On April 29, one of the most widely shared news on the Indian Internet scene – pictures of Digvijay Singh romancing a journalist notwithstanding of course – was an article on DNA titled “Mamata Banerjee calls Narendra Modi ‘butcher of Gujarat’; here are 9 myth busters on 2002 post-Godhra riots”. The article, according to the author, “proud Congress supporter” Shehzad Poonawalla, was essentially a nine-point listicle “busting nine myths” about Gujarat “perpetrated by Narendra Modi’s PR machinery”.
The short piece, written in less than an hour according to Poonawala, is based on several findings by independent commissions and newspaper reports – most of them published in the mid-2000s, just after the riots in 2002. In terms of new and fresh facts, there is very little Poonawalla’s article brings to the table. Which is why it’s odd that it gathered as much traction as it did.
But it did.
The story, which was aggressively shared on social media by the usual suspects, however, didn’t survive to see the light of the next day. Clicking on the link of the article now leads to a blank page.
Expectedly, India’s paragons of free speech raised a huge hue about the platform where all great minds meet – twitter. It was conspiracy theories galore.
Newslaundry got in touch with the involved parties to get their side (whoever was willing to give one that is). In a telephonic interview with Newslaundry, Poonawala said, “Narendra Modi’s PR machinery took the article down since they’re uncomfortable that every point I made was backed with facts.” To Newslaundry’s enquiry if DNA intimated him before taking the article was taken down, he said, “I got in touch with them in the morning but I don’t grudge them since they are obliged to function within certain constraints and limitations. The person from DNA I was coordinating with for the story, did everything within his capacity to keep the article up but it was beyond him.” Poonawala, however, refused to divulge the name of the person he was in touch with from DNA since it would “compromise” him. He did send us an email though, where he gave a detailed version of his side of the story:
Right to Free Speech “butchered” by Team Modi…
Yesterday, I wrote a piece for the DNA (I regularly write for their online portal) called “Between Myths and Truths” that busted 9 myths being perpetrated by Mr Narendra Modi wrt 2002 riots. These 9 myth busters were not my opinions but statements of facts that were culled from institutional records like Supreme Court, NHRC report, etc. (see below) This article was posted at 1pm and within few hours it got over 1000 + shares on facebook, twitter and spread like wild fire, drawing reactions from Modi supporters and his opponents. Even the likes of Sidharth Vardarajan & Shashi Tharoor shared the piece and tweeted about it. DNA, as you can see, itself tweeted about the article three times since it was a Top Story!
This morning , without notice, the article was forced to be pulled down. Now if you visit the link http://www.dnaindia.com/node/1983270, it says “The requested page cannot be found”.
I have been told that Narenda Modi’s team was so rattled that they instantly ordered the pulling down of the article. The article for the first time compiled the myth-busting answers to all of Mr Modi’s perpetrated falsehoods on Gujarat 2002 – how he failed to stop the rioting in 2-3 days as is claimed, how he communalised the air with his speeches, how his police acted in a partisan manner, how he applied for a US visa and was rejected one, how his government scuttled the process of law…
All I can say, like I said in my piece, this is the defeat of Truth by Falsehoods and whenever Truth becomes a victim to falsehoods, there is just one, long sigh that reverberates in our collective conscience “Hey Ram”!
Newslaundry’s multiple attempts to get in touch with Kunal Majumdar, Associate Editor (Digital) at Zee Media – who is responsible for DNA’s online content according to his Twitter bio – have proved futile. Majumdar didn’t respond to any of our multiple calls, tweets or email.
The reaction of the third party involved in the episode, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), varied from person to person. Vineet Goenka, the co-convenor of the BJP’s IT Cell, refused to comment on the matter saying that he was not authorised to. He instead directed me to the party’s spokespersons, Nirmala Sitharaman and Meenakshi Lekhi. Sitharaman claimed ignorance and said, “I have come to Hyderabad to cast my vote – I’m not in the know of what transpired. Meenakshi Lekhi, who seems to be busy fire-fighting Modi’s selfie-gaffe, didn’t take our calls.
The BJP though, in spite of all its social media-savviness, still appears to be ignorant of the Internet’s grammar. Anything that goes up on the internet stays on the internet. Any move to muzzle it only does the opposite. Here’s the link to a cached copy of the article, saved for posterity.
Feel free to share it.