In yet another instance of attack on free speech, the Uttar Pradesh police has booked four persons for putting out “objectionable” WhatsApp posts on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union home minister Amit Shah.
The police acted on a complaint by a Firozabad-based Bharatiya Janata Party leader Satyendra Gupta that the posts on the private Whatsapp group could incite public sentiments.
The posts were put out in a group called “Ordnance Factory, Hazratpur”, run by two factory workers Vinod Yadav and H Malik, Amar Ujala, a national Hindi daily, reported. All members of the group worked in the Ordnance factory.
The BJP leader Gupta was informed of the critical comments on Modi and Shah by two group members called Firdaus and Zakir, following which he registered his complaint at the Tundla police station.
The district’s superintendent of police Mukesh Chandra Mishra confirmed to PTI that a case against both Firdaus and Zakir, along with the group administrators, were booked under the Information Technology Act.
“The matter is being thoroughly probed. It is also being probed that from where did the objectionable post come, and how was it forwarded. If their role is confirmed in the probe, they will also be arrested,” he said. No information on the nature of the WhatsApp posts were given by the UP police.
Speaking to The Wire, Firdaus said that he was removed from the WhatsApp group a month ago, after he forwarded a widely-circulated message questioning the Narendra Modi government on its policies and decisions in the group. “Some of the members objected to the message and I was removed from the group. I don’t know why the matter has resurfaced. There was nothing criminal about forwarding that message. It mostly spoke about which (government) companies, Modi ji’s government sold off,” he said, denying that there was nothing in the message that was obscene, or could have promoted enmity between groups.
He added that there were a few group members who may have reported his message to BJP leader Satyendra Gupta.
Similarly, Zakir told The Wire that he had forwarded a cartoonish GIF about the prime minister on the group a few days ago. “One of my children forwarded the GIF in the group as received. I intended to delete it but by then other members had already started discussing it after one person objected to the post.”
“The WhatsApp group is a closed group, comprising only of staff from the CSD canteen in the factory. All 184 members know each other very well. Although I mostly keep out of political debates, other members keep discussing political topics. The message forwarded from my phone number was a humorous take on the Modi government, and was meant to be light-hearted,” he said.
Similar messages mocking and attacking the Tablighi Jamaat congregation for its catalysing role in the COVID-19 pandemic were also posted by other members but no one complained, he said. “I did not object when I was removed from the group. Some people demanded that I should be removed. I thought it’s fine but now there is an FIR against me,” he said.
He added that a few BJP officials from Firozabad, who know him well, are now helping him in the case. “I am trying to get the matter sorted now with their help. They have asked me to write a maafinaama (apology letter). I will do that and see if the matter can be resolved,” he said