A hashtag mocking the most powerful person in Telangana churned hectic political activity and aggressive civil activism on social media.
On Sunday morning, #WhereIsKCR began to trend on Twitter. The idea was to question the efforts, or lack thereof, of Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao or KCR to contain the COVID-19 even as the number of cases continues to go up in the state. The chief minister was last seen in public at an official programme on June 28. After some of the staff at his residence-cum-camp office in Hyderabad reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, it is learnt that the CM left for his farmhouse, located on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
The positivity rate in the state stands at around 20 per cent. On an average, 1,000 cases and half a dozen deaths are reported from the state every day. As the chief minister keeps away from public glare, confusion prevailed over the imposition of another lockdown as it was officially announced that such a proposal would be explored. Besides, the state also seems to be struggling with testing on a large scale as discrepancies were found in private labs, leading to temporary shutdown of labs. Complaints by people on the unavailability of beds in private hospitals and exorbitant fees have also been also rising.
“Situation is worsening in #Telangana. Crisis managers in the state government are busy in controlling media with fudged facts and manipulated figures. People are demanding in one voice #WhereisKCR?” read a tweet.
Another netizen took potshots at the chief minister: “#WhereisKCR, u have to come out and speak jus like u gave press conference for every 5 days in the starting phase of corona…”
Referring to news reports that residents of Hyderabad are leaving the city, a tweet read, “TRS govt is leaving Hyderabad in the lurch. People are compelled to leave the city. #WhereisKCR.”
There were also some who were worried about the health of the chief minister. “Did Telangana Chief Minister #KCR tested positive? Too many circulations in social media and neither @TRSPARTYONLINE NOR @Telanganacmo clarifies anything #WhereisKCR,” asked one user.
One of the early tweets which was widely retweeted was that of independent journalist P. Revathi who drew a comparison between Bengaluru and Hyderabad, and pointed out the urgent need to address the crisis situation. “There is a lot of concern as residential communities across the city are seeing high number of cases. In this time, people look up to him (KCR) for confidence. He should answer the public.”
Soon, political handles too joined in. A BJP supporter, Sagar Goud, who tweets with the handle @Sagar4BJP, tweeted several times throughout the day, using the hashtag. When asked about the idea behind promoting the hashtag, he said, “People are suffering a lot. When cases were in two digits, KCR organised press meets regularly, but now when his presence is important, he is not to be seen since the last 15 days. His son and minister, KTR is also not responding on Twitter.”
The opposition parties too joined in soon. A tweet from the official handle of the state Congress read: “And today the positivity rate is 30.06%. This positivity rate seems to be the highest in the country. #WhereisKCR?”
As pro-Congress handles increasingly used the hashtag, BJP supporters warned the party not to hijack their movement.
Meanwhile, TRS supporters accused the Congress and the BJP of colluding to target the ruling party by endorsing the common hashtag.
There was another hashtag which was picking up around the same time. #ImposeHealthEmergencyinTelangana was beginning to trend, promoted by followers of Jana Sena party and actor Pawan Kalyan. Both the hashtags were used in combination by many users.
A Twitter user criticised the TRS leaders: “This is how responsible my MLAs and Ministers are….Violate COVID norms, forget social distancing, join private hospitals if tested +ve, preach people to take care of themselves, Explain how hot water, Tulasi water saved them.”
These hashtags also inspired a number of memes.