Earlier yesterday, the expose of a toolkit, allegedly linked to the Congress party, sent shockwaves across the political spectrum. The toolkit entailed a plan of action for the Congress leaders and supporters to exploit the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in the country to target the Modi government and revive its own moribund political fortunes.
The instructions issued in the Congress toolkit are all-encompassing and extensive to mount a formidable attack against the Modi government when they are engrossed in defeating the raging pandemic. From maligning the Kumbh Mela as ‘super spreader’ event to unwarranted attacks against PM Modi for the Central Vista project, to collaborating with ‘friendly’ journalists and international media to defame the Modi government, the toolkit prepared by AICC Research Department had detailed instructions to the Congress leaders and supporters to milk the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and mount an anti-Modi propaganda blitz.
The Congress party found itself in the eye of the storm kicked up by the revelations made in the toolkit. It predictably distanced itself from the toolkit, calling it “fake” and blustering about taking legal action against the BJP for defaming the party.
Rhetorics aside, it is difficult to tell whether the so-called ‘toolkit’ is authentic or not. However, if events that preceded the toolkit expose are considered, it can be inferred with reasonable certitude that there was an uncanny symmetry between the past incidents and the plan of action suggested in the toolkit. The Congress party’s own behaviour, the responses of the leaders and the ecosystem in general dovetailed perfectly with the set of instructions issued in the toolkit. Here are some examples that demonstrate how Congress supporters had been earnestly following the toolkit long before it was exposed:-
The vilification of Kumbh Mela and its characterisation as a ‘super spreader’ event
The document titled ‘Cornering Narendra Modi & Covid Mismanagement’ in the toolkit highlight how the ‘Kumbh mela’ is to be used to malign the Hindu festival and the ruling party. The “toolkit” suggests politicizing the congregation by repeatedly labeling it as a ‘super spreader’ to hint at BJP’s Hindu politics.
The pointed instruction guide then recommends using international media reports to validate the point and warns to not comment on ‘Eid’ gatherings as it might be used as a trap.
The document specifically instructs Congress workers stating, “Non-party office bearers and supporters can be encouraged to use social media posts to highlight, by carefully using pictures, that Kumbh is a show of political power in the name of religion while Eid gatherings are happy social gatherings of families and communities.”
Now, long before the Congress toolkit was exposed, a host of Congress supporters and sympathisers had taken to social media to malign the Kumbh Mela. Social media posts were replete with posts that tied the recent spike in the caseloads to the Kumbh Mela. The propaganda that Kumbh Mela was to be held responsible for the resurgent wave of the coronavirus outbreak was trumpeted ad nauseam by Congress supporters and their lackeys on every forum possible. Incidentally, these same set of people who blamed Kumbh Mela for India’s COVID-19 crisis maintained a stoic silence on the ‘farmers’ protests that have been happening for months along Delhi’s borders and that have seen huge congregations in defiance to coronavirus protocols.
Even though analysts and epidemiologists claimed that the new surge of the COVID-19 cases in India could be attributed to the UK strain, which they claimed could have spread because of the protests carried out by the so-called farmers, the Congress supporters continued blaming the Kumbh Mela for the rapid spread of the virus. This, when preventive measures were put in place to stop the spread of the virus during the Kumbh Mela.
Days later, when Eid gatherings were seen in several parts of the country, witnessing participation of people in huge numbers, in brazen disregard of the coronavirus restrictions, there was a deafening silence from the Congress supporters and their online warriors. Such processions were not condemned, nor were they branded as ‘super spreader’ events. The silence on Eid gatherings was in compliance with the instructions issued in the toolkit: To describe Eid celebrations as happy social gatherings of families and communities.
Additionally, the toolkit also mentioned making the use of the international media in vilifying the Kumbh Mela as the super spreader. A raft of articles published in the western media outlets slyly insinuated that the Kumbh Mela gathering was responsible for the recent spurt in the coronavirus cases in the country. However, hardly a few articles ascribed the ongoing ‘farmers’ protests as one of the reasons that may have contributed towards the devastating spread of the virus in Delhi and the adjoining areas.
The prioritisation of SoS calls raised by journalists, influencers to gain favourable media coverage
Another damning indictment that inextricably links the Congress party with the toolkit is the conformity of actions undertaken by Congress leader Srinivas BV during the COVID crisis with the content of the document released yesterday.
