Bihar unleashes storm with social media gag

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar faced taunts of “Hitler” after the administration issued an order to initiate proceedings against any individual or organisation making “objectionable, inappropriate or misleading” comments on social media against the state government, ministers or government officers.

The directive, which came through the police’s economic offences unit on Thursday, unleashed a political storm reminiscent of the one that had forced Kerala to backtrack on an amendment to the police act that would have made online criticism of the state government punishable under law.

RJD’s Tejashwi Prasad Yadav led the explosion of outrage over the move, calling it a violation of the right to free speech. “CM Nitish Kumar has forgotten that democracy started from Bihar and freedom of expression is a fundamental right. If the government, ministers or officials are indulging in corruption, why shouldn’t people raise it? Why is he scared of a democratic exercise? If anyone criticises the state government, its schemes or fault in their execution, what is wrong in it? Why is Nitish Kumar Ji scared so much?” he said, demanding that the order be revoked immediately.

Tejashwi, who alleged that Nitish was following in the footsteps of the Führer, went on to dare the CM to arrest him as he had accused the BJP-led government of protecting liquor smugglers.

On Thursday, the EOU’s additional director-general Nayyar Hasnain Khan had issued a circular to all departments, asking them to report “cybercrime” as defined in the order so that necessary legal action could be taken against such people or entities.

According to the circular, “continuous information” was arriving about some people and organisations making derogatory and misleading comments on social media against the government, ministers, MPs, MLAs and officers. “For such acts, it seems proper to take legal action...EOU is the nodal agency for cybercrime in the state,” it states.

Khan said that the communication had been misinterpreted as an attempt to curb freedom of speech. “Of late, misuse of social media has increased. It is being used with impunity to harm dignitaries and government officials by posting abusive or misleading contents which might even affect tranquillity and peace. Common people approach police but government authorities either ignore such incidents or don’t have knowledge that EOU handles such issues categorised as cybercrime,” he said.

The ADG claimed the circular was meant to merely make various departments aware of the need to approach EOU in the event of social media misuse.

CLP leader Ajit Sharma said, “This letter would not have been issued without the instruction of the CM. He wants to snatch the fundamental rights of the people.”

AIMIM state president and MLA Akhtarul Iman said any such step taken by a wing of the government was a threat and affront to democracy. “Anyone can criticise the government for its failure. But that does not mean action should be taken against them. Media of any kind, print, electronic or social media should have the freedom,” he said.

BJP state president Dr Sanjay Jaiswal said those writing “correct news or information” had nothing to worry about. “Why should anyone be afraid if one is not posting anything wrong?” he said.

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