With those opposing the steel flyover project in Bengaluru creating a splash both online and offline, the Congress in Karnataka has started hitting back. While chief minister Siddaramaiah has rejected the demand that the flyover – that most agree, will harm Bengaluru's aesthetics - be scrapped, it is the online campaign that has raised eyebrows.
Rohith Chakrathirtha, a writer and teacher from Bengaluru has pointed out that 85 profiles have been created between August and October 2016 and all of them seem to be curiously focused on defending the Congress' position on the flyover.
Going through these handles and the content that they have tweeted in the past few weeks, one finds that many of them sport names of actors like Ragini Dwivedi, Katrina and Shakeela.
Some of the handles go by Kannada film titles like 'Doddamane Huduga', 'Doddamane Hudugi', 'Chikkamane Huduga'. Most of them eulogise Bengaluru Incharge minister KJ George, what he is doing for the city and the flyover, raising suspicions that a Big Boss is managing these twitter handles.
The videos, which feature people reading off a laptop, suggests that information in favour of the flyover is being spoon-fed and made to appear as if the common man is articulating it. However, to appear normal, people of Bengaluru are also re-tweeting cricket-related news from the last couple of days.
Why would this have happened? There seems to have been a realisation that a more well-organised effort by individuals and an organisation like Namma Bengaluru Foundation backed by Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar (now aligned with the NDA), ensured that #NoSteelFlyover trended on social media on Sunday.
It successfully created an impression that all of Bengaluru did not want a project that was being pushed down their throat. Neither do they want the road by the government.
George has denied any attempts by him or the Congress to create fake profiles, arguing that it is for those who are on social media to explain their position. But the fact is that the Twitter hit back is working. As an initiative, it has managed to make its presence felt in the domain space and ensure the opposite point of view is also heard by the tech-savvy middle class of Bengaluru.
What it has done as a result is to paint those who organised the protest on Sunday as the "elite chunk" of Bengaluru. Speak to residents in the northern part of Bengaluru like Malleswaram and just a few Resident Welfare Associations actually back the flyover that will connect the heart of the city with the area leading to the airport. They feel the Bengalurean voice is usually dominated by those who are concerned only about three roads and adjoining areas in the city - MG Road, Airport Road and Electronics City Road. The other parts feel the flyover, though it will look like a visual monster, will decongest Bengaluru and make their life less messy.
The BJP knows it is tough for it to protest given that the flyover idea was originally its. The only city MLA who has raised a dissenting note is Suresh Kumar, former law minister. But then citizens point out that his constituency is home to a signal free corridor for which close to one hundred trees were sacrificed. Over 800 trees and a part of the golf course will be history if the Rs 1791 crore steel flyover that will use 70000 tonnes of steel and concrete becomes a reality in two years.
The 6.7 km long flyover will stretch from Basaveswara Circle to reach Hebbal to make the route to the Airport simpler. Critics of the flyover argue that at best, it will save 10 minutes of driving time. But others feel even those not headed to the airport will find it easier to access the heart of the city than what it is now in Traffic Jam-uru Bengaluru.
The Congress also believes that the opposition, even though it seems like the common Bengalurean rising in protest to form a human chain, is political in nature. Tweets have made it a point to target Rajeev Chandrasekhar and point out that it is a protest sponsored by the BJP. George has also pointed out that the opinion of a few organisations is being sought to be passed off as public opinion.
But then even the government grossly misinterpreted public opinion when it invited the citizens of Bengaluru to send their response to the steel flyover in June 2016, keeping the window of online response open only for 48 hours. It received just 299 reactions, of which 218 were reportedly in favour and the rest either totally against or wanted modifications. Siddaramaiah talks of this 73 percent pro-flyover opinion as reason enough to greenlight the project.
The point is Bengaluru is divided over the flyover. The traffic situation does need solutions and it is for the government to ensure a public debate to reflect transparency in the decision-making process. What these twitter handles - fake or real, manufactured opinion or planted - have done is to ensure that the place at the mike as the spokespersons for Bengaluru is not usurped everytime, on every issue, by a few known faces.
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Updated Date: Oct 21, 2016 17:45:04 IST