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3-min read

How Narendra Modi and BJP embarrassed themselves over Wikileaks

In Assange's followers, Modi fans have come up against one of the few groups of people who spend more time online than they do, and are more active to boot.

Siddhartha Sarma | IBNLive.com

Updated:March 18, 2014, 5:20 PM IST
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How Narendra Modi and BJP embarrassed themselves over Wikileaks
In Assange's followers, Modi fans have come up against one of the few groups of people who spend more time online than they do, and are more active to boot.
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Wikileaks' categorical denial that it had endorsed Narendra Modi as 'incorruptible' is yet another proverbial egg on the face of those online Modi fans who are quick to add to his substantial mythos without checking facts first. Unlike the infamous Gujarati tourist rescue episode during the Uttaranchal floods, however, this one leaves very little maneouvering room for the party or its supporters. In effect, they created it on their own.

Here's a brief summary that shows the kind of Chinese whisper-themed political brownie points that are being scored in this election season. It began in November 2006 with the then American consul in Mumbai, Michael S Owen, meeting the Gujarat Chief Minister and, later, other politicians from that state, following which the diplomat dutifully wrote up a report of his conversations with them.

In this report he quoted Rajkot Congress leader Manoharsinh Jadeja to the effect that Modi was indeed very popular in the state and that Muslims too were supporting him to some extent, because he was "viewed as someone who is completely incorruptible", as the Saurashtra politician put it.

This report was sent off to Washington and was eventually pocketed by Julian Assange's merry men, who posted it on the Wikileaks website four years later. This is when the matter transformed from a small political quote into an absurd farce. While Modi supporters on Twitter went to town claiming Wikileaks had endorsed Modi, a poster also surfaced, claiming the Americans were afraid of Modi because he was not corrupt. The poster, we now learn, was a bit of satire about said Twitterati's gullibility. In a hilarious twist, this was also circulated as additional propaganda by BJP members.

Meanwhile, Narendra Modi's official site shoved its two bits in, quoting the man himself as saying he was "glad to learn that America admits Modi is incorruptible".

Unlike the Uttaranchal episode, when the story could be disowned by the party because it was based on a newspaper report, the damage control mechanism this time has been a trifle unimaginative, with senior BJP leaders now saying neither the party nor Modi needs an endorsement from Wikileaks.

That may be so, but Wikileaks had never intended it to be endorsement of any kind, either for or against. The party must be hoping to just move on and pretend this faux pas can be ignored by the political equivalent of looking skyward and humming.

In all this very entertaining series of contortions, a few facts also need to be mentioned, just in case the 140-character crowd haven't noticed them yet. For one, a longstanding rule on the Internet has been that no matter what you do online, someone somewhere has been doing it longer and more extensively than you.

In Assange's followers, Modi fans seem to have come up against one of the few groups of people who spend more time online than they do, and are more active to boot. Therefore the quick and categorical rebuttal from Wikileaks, who have also alleged that those who made these claims in the first place were the ones who were really corrupt. Ouch.

For another, if anyone bothers to check Consul Owen's report on his conversation with Modi, he mentions how the Gujarat Chief Minister told him that "the events of 2002 were an internal Gujarati matter" of no consequence to the US government. Apparently the US government's views are only relevant if it doles out positive character certificates.

But what BJP supporters have missed out on the most is Congress leader Jadeja admitting to Consul Owen that Modi's image in Gujarat made him hard to beat in that state. Coming from a political opponent, that's the sort of endorsement that would have made a fine propaganda poster, instead of Assange's snowy mane.

As we said, Chinese whispers, and most thoroughly entertaining.

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