With regards to the charity work by Congress frontal organisations, the alleged toolkit says, “Collaborate in advance with friendly journalists on social media to immediately amplify these messages.” It also says, “Calls for help from journalists, media professionals and other influencers must get priority.”
Well, Srinivas B V’s actions betrayed that he had prioritised acting on the requests coming from journalists and other influencers. Consequently, it was hard to miss how Srinivas B V had become a toast of the media firmament after he exhibited eager alacrity in addressing SOS calls raised by prominent journalists and social media influencers. From journalists such as Rubika Liyaquat to filmmaker Ashoke Pandit to cricketer Hanuma Vihari, Srinivas B V was prompt in responding to them, even when he was not tagged in the requests.
Then there was the New Zealand embassy fiasco where the embassy had approached an INC youth leader for medical oxygen instead of the Government of India. The embassy faced a huge backlash, prompting even EAM S Jaishankar to question the Youth Congress’ dubious eagerness to supply oxygen cylinders to the New Zealand and Philippines embassies with zero Covid cases while patients in Delhi were facing an acute shortage. These incidents, taken into context of the revelations made by the toolkit, reinforces the narrative that Congress was acting according to an organised plan.
Blocking hospital beds and hoarding essential facilities and supplies to paint the Modi government as incompetent and inept
The Congress toolkit also suggested its followers collaborate with ‘friendly’ hospitals to ‘block beds’ and other essential facilities like ventilators, oxygen cylinders, to be released only on their request. “Liaise with local ground level political leaders in cities to keep some beds and other facilities blocked in friendly hospitals, to be released only on our request,” one of the subheadings under “Amplify work of frontal Congress organisations,” said.
The recommendation of blocking beds and key medicines perfectly squares with the allegations levelled by a petitioner, who had accused the Youth Congress president Srinivas B V of hoarding essential supplies during the pandemic.
Recently, the Delhi Police had interrogated Youth Congress leader Srinivas BV over the allegations of illegal procurement and distribution of Covid-19 drugs in an ongoing investigation ordered by the Delhi High Court. A petition was filed in the High Court seeking a CBI probe into an alleged “medical mafia-politician nexus” and illegal distribution of COVID medicines by politicians. The petitioners had mentioned Srinivas B V as one of the politicians who allegedly hoarded essential medicines.
Needless to say, Congress’ plan was to gain favourable publicity and PR, even if that meant depriving patients of hospital beds and endangering their lives. They asked their leaders to forge collaborations with friendly hospitals so that artificial scarcity of the beds could be projected, which could then be used to slam the Modi government for COVID mismanagement, and at the time portray Congress as a party that was working tirelessly to provide distraught patients access to hospital beds and other key facilities.
The use of International Media to tarnish PM Modi’s image, and by extension India’s reputation
One of the significant revelations made in the toolkit that is circulating on social media is the use of the international media and ‘friendly’ journalists to propagate anti-Modi propaganda. The document instructed the supporters to rope in the international media to criticise and amplify the perceived COVID-19 mismanagement by the Modi government.
“International media coverage by foreign correspondents in India can be tailored to exclusively focus on Modi and his mismanagement. Liaise with foreign journalists and Indian Oped writers in foreign publications and brief them on talking points,” the toolkit read.
The toolkit further implores the use of funeral pyre photographs to further dent India’s image. “Such journalists can be facilitated by our local cadre in various districts to get the right image and then their reporting may be magnified,” the alleged toolkit says.
This directive fits perfectly with various tragedy porn articles published in the western media with respect to India’s COVID-19 surge. As cases in India soared, western media outlets were replete with articles carrying the pictures of burning funeral pyres from various parts of the country to underscore the severity of the pandemic.
It disclosed the western media’s unhealthy fetish of linking India’s COVID-19 outbreak with funeral pyres. Several media organisations, be it Washington Post or Reuters, posted pictures of funeral pyres from various places in India to highlight the severity of the pandemic. One of the Washington Post journalists even described a cremation ground’s vertical shot as “stunning”.
However, viewed in the context of the toolkit that was exposed earlier yesterday, the coverage of the international media about India’s COVID-19 outbreak jibed very will with the instructions listed in the document. With the Western media’s inordinate and morbid focus on the funeral pyres, it cannot be discounted that they were acting in accordance with the Congress toolkit. After all, the toolkit did ask Congress supporters to use the international media outlets to paint a grim picture of India’s COVID-19 crisis.
