The Tamil Nadu police on Saturday booked three people including an editor of the Dainik Bhaskar in Bihar for allegedly spreading fake news on migrant workers being attacked in Tamil Nadu. On Friday, several videos of Hindi speaking migrant workers being brutally thrashed went viral on Twitter in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
As panic began spreading across Tamil Nadu, especially in districts like Coimbatore, Tiruppur and Chennai where there is a huge number of migrant workers employed in industries like garment, textile and construction, the state government came out to deny the reports. But the BJP had escalated the issue in Bihar Assembly prompting Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to send a team to Chennai to review the safety of migrant workers. The Jharkhand government is also likely to follow the suit.
“Those spreading rumours on the attack against migrant labourers are against the harmony of India. The social media posts aimed at doing cheap politics are highly condemnable. Tamil Nadu government and people will stand to protect our migrant brothers,” Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said in a statement. He also assured Nitish Kumar over a phone call that the migrant workers from Bihar are safe in Tamil Nadu.
On the other side, the delegation from Bihar held meetings with the top officials including the Head of Police Force (HoPF) Sylendra Babu and Chief secretary V. IraiAnbu. The Bihar team includes its Rural Development Secretary Balamurugan D., IGP (CID) P. Kannan and Special Secretary, Labour, Alok Kumar.
Meanwhile, three people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were booked by the Tamil Nadu police under IPS 153 (A), 596 (i)(b), 153 (b), 505 (ii)(b) and IT 56 (D) based on three separate complaints. Prashant Patel Umrao, a BJP spokesperson from Uttar Pradesh who works as the Standing Counsel in the supreme Court for the Goa government, an unnamed editor of the Dainik Bhaskar from Bihar and a small-time journalist Mohammed Tanvir from Bihar were booked under the Information Technology Act for spreading “fake news” and offences relating to promoting enmity and disharmony.
The editor of the Dainik Bhaskar was booked under IPC sections 153 (A) and 505 (I) (B). The case is registered in Thirumuruganpoondi Police Station. The Cyber Crime Unit of Tiruppur Police registered a case against Mohammed Tanvir under sections 153 (B), 505 (II) (B) of IPC and 56 (D) of the Information Technology Act. The Thoothukudi district police registered a case under sections 153, 153 A, 504, 505(1) (B), 505 (1) (C) and 505(2) against Prashant Patel Umrao. “Special teams have been formed and the teams have already left to arrest them,” a senior police officer told THE WEEK.
Despite the clarification issued by both the Tamil Nadu Police and the government that the migrant workers are safe in the state, the fake videos and news reports were spreading like wild fire on WhatsApp and other social media platforms. Collectors of the western districts like Tiruppur and Coimbatore which have the highest number of migrant workers visited them and assured them safety. The government has also formed a separate team to allay their fears. The Tamil Nadu Police have also shared helpline numbers for the migrant labours to call if they face any issue.
Tamil Nadu, being one of the most urbanised and industrialised state, has the largest number of migrant workers. These workers mainly come from West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Tripura. There are also workers from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Notably, the misinformation was spread a day after Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav flew down to Chennai in a chartered flight to participate in a political rally on the occasion of Stalin’s 70th birthday. It was at this rally several non-BJP leaders, including Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, gave a clarion call for opposition unity.
The politics behind fake videos
There seems to be a strong political connotation to the controversy over the fake videos. The misinformation was spread a day after Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav flew down to Chennai in a chartered flight to participate in a political rally on the occasion of Stalin’s 70th birthday. Tejashwi rushed to the sprawling YMCA ground at the last moment when Stalin’s birthday event was almost nearing the end.
It was at this rally several non-BJP leaders, including Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, gave a clarion call for opposition unity. In his speech, Tejashwi, too, insisted that the opposition parties come together to defeat the BJP in the 2024 parliament elections. Stalin in his acceptance speech said that a third-front without the Congress is pointless and will not reach the shores.
A day after the meeting, when the media asked Stalin if he is getting ready to national politics, the chief minister replied, “I am already in national politics. Whatever I had to say, I said yesterday.”
In fact, DMK insiders point out at the larger role Stalin is planning to play like his father Karunanidhi who was one of the forces behind the third-front governments at the Centre under I.K. Gujral and HD Deve Gowda. “Our leader Stalin wants to be a national doyen bringing together all the opposition parties under one umbrella. This has sent alarm bells ringing in the BJP circles,” says Saravanan Annadurai, DMK spokesperson.
Stalin’s effort to bring together the opposition, if proves to be successful, could unseat the BJP at the Centre. Though leaders like Mamata Banerjee, K. ChandraSekara Rao and Arvind Kejriwal have their own differences with the Congress, they enjoy a good rapport with Stalin. Apparently, the DMK is the only political party which is solidly backing the Congress, while others have decimated the grand old party in their respective states. Stalin's camaraderie with leaders like Pinarayi Vijayan, Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar has now pushed him to be a sort of a coordinator of the UPA like his father.
Political observers in Tamil Nadu say that the BJP, which has been facing the heat on issues like the BBC documentary, the Adani-Hindenburg controversy and also the success of Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra, doesn’t want a solid opposition front at the national level ahead of the 2024 polls. They claim that the BJP wants to clip Stalin’s wings politically before his call for opposition unity gets life.
As the 'fake news' controversy escalated, BJP members in Bihar Assembly had questioned Tejashwi's participation in Stalin's birthday function. “Why Tejaswi, after eating the cake, spoke in favour of Tamil Nadu which is against Bihar and the Biharis?,” they asked.