Karnataka sloganeering row: TMC MP urges ECI to act against MoS Rajeev Chandrasekhar for ‘spreading fake news’

Union minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar shared a video claiming supporters of newly-elected Congress MP Nasir Hussain were shouting "Pakistan Zindabad".

ByBellie Thomas

Published Feb 28, 2024 | 7:46 PMUpdatedFeb 28, 2024 | 7:46 PM

Saket Gokhale, Member of Parliament - Trinamool Congress

It was a controversy over nothing. Yet, it did not stop the right-wing ecosystem — including Union ministers — from propagating what was misheard sloganeering at the Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru after the Rajya Sabha elections in Karnataka on Tuesday, 27 February.

So far, Congress workers and leaders defended their party against allegations of “pro-Pakistan” sloganeering.

Rajya Sabha member and All India Trinamool Congress national spokesperson Saket Gokhale took it a step further on Wednesday.

He filed a representation with the Election Commission of India explaining the serious threat and an alleged planned agenda by the BJP and the Narendra Modi government at the Centre to prevent free and fair Lok Sabha elections by misusing social media to silence opponents.

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‘False claim’

In a letter to the chief election commissioner (CEC) on Wednesday, Gokhale sought immediate action against MP Rajeev Chandrashekar for sharing malicious fake news to discredit the Opposition and for misusing his official position as the Union minister of state for information technology.

Gokhale said the incident on Tuesday night at Karnataka’s Vidhan Soudha and its aftermath showed how the Modi government at the Centre was running a concerted campaign where anyone who opposed them got their social media accounts suspended while its ministers spread fake news to influence elections.

Gokhale stated that on Tuesday, soon after the results of the Rajya Sabha elections in Karnataka were declared, Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar published a post from his official account on X (formerly Twitter).

In his post, the Union minister shared a video and falsely claimed that slogans of “Pakistan Zindabad” were raised in the Karnataka Assembly by supporters of the winning candidate Syed Naseer Hussain of the Congress.

“A cursory hearing of the video shows that the slogans being chanted were ‘Naseer Sahab Zindabad’ and NOT ‘Pakistan Zindabad’,” wrote Gokhale.

“The false claim made by the Union minister was further examined and debunked by journalists who were present in the Assembly as well as various users on social media,” he said.

“Further, as the fake claim was shared by no less than the Union minister for IT himself, several news channels amplified his claim, which led to the fake news being disseminated widely in a matter of a couple of hours,” Gokhale wrote to the poll panel.

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Fence eats crops?

Regulation of social media, incidentally, falls under the ambit of Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s ministry, which has the power to order intermediaries and social media platforms to delete posts as well as block or ban accounts deemed to be spreading disinformation or fake news, noted the Trinamool leader.

Very shockingly, in this case, the Union minister, who holds these powers of regulating social media himself shared some extremely dangerous and polarising fake news, he noted.

“This is not a matter concerning one or two political parties. This is a glaring example of how a Union minister from the ruling party is misusing his official position and powers to share fake news to illegally influence voters against the Opposition in the run-up to Lok Sabha Elections,” the Trinamool Congress MP stated.

Gokhale added that this also portended a very dangerous situation where there was no mechanism for redressal or action within the existing framework since the minister spreading fake news was ironically in charge of taking action against fake news.

Also, when Union ministers used their official grey-check-marked social media accounts — denoting accounts of government officials — for political campaigning, voters would tend to perceive it as credible, he noted.

It would not only destroy a level-playing field for the elections but also give ministers the power to pass off malicious fake news as real, thereby negatively influencing voters, said Gokhale.

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Call for action

Urgent intervention of the Election Commission of India was therefore warranted in this “extremely serious matter”, where ministers of the ruling party were misusing their position to influence and obstruct free and fair elections illegally, said Gokhale.

He sought immediate, stringent, and exemplary action against Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar for sharing fake news and disinformation maliciously intended to influence voters against the Opposition.

He also asked the poll panel to urgently devise and notify a framework where Union ministers would be prevented from sharing malicious propaganda and misusing their powers to negatively influence voters against the Opposition and interfere with free and fair elections.

Meanwhile, here is what the Union Minister of IT Rajeev Chandrashekar told PTI on the controversial pro-Pak sloganeering in Karnataka’s Vidhan Soudha.