The BJP on Tuesday released what it called a “toolkit” by the Congress to tarnish Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre over the handling of the Covid pandemic. While BJP president J P Nadda first talked about the Congress’s ‘Toolkit Models’ in a tweet, the allegation was subsequently taken up by Union minister Smriti Irani, BJP general secretary B L Santhosh, and spokesperson Sambit Patra, with BJP leaders sharing a document seemingly printed on the letterhead of the ‘AICC Research Department’.
The Congress trashed the document — that laid out instructions on how to “destroy his (Modi’s) image and erode his popularity” and advised that the new coronavirus mutant be dubbed the “India strain” or “Modi strain” — as “forgery” and “fraud”. The party also filed a complaint with the Delhi Police demanding an FIR against all the four BJP leaders. It said it would also write to social media platforms for action against the BJP leaders for “propagating” a”forged and fabricated letter”.
The document circulated by the BJP included instructions purportedly by the Congress asking its followers to track people seeking help, and to ensure they tagged the party’s leaders in reply. A number of BJP leaders, including ministers, through the day attacked the Congress attaching hashtag ‘CongressToolKitExposed’.
In his tweet, Nadda said the Congress was a “master” at “dividing society and spewing venom”, adding, “India is seeing Congress’ antics, while the nation is fighting COVID-19. I would urge Congress to go beyond ‘Toolkit Models’ and do something constructive.”
Santhosh accused the Congress of “spreading fake, negative news and stirring up discontent” amidst the pandemic crisis, calling this “disgusting”. With his tweet, he attached two pages of a document purportedly on a Congress letterhead with instructions saying this is “an opportunity to destroy his image and erode his popularity” as the “approval ratings of Prime Minister Modi have been high and have not dipped despite crisis and mismanagement.”
The document goes on to suggest the use of social media to track requests for help by people on Covid, contacting them, and asking them to tag the IYC (Indian Youth Congress) handle and its leaders, apart from media professionals and other influencers.
IYC leader Srinivas B V incidentally has been the face of Covid aid in Delhi during this second wave, with BJP leaders among others reaching out to him for help. In its report on a case filed against Srinivas and others for alleged blackmarketing in providing Covid aid, the Delhi Police recently concluded that they had been providing help “voluntarily and without discrimination”.
The document also urges campaigners to use phrases like “Indian strain” whenever talking of the new mutant, and says social media volunteers may call it “Modi strain”, as well as push phrases like “Missing Amit Shah”, “Quarantined Jaishankar”, “Sidelined Rajnath Singh”, “Insensitive Nirmala Sitharaman” etc.
The complaint on behalf of the Congress was filed by AICC research department head Rajeev Gowda and social media department head Rohan Gupta. It accused BJP leaders of “forging the letterhead of AICC Research Department and thereafter printing false and fabricated content on the same… with the intent to create communal disharmony and civil unrest in the country… escalating violence, fuelling hate and spreading fake news”. It also said the BJP was trying to divert attention from the failures of the government.
“What these people have done is fraud and forgery,” Gowda said at a press conference. Gupta said, “Once the FIR is registered… we will officially write to all platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube demanding action.”
Smriti Irani tweeted, “My country, our country is at war with a virus… to singularly commercialise it as a political opportunity & deal in death; I never imagined Congress was capable of such a low.”
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said: “The exposed tool kit is a shocking revelation of the Congress party where Modi hate is now firmly becoming an India hate.”
Union minister Hardeep Puri linked the Congress “toolkit” to criticism against the Central Vista project. “They first created doubt on vaccines, then want everyone to be vaccinated. They highlighted shortages of oxygen & hospital beds then moved to Central Vista,” he tweeted.
Sambit Patra said the Congress extending help to the needy during the pandemic is “more of a public relations exercise, with the help of friendly journalists and influencers, than a soulful endeavour”. He accused the party of tarnishing not just the government but also “Covid warriors”, and said Congress leaders had been told to influence writers in the foreign media to “magnify” images of bodies.
According to Patra, the Congress had told its workers to also keep using the term “Super spreader Kumbh”.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera, who was also present at the press conference addressed by Gupta and Gowda, said, “There are two ways of addressing questions and criticisms… respond to questions and criticisms, correct where you are wrong, and move on. The second way is the BJP toolkit way, which is to attack those who are questioning you… but to not respond to the questions.”
Earlier, at the height of the protests against the new agricultural laws, the BJP had alleged a toolkit by activists supporting the protesting farmers, to tarnish the government. Releasing one of the main accused, Disha Ravi, on bail, a Delhi court said there was “scanty” evidence against her and that people could not be jailed for criticising government policies. On Tuesday, the Centre failed to file a response in a case lodged by Ravi against the alleged violation of her right to fair trial and right to privacy, drawing another rebuke from court.