Quite clearly, it appears that global media has been taking instructions from the Congress party. It is known that international media has never been friendly towards the current ruling dispensation. On top of it, it appears that they have been peddling propaganda on behalf of the Congress party and publishing the opposition’s talking points as neutral objective opinion.
In fact, this is not the first time that Congress have used international media to overturn their political fortunes. Unable to convince the Indian electorate to vote for them on their own, it appears they are relying on global forces, who do not have the best interests of India in their heart, to defeat Narendra Modi in elections.
The online harassment of celebrities who contributed towards PM Modi Cares Fund
Ever since the coronavirus cases in the country started rising again in March 2021, a coordinated campaign was run on social media websites by usual suspects, casting aspersions on the PM Cares Fund and urging people to donate to campaigns run by other NGOs and eminent celebrities.
As a part of the campaign, celebrities who supported or donated to the PM Modi Cares Fund were attacked and trolled online. For instance, liberals fumed when Australian cricketer Pat Cummins announced that he will be making a donation to the PM Cares Fund to support India’s fight against the pandemic. After being bullied by the ‘liberals’ online, Cummins relocated his contribution from PM CARES to UNICEF Australia.
Similarly, Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama was targeted online by the left-leaning ‘liberals’ after he had pledged to donate to the PM Cares Fund from the Dalai Lama Trust. A barrage of online attack ensued shortly after Dalai Lama vowed to donate to the PM Cares Fund in the country’s battle against COVID-19.
Now, the toolkit which was in circulation on social media yesterday suggested that the denigration of PM Cares Fund was a part of a carefully crafted plan to tarnish the integrity of PM Modi and project him as corrupt. Not only this, according to the ‘defame PM Modi’ toolkit that has now gone viral, a strategy highlighted by the document bore an uncanny resemblance to the online backlash received by both cricketer Pat Cummins and Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama.
“If any celebrity donates to PM CARES, then aggressively question them. If they are on social media, then use Congress social media department to embarrass them,” reads Section II(b) of the toolkit. The online harassment faced by the celebrities only demonstrates that the directives mentioned in the toolkit were followed in earnest by the Congress supporters.
The relentless demonisation of PM Modi and India by normalising the use of India Strain and Modi Strain
In the toolkit, there was a section that specifically talked about tarnishing the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In that section, it was mentioned that the approval ratings of PM Modi are higher than the Congress party anticipated, irrespective of “crisis and mismanagement.” They urged Congress party members and volunteers to take the situation as “an opportunity to destroy his image and erode his popularity.”
Divided into five subsections, the section discussed how Congress supporters could tarnish the image of PM Modi by using the resources they have developed over time. The first point was to enable the accounts that look like PM Modi or BJP supporters and push the agenda against the government.
The second point discussed how foreign correspondents in India and Indian Oped writers who write for the foreign publications could be roped in to exclusively focus on the “mismanagement under PM Modi. The toolkit urged everyone to approach “friendly intellectuals and opinion-makers” to use demeaning phrases against PM Modi in the intellectual discourse. It was pointed out that the intellectuals and opinion-makers must have “greater acceptability when used politically”.
However, what was even more appalling is the specific instructions issued by the toolkit to sully the image of India and PM Modi by referring to the COVID-19 strain as the Indian Strain or Modi Strain. When searched about the usage of the word Modi Strain on social media, it was discovered that the phrase was in use since December 2020, when a variant was detected for the first time in India. However, its usage spiked up After April 20, 2021. The usage of the phrase was prominent in May 2021.
The hashtag #ModiStrain has been making rounds since April 22, 2021. A lot of social media users who appear to be Congress followers are using the hashtag. The hashtag and phrases “#IndiaStrain” and “India Strain” are more prominently used on social media. By the second half of April 2021, its usage increased exponentially on Twitter, and there was a wave of tweets with the mention of Indian Strain in them. Even Indian Media houses like NDTV played their part in furthering the use of the phrase and hashtag.
All this demonstrates that the toolkit was in effect at least from mid-April. It indicates that for almost a month now, the social media users and some ‘friendly’ media houses such as NDTV were sincerely abiding by the toolkit directives and meticulously normalising the use of the Indian Strain or Modi Strain to describe India’s COVID-19 outbreak.