A day before former president Pranab Mukherjee visited the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, his daughter warned him that vested interests would manipulate his images at the Sangh event for false propaganda.
“…the speech will be forgotten, visuals will remain and those will be circulated with fake statements. By going to Nagpur, you are giving BJP/RSS full handle to plant false stories, spread false rumours …making it somewhat believable !” Sharmistha Mukherjee wrote in a tweet on June 6.
What she feared came true quickly.
The night when her father — an 82-year-old Congress veteran — shared the podium with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at the Sangh headquarters in Nagpur, a photo spread like wildfire on social platforms.
It showed the former Indian president with a black RSS cap on his head, offering the Sangh’s traditional “dhawaj pranam”, his right hand placed on the chest with the palm facing downwards.
“See, this is exactly what I was fearing & warned my father about. Not even few hours have passed, but BJP/RSS dirty tricks dept is at work in full swing!” exclaimed Sharmistha Mukherjee, herself a Congress leader, when she saw the viral photo.
Real 1 n fake 2 ye kalakari bjp itcell ….kuch to sharm rakho..jo bola hai wo ni bataynge.@MahilaCongress @ChitraSarwara @sushmitadevmp @chouhan_sumitra @INCIndia @IYC @RahulGandhi @neetuvermasoin @DeependerSHooda @rssurjewala @Sharmistha_GK @INCHaryana @HaryanaPMC pic.twitter.com/YZQvohHmOG
Ruchi Sharma (@RuchisharmaINC) June 7, 2018
Her other party colleagues lapped up the picture, posted it on social media with former president’s original photos at the RSS headquarters.
With the June 7 reception of Pranab Mukherjee at the RSS headquarters broadcast live on national air, it is no secret that he neither wore a cap nor stood in the RSS’ “dhawaj pranam” gesture.
Pranab Mukherjee stood to attention — straight with his feet together and arms at their sides — when the Swayamsevaks gave the traditional flag slaute.
In our viral test, we launched an investigation into who were the people behind the former president’s photoshopped image.
Our team dug deeper into cyberspace. We followed the trail of the altered photo on the internet.
We discovered the photoshopped image was released by a handful of people.
What led us to them was their abrupt deletion of tweets linked to the doctored picture.
But our team retrieved them from their cyber grave, using a variety of internet techniques.
Our viral test crew zeroed in on two social-media users.
One was Mihir Jha — @MihirKJha. This user, we found out, chose one Pranab Mukherjee photo from the RSS event and asks one of his friends on Twitter @Athiest_Krishna to put a black cap on the former president’s head.
Both @MihirKJha and @Athiest_Krishna follow each other on Twitter.
This is what @MihirKJha wrote: ”Bhai @Athiest_Krishna, can u put one black cap over his head and change hand gestures? Asking for a friend from Congress IT Cell.”
@Athiest_Krishna, who apparently lives in Vizag, was most certainly the right person to do the trick.
On his Twitter handle, this is what he declares: “I photoshop pic for PUN.”
But before @Athiest_Krishna could try his photoshopping skills on Pranab Mukherjee, another mutual friend — Abhi Jha @DarrKeAage — jumped in to show off his capabilities.
Abhi, our viral test found out, replied to Mihir with the altered photo of Pranab Mukherjee, which soon became talk of the town.
Mihir re-posted that photoshopped picture on Twitter, claiming it was taken by a friend attending the June 7 RSS programme in Nagpur.
We retrieved the post, which had been deleted.
When we explored the Twitter profiles of the three people involved in sharing the doctored photo, we noticed Mihir Jha boasting on his handle: ”Proud to be followed by PM@narendramodi”.
He was right. We found prime minister Narendra Modi indeed follows him on Twitter.
His other two friends — Abhi Jha (@DarrKeAage) and Krishna (@Atheist_Krishna) — are also quite active and are being followed by the BJP’s IT cell head, Amit Malviya, among thousands of others.
We managed to reach all three of them.
Krishna, had no role in photoshopping Pranab Mukherjee’s image.
But he admitted that he does alter images for fun and that some of them had gone viral in the past as well.
Abhi and Mihir confessed to their role in manipulating the former president’s Nagpur pictures, but claimed they did it for “harmless fun” without any “malafide intention”.
Both claimed the photoshopping of Mukherjee’s images was “pure entertainment” and that no party or organization commissioned the act.
But the RSS, in the meantime, has condemned the doctored photo, calling it “fake and malicious”.
(With inputs from Arjun Deodia)