BJP’s Vinit Goenka wants Twitter to be declared a terrorist organisation, and for charges of sedition to be filed against the company’s public policy officials. While hosting a Zoom conference titled Twitter_Anti_India, Goenka alleged that Twitter is supporting terrorism, and asked participants and viewers if they would “tolerate someone who would take money, especially blood money, to promote the cause of separatist movements?” This call, where people who have filed complaints against Twitter in India convened to discuss their experience and strategy, was also streamed live on Facebook, and is available for viewing online.

“I could see that very clearly, when Twitter collected money from terrorist organisations which were banned by India, from people who were banned by India. And even after bringing this to their notice, they deliberately collected money. I’m using this word [sic] very carefully: wilful collection of money from a terrorist organisation to perpetuate crime on the esteemed citizens of this country. I have taken it up with the National Cyber Security Coordinator Lt Gen. Pant. I thought this is an issue to be taken up in Parliament also, and also with the judiciary.” — Vinit Goenka, during the call

The call, that MediaNama attended at Goenka’s invitation, came a week after he petitioned the Supreme Court to direct the government to create a mechanism to check content and advertisements on Twitter, which are allegedly spreading “hatred amongst the communities, [are] seditious, instigative, separatist, hate filled, divisive, against the society at large and against the spirit of the Union of India”. Goenka has particularly taken issue with Twitter for allowing the paid promotion of a tweet by separatists that calls for a referendum on the Khalistan issue.

Sitting against a bookshelf that housed six copies of his book “Data Sovereignty”, Goenka said, as he often does on TV, that platforms should be “treated like a publisher and not a platform, and held responsible in the same way that media channels are held responsible for their ‘advisement'”. He cited lack of transparency from Twitter regarding increases and reductions in followers, about tweets and handles being blocked, saying that there should be corporate governance from Twitter. For good measure, he said that Twitter generates a lot of revenue in India, and should be taxed for the same.

Goenka’s andolan

Goenka ended the conference with a clarion call for an andolan (movement): “Go to Twitter, complain about Twitter. If you can file a court case, nothing like it. If you can file FIR, nothing like it. If you can’t do that, please file e-complaint to NIA, the police stations. If you can’t do that, please write to the Home Minister, to the Prime Minister.” If they’re unable to do any of this, Goenka called for forwarding “the messages which you are getting from this dedicated team which is working across the country. There are young people. You can sit at home and file e-complaints with cyber police, common police, the local law enforcement agencies, whosoever you can go and meet them.”

Here’s the strategy

A participant who identified himself as Advocate Harsh Khemka from Ahmedabad said that he is in the process of filing a Public Interest Litigation in the Gujarat High Court, and explained why he thinks it is necessary to file a petition in different courts:

  • Local visibility for the issue: While acknowledging that the Supreme Court is the final authority in the matter, and that they’ll take a decision, Khemka said that if cases are filed in multiple High Courts, despite the matter being at the Supreme Court, the issue will be in the ‘limelight’. “It is not necessary that everyone in Ahmedabad follows cases in the Supreme Court, but 50% of them,” he said ,”follow matters in the Gujarat High Court. If I file a case in the Gujarat High Court, then people in Gujarat will be made aware that a case has been filed.”
  • Psychological and economic pressure: “The second reason,” Khemka said, is that the people who are responsible for this, that is, Twitter and its official representatives, “will face psychological and economic pressure”. “I’m an activist, and it won’t cost me any money to file a case. But for them, they’ll have to hire an advocate for a single court, and spend between ₹5-10 lakh on this. You just imagine, if we file cases in minimum 10-12 high courts, it will cost them ₹1-2 crore, and that will create a psychological pressure because they’ll have to represent in every single court. There will be a psychological and financial pressure on them,” Khemka said.
  • More diligence from authorities: “Authorities who can take an action on this — the Broadcasting and Information Authority [sic], the Union of India — will have to be vigilant about this, because if at once there is action being taken on this, then this is something serious, which cannot be overlooked. The authorities will also be conscious that they need to be diligent and vigilant about it.”
  • Media awareness: “Since the Supreme Court is the final deciding authority, a possible scenario that can happen is that if we have filed with the Gujarat High Court … if the Gujarat High Court can say that either we’ll accept the matter here, or you go to the Supreme Court. Hypothetically if it happens that all these matters are clubbed together, then what happens is that at a central level, at a national level, this will be highlighted in the media: that so many matters have been filed in different courts, they’ve been clubbed together, and this is the kind of an issue. The Hon’ble Supreme court will also go cautiously about the matter.”

“It’s not just that you should file an FIR,” Khemka said. “You can also approach the High Court. You may approach the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The High Court you can approach under 226. I’m filing a case through a normal citizen, who tracks Twitter daily. He has an account on Twitter and Whatsapp. You can approach an High Court to bring this issue to the limelight.”

Over 50 complaints have been filed against Twitter

Several participants on the call were those who had filed complaints with the police and other authorities, and cited Goenka’s support in assisting them with filings.

  • A participant on the call, who identified himself as Virendra Sharma, cited Anant Kumar Hegde’s letter against Twitter, and said that First Information Reports (FIRs) have been filed against Twitter at 50 places in the country.
  • A participant, who identified himself as Ajay Kashikar from Pune, said that he runs a company, and provides consulting services, including cybersecurity. Multinational companies, he said, are a threat to India. Based on Goenka’s guidance, Kashikar has filed a case in Pune, even though due to COVID situation, he hasn’t moved out of his house since March 18. He filed an e-complaint with the commissioners of police in Pune and Mumbai, and with the NIA. “I’m really happy to share this experience, because filing the complaint, I got an acknowledgement within two hours from the cybersecurity Pune, and commissioner of Police.” He has received several calls from the police station, requesting more details. He requested, as a management person, that all management people to be a part of this movement, to fight for national integrity. He requested all management veterans to be a citizen, and file cases physically or through email or the portal.
  • Another participant, named Dikshit Hazarika on the call, said that he had filed an FIR, and said that “as citizens of this nation, everybody should go and file a case so that they [Twitter] can learn a lesson from this.”
  • Dhan Raj Bansal, another participant on the call, said that he had filed a e-complaint with the NIA via an email, and then went to a police station to file a complaint. The police first declined to take the complaint, saying that it should be filed with the Cyber Police, but accepted the complaint when they were informed that the matter has been communicated to the Ministry of Home Affairs and NIA. Bansal suggested that participants on the call should use the assistance of the media and channels to communicate this issue to the wider public, and highlighted the fact that it isn’t just this paid [promoted] campaign that is on Twitter: “Khalistan related activity is also active on Twitter in an unpaid manner”, he said. “We should report such tweets to authorities, and get those handles blocked.”
  • A participant identifying himself Natwar Kedia, who is currently in Itanagar, has also filed a complaint with a local police station, and another of his colleagues is planning to file one in Chennai. He asked that people to go to their nearest police station to file a complaint.

Disclaimer: Some of the text has been translated from Hindi.

Note: MediaNama has stored an offline copy of the video for record-keeping.