Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala Police and central agencies are looking at a larger conspiracy behind Sunday’s protest by migrant labourers against the lockdown that has been imposed across the nation to check the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
A large group of labourers staged an agitation on Sunday at Payippad in Kottayam district. Soon after, SOS messages in mixed Hindi and English started appearing from some Twitter handles, apparently belonging to migrant labourers.
The tweets had visuals of a similar protest being carried out Perumbavoor in Ernakulam district, another district where a large number of migrant labourers live in the state. One of the handles with just two followers tagged office-bearers of the state Congress unit.
Agencies believe two organisations with Islamic fundamentalist ideologies may have played a role in instigating the migrants, who are finding it hard to deal with the nationwide curfew, to stage the stir on Sunday.
A senior official, who did not wish to be named, told News18, "We have conclusive inputs indicating the role of two outfits with Islamic fundamentalist ideology behind the instigation of migrant labours in Payippad. Both these groups are against the central and state governments. We also have found certain social media profiles linked to these organisations had raised the issue long before the protest happened on the ground."
The government has formed a team under Ernakulam Inspector General IG Mahesh Kumar to investigate the incident. More than two dozen mobile phones were seized from migrants during a raid at Payippad on Sunday.
According to officials, fake video messages to organise and agitate to force the state government to provide trains for migrants to return to their home states were found from the phones. Some of the clippings said that migrant workers in Delhi got buses arranged to return to Uttar Pradesh after staging protests.
Cases have been registered against more than 2,000 migrant workers who took part in the protest that marked the biggest violation of the curfew in the state in the last six days.
Sources said a man from West Bengal was arrested for spreading fake messages among the migrants. However, police are yet to confirm the arrest.
In a separate incident, two Congress leaders from Nilambur in Malppuram -- Shakir PK and Shereef – have been arrested for spreading a fake message about trains being arranged from the district for migrants to return to their home state.
A leader of the Left-backed Centre of Indian Trade Unions in Palakkad, Zakir Husain, was also arrested on Monday evening. He is said to be a leader of the migrant workers.
After a review meeting on the coronavirus crisis on Monday evening, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said there was evidence of two groups behind Sunday’s protest.
"We have evidence of one or two organistaions who instigated the migrants in Payippad. We are not in a position to reveal the details as police are investigating the case. There was also another incident in Malappuram and two persons -- both of them Keralites — have been arrested," Vijayan said.
In a bid to handle the fake news menace, the Chief Minister's Office started a Twitter handle @COVID19Centre on Monday evening.
"The main objective of this handle is to address the concerns of the politicians, journalists as well as the public from other states who are more familiar with Twitter. We also intend to check the spread of fake news related to Covid-19," a source close to the CMO told News18.