On Tuesday, 11 May, a number of Union Ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders tweeted out a curious article titled 'PM MODI HAS BEEN WORKING HARD; DON’T GET TRAPPED IN THE OPPOSITION’S BARBS'.
The article was published in a website called 'The Daily Guardian', which crashed for a few hours soon after the BJP leaders posted the piece.
So who wrote the article and what is 'The Daily Guardian'? We'll get to these questions in a bit but first, an excerpt from what had been written:
"Here is a prime minister who tries to work silently when a crisis comes and does not react to political statements since this is not the time to take the bull by the horns. He focuses on channelising his energy into finding solutions and works with double speed. If he also becomes a crybaby like the others, who will come up with a solution?"
This is broadly the premise of the piece, which tries to argue that the PM is "doing a lot" to tackle the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed thousands of people in India.
The article also alleges that Modi's critics are focusing too much on COVID deaths and are ignoring recoveries.
Who Wrote the Article?
It turns out that the article was written by Sudesh Verma. In his Twitter bio, Verma says he is a member of BJP's national media team. He does appear on TV channels regularly, representing the BJP's viewpoint.
He is also the author of a book called Narendra Modi: The Game Changer.
What is The Daily Guardian?
As the website, including the link of the article, was inaccessible for a few hours, many questioned its credibility. The name sounding similar to UK newspaper The Guardian led to allegations that a fake website was created with a name sounding like an international publication.
However, it turns out that ‘The Daily Guardian’ is part of ITV Network, that is owned by Kartikeya Sharma. The group also owns NewsX TV and Sunday Guardian weekly besides several regional channels.
The piece was published on the Oped page of The Daily Guardian's epaper.
Why is This Important?
The Daily Guardian carrying Verma's piece on the Oped page in itself is not problematic. What's strange is the manner in which several BJP leaders, including ministers, shared the piece on Twitter in what clearly looked like a concerted social media campaign. The ministers who shared the article include Anurag Thakur, Jitendra Singh, Kiren Rijiju and G Kishan Reddy to name a few.
It appears that this was the government's attempt to counter the criticism it is facing in international and domestic media over its handling of the COVID-19 second wave, especially the shortage of oxygen and the increase in number of deaths.
While this may have excited BJP supporters, overall the move seemed to have been counterproductive. If the PM is indeed "working hard", surely there should have been more credible proof of it than an article written by a member of his own party.
Even a news feature from pro-government news channels may have had more credibility than a BJP media team member's opinion piece.
A Day of Social Media Backlash for Govt
This wasn't the only social media spin that backfired on the government. At 11 pm on 10 May, the official 'Mann ki Baat updates' Twitter handle posted a tweet asking people to "celebrate the power of positivity" and share "inspiring stories".
This invited several angry, sarcastic and witty responses from Twitter users.
"The power of positivity refers to increase in Covid positive cases," said one user.
"Friend of mine is running around to facilitate the cremation of their grandmother after saying goodbye to a parent last week. They are also covid positive. Positive story, no?" said a Twitter user called Swati Moitra.
The tweet had just 205 retweets, but 1,100 quote tweets and 2,400 replies as of 8 pm on 11 May. A vast majority of the quote tweets and replies were angry or mocking in nature.
By Tuesday night, the tweet had been deleted. It is not clear whether the reason for deletion was the widespread criticism or something else.
On the morning of 11 May, the Mann ki Baat handle posted PM's advice telling people to do Dhyana or mediation. This included instructions such as "focus on breathing normally", which invited several critical responses, though much lesser in number than the "positivity" tweet above.