly to foment trouble.”
The Assam Police, which has been running a campaign against fake news on twitter, #thinkbeforeyoushare, has however, not reacted to it. Several twitter handles have tagged the state police handle that it is a fake video being widely circulated.
Meanwhile, the LRO handle, on March 10 afternoon, said it had lodged a complaint with the ECI “seeking immediate investigation to check the veracity of speech and action against AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal for allegedly provocative seditious comments during a recent election rally and issue gag order”.
Complaint lodged at @ECISVEEP seeking immediate investigation to check veracity of speech and action against AIUDF Chief @BadruddinAjmal for allegedly provocative seditious comments during a recent election rally n issue gag order #AssamAssemblyPolls @himantabiswa @CMOfficeAssam https://t.co/1Qak96ZPBE pic.twitter.com/5SCq4SxpmY
— Legal Rights Observatory- LRO (@LegalLro) March 10, 2021
The ‘Ajmal’ factor has been used by the state’s BJP national and state leaders, including Sarma, in successive elections to polarise the majority Assamese votes. In the last assembly elections too, a line plucked out of Ajmal’s speech was adequately utilised to split the votes on communal lines.
Following a complaint lodged by Assam Police to Twitter India, the twitter handles of the right-wing body, Legal Rights Observatory, and Voice of Assam, have been suspended. The Voice of Assam handle is followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Bollywood actor Paresh Rawal who also tweeted the fake news, deleted it and apologised for tweeting it.
Meanwhile, Mumbai-based activist Saket Gokhale has written to ECI and Assam chief secretary Jishnu Barua to take appropriate action against television journalists Deepak Chaurasia, Archana Singh and Asha Kaushik, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, wife of Assam BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, and Ashok Srivastava, consulting editor with Doordarshan for circulating the fake news without any verification.
In this election though, the narrative in upper Assam, the Assamese heartland where the majority of the state’s assembly constituencies are, has shifted from the ‘Ajmal factor’ to anger against the BJP for supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), thus putting the ruling party in not a very safe spot for the three-phased elections commencing on March 27.
This story was updated at 3:30 pm on March 11, after Twitter suspended the handles of Legal Rights Observatory and Voice of Assam based on a complaint by the Assam Police.