Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on Monday said that a preliminary police investigation by has revealed the role of a Bharatiya Janata Party Information Technology cell head and 12 other influencers in an inquiry related to Indian celebrities tweeting in support of the Centre’s handling of the farmers’ protests.
The home minister also clarified that he had not ordered an inquiry into the tweets of celebrities such as singer Lata Mangeshkar and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. “My statement regarding celebrity tweets on the issue of farmers’ protest has been twisted,” Deshmukh said. “I had ordered an inquiry into the BJP’s IT cell as it was likely to be involved in the case and not celebrities.”
He said that there was no question of investigating Mangeshkar and Tendulkar as they are the pride of Maharashtra and also respected by the people across the country.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government in Maharashtra had faced flak after it ordered an inquiry into the tweets by Indian celebrities in response to foreign criticism of the government’s handling of the farmers’ protest.
“It has been revealed that there were some posts by celebrities and at the same time,” Deshmukh had said on February 8. “Hence it will be investigated why it has happened.”
The inquiry was ordered after leaders of the Maharashtra unit of the Congress sought an investigation into whether the celebrities were under pressure from the BJP to tweet in support of the government.
BJP leader and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis criticised the decision to initiate an inquiry into this matter. “Has this MVA [Maha Vikas Aghadi] government lost all its senses?” he had asked in a tweet. “MVA should feel ashamed while using the word ‘probe’ for Bharat Ratnas! Actually, now it seems necessary to probe the mental state and stability of the ones who made such demand and of people who ordered probe against our Bharat Ratnas.”
Earlier this month, pop icon Rihanna tweeted in support of the farmers protesting against three new agricultural laws. Rihanna’s tweet drew global attention to the protests as prominent Western personalities echoed her support for the farmers’ movement.
Following the international condemnation, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement calling the tweets a “sensationalist” attempt by “vested groups” to intervene in India’s internal matters.
Shortly after, actors, celebrities and sports stars, many of whom have long been silent on the farmer protests, began tweeting in one voice. Among them were cricketing stars Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Ravi Shastri. They used hashtags #IndiaAgainstPropaganda and #IndiaTogether – coined by the foreign ministry – and wrote identical messages in support of the laws.
A study showed that Indian celebrities engaged in collusive tweeting of the two hashtags framed by the external affairs ministry. Many of their tweets had similar wording and phrases.
The study titled “Rihanna versus Bollywood: Twitter Influencers and the Indian Farmers’ Protest” said that the tweets by the Indian celebrities came in three batches – actors tweeting in the morning, cricketers in the afternoon and mixed group in the evening. The study was conducted by researchers Dibyendu Mishra, Syeda Zainab Akbar, Arshia Arya, Saloni Dash, Rynaa Grover and Joyojeet Pal.