I have known Shri Kanchan Gupta since 2000. I was a member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) from 2000 to end-2002. He was working in the PMO under Shri Brajesh Mishra, the then Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee and National Security Adviser. Kanchan used to attend meetings of the NSAB on behalf of Shri Mishra.
2. Kanchan then went on a posting to the Indian Embassy in Cairo and we lost touch with each other. After his return from Cairo on the completion of his posting, I ran into him in 2008 -, before the 2009 elections, at a policy brain-storming organised by Shri Dayananda Sarawathi at a tourist resort near Ahmedabad. Among those who attended were Shri Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Mohan Bhagwat, the present chief of the RSS, Shri Ram Madhav of the RSS, Shri Arun Shourie, Shri Kanchan Gupta, Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman, the present spokesperson of the BJP, Shri Ajit Doval, former Director, Intelligence Bureau, Shri Prakash Singh, former Director-General of the Border Security Force, and many other retired public servants. Shri L.K.Advani was to attend, but did not.
3. I was invited to make a presentation on Pakistan, which I did. One of the sessions was devoted to a discussion on what should be the media strategy of the BJP. There was a feeling amongst some of the participants that the mainstream media was not giving sufficient opportunity to the BJP and other right-wing forces to air their views on matters of national interest and even if they did on some occasions, there was a distortion of their views. It was suggested by some participants that the BJP could get over this handicap by making good use of the online media.
4. I notice that the BJP, the supporters of Shri Modi and other right-wing elements have since been trying to do so with the help of IT-savvy supporters of the Hindutva ideology in India and the US. In fact, it has been my impression that the Hindutva elements have had a head-start over the Congress in the use of the online media, including the social media networks, for the dissemination of their ideology and points of view.
5. After the meeting in 2008, I have not met Kanchan again, but we have been in touch with each other off and on through E-Mail and Tweets. We hold each other in great esteem despite differences in the way we view and analyse developments of national interests I have always thought of Kanchan as patriotic and upright. I consider him an individual of high intellectual integrity.
6.Kanchan recently resigned from “The Pioneer” in which he was holding a senior position and took charge of a new online news journal. Sometime later, I received an E-mail from a journalist working for a New Delhi-based journal which had played an active role in the witch-hunt and inquisition of Barkha Dutt of NDTV towards 2010-end. He said in his mail that he was planning a story on the BJP’s Net-based media strategy and wanted to have a discussion with me on this. His request was triggered by some comments tweeted by me some months ago on the 2008 brain-storming. Subsequently, I had also tweeted drawing attention to a report carried by Rediff on the likely net-based media budgets of the BJP and Shri Modi. I did not reply to him.
7.When I went online early on the morning of August 23,2012, I noticed some Tweets alleging that Kanchan’s Twitter line had been blocked on the orders of the Government. But, I was able to access it. However, his TL remained frozen at midnight of August 22. I tweeted to Kanchan to find out the facts. Some of my followers, who had seen this Tweet, replied that while some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) seemed to have blocked his Twitter Line, some others have not.
8. In reply to my Tweet, I received a Tweet from Kanchan by DM. I was surprised he did not reply in the normal manner , but instead chose a DM.
9.Subsequently, I saw in the media the photocopies of the four Memos issued by the Government to Internet Service Providers directing them to block certain web sites and Twitter lines. I noticed three odd features in these communications:
( a ).None of them was typed on an official letterhead.
( b ).None of them carried the stamp of the issuing Department.
( c ).While two of them spelt out at the bottom Tele/Fax and gave the numbers, two others carried pictures of a telephone and a Fax machine and gave the numbers against them.
10. I just wanted to draw the attention of my readers to these odd features. This should not be interpreted to mean I doubt the authenticity of these communications. I would like to underline that the Government itself has not denied their authenticity.
11.While three of the communications directed the blocking of the sites/lines of Islamic organisations, either in India or Pakistan, the fourth included the Twitter lines of some Hindus/Hindu entities too and asked for them to be blocked. My assessment from this is that after having initially targeted some Islamic sites/lines, the Government wanted to convey an impression to the Muslim community that it was being objective by bringing some Hindus/Hindu entities too in the lists.
12. It needs to be noted that while the Islamic sites carry on vicious, provocative propaganda, the Hindus and Hindu entities targeted by the Government do not do so. They merely counter the pernicious propaganda of the Islamic fundamentalists. The Government has sought to silence them too by targeting them.
13. In my view, Kanchan was one of those thus targeted by the Government for the following reasons:
( a ).Amongst the pro-Hindutva journalists, he is the most active online.
( b ).He is seen by the Government as spearheading the Net-based media strategy of the Hindutva and other right-wing elements.
( c ). His new online venture is seen by the Government as having been started with an eye on the 2014 elections.
14. As an online Editor, Kanchan’s dependence on social media networks for communicating with his followers, readers and contributors would be heavy. The Government wanted to needle him and create difficulties for him in developing his new online venture.
15. But the uproar over the blocking of sites/lines of journalists, particularly Kanchan, has forced the Government on the defensive and it has refrained from any follow-up action against Kanchan.
16. It is obvious to me that the attempted blocking of Kanchan indicated the Government’s keenness to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the recent panic due to the online dissemination of exaggerated reports and rumours to create difficulties in the implementation of the Net-based media strategy of the BJP and other right-wing elements. It has misfired at least for the time being. (24-8-12)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter @SORBONNE75)