Social media adding fuel to Anna , government war

New Delhi: A full-blown information warfare has broken out between Team Anna and the government, with both sides deploying social media tools, SMS and e-mail campaigns to drum up support and run down each other – in what is proving to be a serious crisis for the UPA government.

While supporters of Team Anna have launched a SMS blitzkrieg asking people to court arrest and go on mass leave to join the protesters, the government has launched both overt and covert information offensive to undermine civil society activists that sometimes verged on slander and character assassination.

Since Hazare was arrested Tuesday morning, many of his supporters went underground to garner support using mobile phones and social media platforms. Prashant Bhushan, a key figure of Team Anna, compared the arrests to the imposition of internal emergency in 1975, asking people to take leave and join the protests. “This is just like the times of emergency when no one was allowed to speak against the government,” he said.

Anna Hazare recorded a video message before his arrest in which he is shown telling people that he will be arrested and to continue the protest movement in his absence. After his arrest early morning, Team Anna released the video clip that was played by several news channels.

“The finesse with which it was done shows professionals were at work,” S. Nihal Singh, a veteran journalist and media critic, told IANS. Clearly, more than spontaneous outpouring of people’s angst against corruption is at work here. It’s what political scientists and strategists call information warfare or psychological warfare that is used in combat situations as well as in political and electoral contests.

Information warfare consists of using a set of techniques, including propaganda and misinformation, to influence a target audience’s value systems, belief systems, emotions, motives, reasoning, or behaviour with a view to gaining tactical advantage over one’s opponent.

Information warfare is being routinely used in politics, said Kuldip Nayar, a veteran journalist who feels that the ruling Congress fanned it by launching a frontal attack on Hazare as “corrupt.”

By questioning Team Anna’s bona fides, the government is underestimating popular anger against it over a host of issues, including price rise and corruption, said Nayar. “I recall when J.P. Movement began to spread, Mrs Indira Gandhi started calling him a CIA agent,” Nayar told IANS.

Besides such overt attacks, e-mail campaigns, allegedly influenced by the government, have been launched to question the credentials of Team Hazare and its key figures, including Arvind Kejriwal, an RTI activist, and Bhushan, a lawyer.

An chain e-mail shows a string of cartoons deflating Hazare’s pretensions. “I broke my fast because God came in my dream and asked me to,” a cartoon showed Hazare as saying. Another one said Anna saying: “During anshan (fast), I don’t mind taking glucose and electral powder.”

One such mail, sent by an unidentified sender, seeks to expose Kejriwal and Parivartan, an NGO headed by him. The mail alleges that Parivartan has not paid any income tax after 2007-2008 and claims that funds for Anna Hazare’s dharna have been collected in the name of Parivartan.

It alleges that the NGO paid only Rs.6,000 for 2008-09 for its office in in posh area of Sarvodya Vihar. The mail asks dramatically: “What is the truth? Is he drawing some special favors or is he paying in CASH !!P.S. – Any payment made in cash is BLACK MONEY.”

“Kiran Bedi’s trusts are funded by Walmart, Lehman Brothers and a cigarette co. – Why do these MNCs back her? Whom does she really represent,” said an SMS message from someone identified as TD-MyIndia.

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