When Manoj Pimple and Aditya Chavhan woke up at their respective homes in Nagpur last Monday, they had no idea that a police team would have travelled more than 700 kilometres from Gadchiroli to their residence, just to take them into custody for tweets against the Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra.
They were granted bail the next day, with the court terming their arrest – based on a complaint from a 22-year-old contractor – as illegal with the due process for detention not followed by the police teams.
Pimple, 44, said he had “tweeted that Shinde is the first chief minister of Maharashtra who takes permission of his deputy to enter his office and his signature to leave”. Working in construction, he claims to support secular parties and has over 12,000 followers on Twitter.
“I am not denying that I used satire in my tweets,” said the resident of Mahanagar area in Nagpur. “But I have not posted anything which is vulgar, inflammatory or communal.”
Aditya Chavhan, 27, works for a dental company and has 5,000 followers on Twitter. According to the FIR, he had, among other things, tweeted that “bhakts” would be sad because their leaders had attended a Muslim event.
He did not speak to Newslaundry but his father Vishwas Chavhan said that his son, who is a supporter of the Shiv Sena Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray faction but had not tweeted “anything objectionable or vulgar”.
It’s not just Pimple and Chavan.
Since the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis government took charge in July last year, there have been 40 FIRs and at least nine arrests over social media posts against the government, according to the state cybercrime department. Many of these are in Thane, chief minister Shinde’s bastion. Until April, at least 21 cases had been lodged against workers of opposition parties such as Shiv Sena (UBT), NCP and Congress for “objectionable” posts against Shinde.
Apart from the FIRs and arrests, many also allege increased censorship on social media. Hemant Athaley, a Pune-based web developer, claimed that he had received three emails from Twitter for his post seeking the chief minister’s resignation.
“After these tweets, I received emails from Twitter that as per Maharashtra government, my tweet violates Indian laws,” he todl Newslaundry. “I am unable to understand how a simple tweet without any kind of abuse, harassment, vulgarity, or communal tone can violate the law of the land.”
Sushma Andhare, the deputy leader of Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray faction, alleged that around 150 to 200 of the party’s workers have been targeted by the government for their social media posts. She said the “list is long” and includes the common public for posting against the government or “asking questions”.
In April this year, Raj Mungase, a Marathi rapper based in Aurangabad, was after a complaint was filed against him by a Shiv Sena worker from the Shinde faction. He was booked over a “defamatory” video in which he, without naming anyway, alleged a Shinde MLA had taken “pannas khokay” – Rs 50 crore.
Mungase said his song wasn’t about someone in particular. It was about injustices faced by common citizens. He went into hiding until he received interim protection from the courts.
In October 2022, Ganesh Gote, a 29-year-old PhD student in Ahmednagar, was for alleged defamatory tweets against Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis. In the same month, Mumbai resident Pradeep Bhalekar was for posting against Shinde, Fadnavis and BJP leader Narayan Rane.
In December, Gajendra Patil, a resident of Dhule, was for alleged objectionable comments against Shinde, BJP leader Navneet Rana, and others from the alliance.
In January this year, Kalyan-based NCP leader Anand Paranjape was booked in – they were all converted into one following a court rap – for his comments against the chief minister.
In March, Sarthak Kapadi, a Mumbai resident, was by the Nagpur police for allegedly objectionable tweets against the chief minister, his deputy and other BJP leaders.
In June, Pravin Pawar, a resident of Sangli and a Shiv Sena (UBT) supporter was for “indecent” memes and comments on Fadnavis, Shinde’s son Shrikant Shinde, and Rane. The same month, the police in Pune booked two unidentified individuals for posts against the chief minister while the Thane police a Twitter user who compared Shinde to a character from the Hindi film Adipurush.
Parimal Maya Sudhar, an academic and political commentator, said, “This shows the political insecurity of the government. Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis know that it’s not a popular alliance but they can’t back off…There is no doubt that the MVA government also indulged in such tactics but it’s very rampant in this government.”
Shriranjan Awate, a Pune-based political analyst said, “This government's behaviour is an outcome of an inferiority complex as they understand fully well that they lack public support…They either misuse institutional mechanisms or use their troll army to suppress critical opinion about the government.”
Newslaundry reached out to state minister and Shinde faction spokesperson Deepak Kesarkar for comment. This report will be updated if he responds.
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