Disha Ravi
Activist Disha Ravi is escorted by police officials as she walks out of the court in New Delhi, on February 14, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

These days every day in India we have new firsts to our credit — the arrest of a 22 year old climate change activist Disha Ravi accused of sedition by the Union government — is the latest such case.

The charge of sedition of “waging war against the State” was levied against Disha for sharing the Greta Thunberg toolkit to support India’s agitating farmers.

The 22 year old broke down and wept as she was remanded to police custody for five days. Now toolkits are as common on social media as abuse is on Twitter.

Templates of these are routinely shared by activists, political parties and even international organisation such as the United Nations.

A common hashtag

But, dear readers I digress to Disha because it is quite an outrageous charge as outrageous as Lata Mangeshkar, Sachin Tendulkar and a host of other celebrities tweeting the official line. Identical tweets, similar time span and a common hashtag.

After the tweet storm in support of BJP government which went code red against grievous threats from pop star Rihanna, Meera Harris and Thunberg, the Maharashtra government currently led by BJP’s oldest ally-turned-bitter-rival Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena announced a probe to find out if India’s idols were forced to tweet in support of the BJP government.

The big ask here is if it is really their views they have publicly tweeted? Why should anybody else control their handles?

- Swati Chaturvedi

A granular examination of the Maharashtra government probe is revelatory. The Home department is examining if the social media accounts of celebs are accessed by the IT Cell of BJP.

It will try and find out if the celebrities are not aware of the tweets done on their behalf. And, if they are sent a template or in other words the same pesky toolkit to publicly support the government.

Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar
Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar Image Credit: Reuters and IANS

The intention of the Thackeray government was not to embarrass Mangeshkar and Tendulkar — both considered icons of Marathi pride — but, to go public on the BJP’s arm twisting of the celebrities.

Some perspective here. Raj Thackeray — Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief who is extremely close to Tendulkar and Mangeshkar — attacked the BJP for drawing the national icons into such an unpleasant controversy and hinted that atleast one of them was unaware of the tweets ostensibly sent from their handles.

Mum's the word

The moment the inquiry was announced, Mangeshkar and Tendulkar could have made a public announcement that they did not tweet under duress and were merely exercising their constitutionally protected right of free speech.

The fact that both haven’t uttered a single word is significant. As significant as a government obsessed by social media and extremely thin-skinned to any sort of criticism actually controlling the social media accounts of mega celebrities.

Do Tendulkar and Mangeshkar not have the right to their Freedom of Expression? Unequivocally they do — just like all other Indian citizens in our democracy.

The big ask here is if it is really their views they have publicly tweeted? Why should anybody else control their handles?

When the probe was announcing, the BJP including former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis went all out to attack the Thackeray government for daring to make a public attack on the greatest living Marathi icons. But, is it really an attack on them or the BJP’s alarming overreach?

It would be scandalous if a political party which routinely gets ministers and leaders to tweet from its templates is now doing the same to India’s icons.

We will soon know. And, then let the toolkit fall where it may.