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Nehru Wikipedia smear: many questions, few answers

Deepa Kumar | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:16 IST

On the very day Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled his grand Digital India project, netizens spent their time worrying whether the government's digital infrastructure, of the kind it wants to create under the latest initiative, is open to being abused.

The worry stemmed from the revelation that malicious edits had been made to the Wikipedia page on Jawaharlal Nehru using a computer of the National Informatics Centre. The edits claimed India's first prime minister was born in a red light district in Allahabad and that his grandfather was a Muslim.

A verification of the IP address on whois.domaintool.com showed that it belonged to the NIC, a central government concern. Later in the day, Wikipedia volunteers undid the edits.

Was this just a bad joke, or is there more than meets the eye?

No laughing matter

Smearing the Nehru-Gandhis is nothing new. Detractors have long blamed them for all India's ills, and spread malicious rumours about them. Internet trolls often post unsubstantiated, often defamatory, posts not just about them but others too.

Who is behind the misuse of NIC's IP address to carry out a hatchet job on Nehru is difficult to know. It would, therefore, be premature to point fingers.

The government doesn't seem interested yet in finding the culprit. Doesn't that raise questions on its integrity?

This, though, is beyond doubt: the government must take blame for letting its secure intranet infrastructure be misused, and then not even ordering an inquiry.

Is the government not interested in finding the culprit? If not, doesn't that raise questions on its role in the affair?

Criticising Nehru's socialism, his approach to India's wars, dealings on Kashmir, leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement and other policies is not only acceptable, but in the interest of a healthy discourse.

Taking cheap potshots, however, veers into a different category - abuse.

Security risk

The Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala reiterated this, stating that at the end of the day, Nehru was an Indian and it does not matter whether he was Hindu or Muslim.

He added, "The prime minister owes the nation an answer. He needs to tell us how the Wikipedia entries were changed from one of the IP addresses belonging to the government's digital infrastructure."

This is a fair demand. After all, on the day the government promised to digitize all of India, and securely, a breach in its own systems needs explaining.

And even if the prime minister does not respond, as senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh pointed out, at least Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad should.

Smearing Jawaharlal Nehru is nothing new. Right-wing critics have long blamed him for all India's ills

Nehru may have been of an ideological persuasion that is not the flavour of the Modi era, but the unerasable fact of the history is that he was our first prime minister. And he remains an icon for a great number of Indians.

It is, therefore, incumbent upon the government to explain why the misuse of official systems to tarnish his imagine is not being condemned and investigated.

Globally, when people 'google' individuals, they often start by reading the Wikipedia entries on them. It is worth noting that when we attack Nehru, we attack India, too. The same would hold true if such mischief were unleashed on Narendra Modi's Wikipedia page now or a few decades down the line. Which side of the political spectrum you occupy then is hardly the question.

First published: 2 July 2015, 10:55 IST
Deepa Kumar @dipaah

Bred in Bombay, breaking bread in Delhi, Deepa is the founder of GrassRoute India - an independent, non-partisan organisation that enables dialogue between Members of Parliament and citizens. A former LAMP Fellow, Deepa tracks and writes on Indian legislation and policy. If not found online, Deepa will be lost travelling through India.