On the eve of 2011 Assembly polls - the most crucial election Bengal witnessed since 1977 when Marxists overthrew the Congress and settled down for 34 years - social networking sites became an integral part of campaign for both Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M).
Six years later, the same social media is turning out to be a bane for not only the arch enemies but even the administration headed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. And, everybody is blaming trolls, religious propaganda groups, tech-savvy pranksters and individuals eager to vent anger.
Witnessing a sharp rise in “communally sensitive” and “politically motivated” posts on Facebook and Twitter during and after some violent incidents at Kaliachak (Malda) and Golabari (Howrah) and Bhangar (South 24 Parganas), the government has decided to take counter-measures. “The state police already has a cyber security cell. It will be strengthened to focus more on social media,” director general of police, Surajit Kar Purakayastha, told HT.
“Our party is also aware of the mischief being played by CPI(M) and BJP workers who want to malign the government. This has to be countered,” said a senior Trinamool leader. Incidentally, after Trinamool came to power, Ambikesh Mahapatra, a Jadavpur University professor, was the first to be arrested under cyber crime law for sharing a cartoon of Banerjee.
Posts on Facebook - more popular in India than Twitter - are troubling politicians on both sides of the divide. Though Banerjee receives mostly compliments from fans posting on her timeline, there are pages managed by individuals or groups where she is attacked. CPI(M) leaders, including general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, are however not lucky enough to be spared by trolls even on their own Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Interestingly, trolling in Bengal started much before Singur and Nandigram changed the political status quo. Orkut became the first cyber platform for Marxist leaders as well as Banerjee with their supporters running numerous ‘fan clubs.’ One of them opened an account masquerading as the then chief minister, furnishing information about the real Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s personal life and family. The CPI(M) had a tough time tracking him down. Left Front chairman Biman Bose, too, found his clone on Facebook in 2010. Posing as Bose, an “over-enthusiastic supporter” accepted hundreds of friend requests.
But the recent controversial posts on CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP, Ritabrata Banerjee, is forcing the party to draft social media guidelines for members. On February 23, Banerjee was censured at a meeting in Kolkata for writing a threat mail to the employer of a “party supporter” who raised questions on Facebook about the source of the MP’s “Apple watch and Monc Blanc pen.” In his defence, Banerjee told the leadership that he was being stalked and showed Facebook posts as evidence.
Realising that face-offs on social media is affecting discipline in the cadre-based organisation, the CPI(M) has decided to frame rules and ban selfies taken purely for self-publicity.
“If someone has specific complaint against a leader, no matter how highly-placed, he or she cannot vent it on social media. People have to come to the party which deals with such complaints,” said Yechury.