Something rather inexplicable happened on Thursday night. A former Governor of an Indian State appeared to threaten a Twitter account, True Indology, for a series of tweets on Mizoram and the origins of Mizos. The tweets appeared sourced from government archives, media reports and other reliable publications.
Inconvenient as they may be, everyone has a right to state facts that are on public record. There was no incitement to violence or libel or slander, or anything of that sort and if the states caused someone else to resort to violence after reading them, the account True Indology cannot be held liable for it. How could he be blamed if someone he does not even know goes ahead and commits violence after reading his factual comments?
A person cannot be held liable for others’ actions without any evidence of incitement. And there was none here. Those interested in history could read the thread here if they so wish. Here, we would reserve our focus on the former Governor Swaraj’s comments and his flailing efforts to mount a credible defence, at which he failed terribly.
The tone and tenor of his initial response to True Indology were quite shocking, to be frank. Initially, it came across as a warning from someone who was concerned for the Twitter user’s own safety but before long, it became evident that it wasn’t a concern, it was a warning and a threat.
The series of comments posted by Governor Swaraj in response was littered with remarks that did not seem to have any relevance towards the matter in question. For instance, it is not clear why it should matter if TI is aware of Mizoram’s climate or forest cover.
The thread began with “One FIR and you will spend many years of your life facing trial” in the first tweet and ended with “A police officer in Aizawl will register an FIR.” It was bizarre, to be honest, and quite perplexing.
True Indology is extremely popular on the non-Left sections of social media and naturally, people were outraged by the former Governor’s conduct. Faced with a barrage of adverse comments, Swaraj attempted to defend himself from the onslaught.
And the mentality behind the defence is quite revealing. He said that he was concerned with how Mizos might perceive the thread. According to him, the thread by True Indology could jeopardise peace in Mizoram, although it is not clear how that could happen.
Also, one has to question the wisdom that comes to the conclusion that groups in the state would return to insurgency again because of a Twitter thread. Unlike the governor here, the journalist does not believe groups conduct themselves in such manner. There is usually other motivations if groups do resort to insurgency but I am not an expert on Mizo weather, therefore, I would have to add the caveat that I am ignorant and my comments are to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Needless to say, the comment did not help to assuage the angst of people on social media and the tweet attracted further criticism from people who support TI on the issue. Currently, Governor Swaraj is posting further comments on the whole issue but given the fact that they are laced with disparaging remarks against TI, it is unlikely that they will help his cause.
Jibes such as “You are a brave man” and “You are the new Socrates” can be found in abundance in the thread.
True Indology, meanwhile, has deactivated his account and left Twitter. He did so right after he was threatened with an FIR by the former Governor. But the Governor is clearly not done with him yet.
“You do not know what you are doing. You do not know Mizos and Mizoram. You cannot pronounce even a Mizo name correctly. You do not know the consequences of the venom you are spewing. It has the potential of jeopardising peace in Mizoram,” he bellowed on social media.
Then he went on to state something that we all know. That True Indology is not a historian. And that is perfectly alright. The right to speak the truth is a sacred sacrament bestowed on all those among the living. The truth remains silent only among the dead.
Swaraj said, “Chhimtuipui is a river and a district in Mizoram. How do you pronounce it ? What is the difference between Tam Dil and Rih Dil ? You are a Mizo historian. You should be knowing it. Photocopying papers does not make you a historian.”
But it is not only historians or journalists who have a monopoly over speaking facts. Every citizen of India has that unequivocal right, although it is fair to concede that the Constitution of India limits that significantly. But in this case, clearly, the Twitter user was well within his ordained rights.
Nonetheless, the interaction between the two does provide some very real insights into the realities of social media.
Lessons from the Governor Swaraj vs True Indology saga
First and foremost, the thread proves definitively that online clout is no substitute for real power. TI here has a huge following on social media and is quite a popular account but when confronted by someone with real power, actual power, he had no option but to flee the scene.
This is not an adverse comment on TI or an attempt to paint him a coward but just an honest account of events. It is a sensible decision to make. There’s no plausible reason to risk one’s safety and peace of mind over a Twitter thread. The cost is just too high and benefits negligible.
Of course, some could claim that one should be brave under such situations and hold on to the fort but it is easy to say that when one is not at the receiving end of it. That is why acts of valour are so treasured because they are rare and not everyone is capable of it.
Social media often tends to distort the real nature of power. The current instance once again demonstrated that there are very real consequences to speaking the truth on social media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have given vast sections of the populace an opportunity to influence public discourse.
It leads most individuals on social media to believe that they can get away with harsh trolling of politicians without any real consequences. But that is not how it works. Power is power and there is no substitute for it.
The reason why most politicians do not bother going after their critics is that it is too much of a hassle and there are no gains to be had. And most politicians are not vindictive enough to take matters to that extent over cartoons on social media or some abuses.
But every once in a while, there is a particular matter that is close to the heart of someone in power. And when that someone does not like it, he goes out of his way to dish out threats or other means to ensure that the action is not repeated again.
Look at Governor Swaraj for example. Mizoram is clearly very close to his heart and TI stated facts, in a reasonable tone, that he did not like. An overwhelming majority of people would not be stirred enough to cause any stir over the issue. But unfortunately for TI, there happened to be one with significant influence who did not like what he said.
And thus, we have him threatening a Twitter user with an FIR over something that in no circumstances merit a case. But such is the world we live in.
Secondly, people mistake the power of social media far too much. We have a former governor here who believes that a Twitter thread could jeopardise a peace accord nd lead to a return of insurgency. Sure, fake news can sometimes create law and order situations in a particular region but insurgency is indeed quite the leap.
In this particular instance, it was not even fake news. These are facts on public record. Yes, it could lead to a law and order situation if it manages to percolate into groups with an affinity towards violence but it is the duty of the state to maintain law and order and ensure that speaking facts do not create such situations.
If the state is not willing to defend the right of citizens to speak truth, then it is indeed quite a shameful capitulation to hoodlums.