With #LaalSalaamComrade is the Left Front Finally Going Digital?
The hashtag #LaalSalaamComrade was trending on India and Kolkata Twitter on 10 and 11 June.
The hashtag #LaalSalaamComrade trended on India Twitter for the most of 10 June and on Kolkata Twitter for the morning of 11 June, as left-wingers took to the social media platform to criticise the central government and the Bharatiya Janata Party's actions in recent times, especially against activists.
The hashtag was tweeted over 50 thousand times with many senior Left leaders joining in.
‘Not a Paid Campaign’
Communist Party of India (Marxist) State Secretary for West Bengal Surjya Kanta Mishra pointed out the trend saying that it was not the doing of "an IT cell or a hired social media army," adding that "money cannot buy everything."
Other party leaders took to explaining the meaning of the phrase "Laal Salaam Comrade." This is in response to a charge sheet filed by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) that substantiates sedition charges against Assamese RTI activist Akhil Gogoi and others because they used this phrase.
"CPI(M) brought about this hashtag campaign in response to the NIA charge sheet in Assam, which held that using 'Laal Salaam' and 'comrade' meant that one is a Maoist. But what we saw is that this call did not stay confined within party members. Thousands of ordinary citizens, who have in no way been associated with the Left movement ever, have responded to the call," Shatarup Ghosh, CPI(M) leader from West Bengal, told The Quint.
The campaign also comes as the social media activities for the Left's opposition in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress, are being handled by social media strategist Prashant Kishor. The BJP's social media in the state has as usual been handled by the party's robust and extensive information technology (IT) cell.
"Prashant Kishor and the BJP IT Cell are hired professionals," said Ghosh, adding that "They will do whatever you pay them to do. But what we saw on 10 June was spontaneous and it was so because it caught the imagination of the masses."
Others also used the hashtag to demand the release of activists in jail for the Bhima Koregaon Case, and other activists across the country.
Some also used the hashtag to criticise the Centre's response to COVID-19, the denial of bail to student-activist Safoora Zargar, witch-hunting of JNU students, and more.
‘Digital Campaign Not an Alternative to Erstwhile Methods’
For a party that had once opposed the use of computers and technology and is largely seen as a late (and tardy) entrant to the politico-digital space, does this mean that the Left Front has now finally started acknowledging the need to go digital?
"We don't see a digital campaign as an alternative to erstwhile methods. But of course in today's world, it is an extremely important method to reach out", said Ghosh.
This realisation seems to have dawned on the CPI(M) in the post-COVID-19 world as the party holds meetings, including politburo meetings, online.
The hashtag was also meant to reclaim certain words and phrases that have been "demonised" by the right wing, said the Left.
"They have successfully demonised words like 'secular', 'liberal', 'diversity', 'freedom of expression' and so on. The ideas that are supposed to be pillars of a modern day republic have been cunningly portrayed as the ones the people need to ashamed of or opposed to," Ghosh told The Quint.
"So, it’s not about reclaiming just some words, it’s about reclaiming the republic," he signed off by saying.
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