India’s pro-government news agency, ANI, has once again found itself exposed by netizens for peddling dangerous fake news on the Manipur violence. Faced with public humiliation, ANI deleted its fake tweet promoting Islamophobia. Worse, ANI editor, Smita Prakash, even audaciously tried to troll a celebrated former army general when the latter pointed out the ANI’s history of peddling fake news.
It all started with ANI linking the arrest of an individual by the Manipur Police to the gangrape of Kuki women by the members of Meitei community. While Kukis are predominantly Christians, Meiteis are predominantly Hindus in Manipur, which has seen unending violence in the recent weeks.
Two Kuki women were paraded naked and allegedly gangraped by people belonging to the Meitei community in early May this year. However, the video of unspeakable violence against the tribal women by the Meitei community went viral on social media this week, evoking angry reactions globally.
Faced with global condemnation Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leaders of his party, the BJP, were forced to issue public statements condemning the incident. The surfacing of videos of Kuki women being paraded naked and allegedly gangraped heaped embarrassment on Modi and his party since Manipur is governed by the BJP. Netizens and members of the civil society demanded answers from the BJP on inaction given the alleged incident had taken place more than 70 days ago.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh promised action saying that he had ordered his police to not spare the culprits. While the Manipur Police did not immediately announce the arrest of any culprits seen in the viral video, it tweeted arrest of a Muslim suspect related to a separate case.
“One PREPAK Pro Cadre Arrested: Today one cadre of PREPAK Pro namely Md Ibungo @ Abdul Hilim (38 yrs) s/o (L) Tomba Khan of Khumidok Epum Mapan Imphal East was arrested by Imphal East District Police.”
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, The PREPAK or People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak was formed under the leadership of R.K. Tulachandra in October 1977 with the organisation’s objective being the expulsion of ‘outsiders’ from the state.
However, Smita Prakash’s ANI wasted no time in linking the arrest of PREPAK group’s individual to the gangrape of Kuki women since the person arrested had a Muslim name.
ANI tweeted, “Manipur viral video case: One cadre of People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) Pro namely Md. Ibungo alias Abdul Hilim (38 yrs) of Imphal East was arrested by Imphal East District Police. A total of three main accused of the heinous crime of abduction and gangrape under Nongpok Sekmei PS, Thoubal District have been arrested today: Manipur Police.”
However, hours after facing piublic humiliation for peddling fake news, ANI was forced to delete its fake tweet and issue a clarification and apology. It wrote on Twitter, “Note on Story retraction and APOLOGY: Yesterday evening, inadvertently a tweet was posted by ANI regarding arrests undertaken by the Manipur Police. This was based on an erroneous reading of tweets posted by the Manipur police as it was confused with an earlier tweet regarding other arrests made by it in relation to the incidents shown in the viral video. Shortly afterwards, within a few minutes, on realising the error the tweet was promptly deleted and a corrected version was immediately put out. Error regretted.”
But, this was not enough as members of the Indian civil society continued to register their outrage on the dangerous act of ANI since the damage had already been done. Many people pointed out how ANI supplied news to hundreds of Indian news outlets, who may have picked up the agency’s fake news to cause further demonise India’s Muslim community.
A visibly angry Lt. General (Retd) HS Panag wrote on Twitter, “A day will come one she will go off the air!.”
Smita Prakash, who appeared to show no remorse for her perceived criminal act, chided the celebrated Indian general and wrote, “Gen Saab, aap bhi yaheen ho, mai bhi yaheen hoon. Dekhte hain maidaan kaun छोड़ता है. 💪🏻”
As expected, she faced more humiliation for her ‘shamelessness’ as one wrote, “Shamelessness after committing crime! Don’t defame journalism by spreading fake news.” Anotheer Twitter user wrote, “Thodi to Sharm bacha leti…Jhuth bolkar communal angle dene me lagi thi isme bhi.”
This is not the first time that ANI has been caught spreading fake news. The agency, known for supporting the BJP and its Hindutva agenda, was exposed by the Uttar Pradesh Police during the corona pandemic for peddling fake news to defame Muslims.