Coming out in support of young victims of social media trolls, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar on Saturday exhorted them to speak out against the wrong policies of the government and oppose growing incidents of intolerance and fascism across India.
In an unique initiative, Pawar met around 35 youngsters who have been threatened on social media and/or booked by police for speaking out their minds against the government and its policies on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook or other public and community fora in the past few weeks.
Seeking to create the right atmosphere to put the youngsters at ease, Pawar made it clear at the start of the three-hour interactive session: “You can bluntly criticize me — Say anything you want freely. Tell me honestly where my party or I am going wrong.”
Many of them displayed courage and gave an earful, mainly on NCP politics, to the 76-year-old Pawar who listened intently without interruption while some aides made notings of the suggestions expressed.
“It was an absolutely free and candid exchange of views between the NCP chief and the youngsters who gave their frank opinions on a wide range of issues confronting the country, especially on the reduced tolerance levels, the attacks on freedom of thought, speech and expression,” senior NCP legislator Jitendra Awhad told IANS.
Another party leader who was present on the sidelines said the exercise was part of a long-term strategy to attract the liberal-minded youths to the NCP fold, infuse fresh thinking of GenNext vis-a-vis traditional politics and rejuvenate the party before the 2019 elections.
The youth recounted the harassment they have faced in recent weeks at the hands of the law-enforcing agencies who allegedly ‘snoop’ on writings and views posted on various social media, the notices sent by the police department in Mumbai and other parts of the state.
Besides, they gave examples of how they are systematically trolled on social media for airing their opinions against the government policies and the rulers, being ridiculed, threatened and abused, and efforts made to silence them.
Several of them expressed concerns over the growing levels of intolerance that have gripped various sections of society which have even manifested in the killings of people with liberal views, the most recent being journalist Gauri Lankesh.
Some others voiced distress over what they termed “a grim economic scenario”, with “salaries getting slashed or jobs lost”, the “misplaced priorities of the government” which focused more on issues not concerned with public welfare activities, and the general situation that has created an uncertain future for the youth.
“Continue expressing yourself against anything you feel is going wronga I am solidly behind you and you have nothing to worry,” advised Pawar, who later hosted lunch for the invitees at the Y.B. Chavan Centre.
“When the youth of Maharashtra are speaking up for protecting democracy, it is wrong to target them and suppress their voice. The people of the state will not tolerate any attempts to curb the freedom of expression,” Pawar remarked at the end of the discussions.
The meeting came against the backdrop of notices sent to over two dozen youths, including journalists, by the Cyber Cell of Mumbai Police in connection with some fake accounts on Facebook and probing what has been touted as “objectionable content against Prime Minister Narendra Modi” among others.
After an account under the fictitious name of ‘Dev Gaikwad’ was detected a few weeks ago, police got into action by arresting one persons and slapping notices on several persons summoning them for investigations in the matter.