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Sonia Gandhi knew of Rajiv’s assassination plot, her husband had ‘drinking problems’: WhatsApp groups awash with rumours about ex-PM

"Rajiv Gandhi did 181 election rallies in his lifetime, of which Sonia Gandhi attended 180. The only one she didn’t attend was the one where he was killed".

"The BBC wanted Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister of India. So, they ran a radio campaign in his favour and he won".

"Kejriwal only gets slapped in India, but Rajiv Gandhi used to get slapped across the world" — the caption accompanying a video of a Sri Lankan sailor attacking Gandhi in 1987.

"Rajiv Gandhi was an aayaash. When he was in the UK, he drank a lot and failed all his exams. That’s why he was thrown out of Cambridge."

An organised flood of abuse, slander and disinformation has been unleashed on Rajiv Gandhi, the late former prime minister, in the past week on political WhatsApp groups — many of them run by sympathisers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The disinformation on these WhatsApp groups has gone largely unchecked.

This writer's investigation of 20 WhatsApp groups has revealed slander, abuse and conspiracies directed at Gandhi started circulating on BJP-leaning groups on 6 May, a day after Narendra Modi said that Gandhi had died as "bhrashtachari number 1 (corrupt number 1)".

From wild allegations around Gandhi's 'drinking problems' to jokes about the assault on him by a Sri Lankan sailor to insinuations of wife and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi's prior knowledge of his death, text messages, memes and videos are swirling in the closed world of WhatsApp, pecking away at the late former prime minister's reputation.

It initially began with texts reiterating Modi's allegations. Then, swiftly, a more organised flood of media unleashed itself on these groups.

This included a six-minute long video that detailed how Gandhi was of Muslim lineage rooted in Afghanistan and that his real name was "Rajiv Khan". It also included memes, including a morphed photo of the famous Titanic poster, with the ship and the foreground and the lead actors replaced with Gandhi and Sonia, with a line saying, "They owned India and could holiday anywhere."

The WhatsApp messages that this investigation could access, sought to target various stages of Gandhi's life — from his time as a student in the United Kingdom where, the messages allege, he failed repeatedly and was profligate and had to be thrown out. These messages have also alleged that Gandhi, a pilot with Indian Airlines, had "escaped to Italy during the 1971 war with Pakistan at a time when all domestic pilots were asked to report for national duty".

Many of these groups also have photos of dead, bruised and bloodied photos with captions that imply they were killed in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that engulfed the country after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguard.

Reflecting the quick-footedness with which the organised campaign seems to have responded to political happenings, it was found that there was a series of posts targeting former chief of naval staff Admiral L Ramdas (retired).

Ramdas, who was the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command then, had issued a statement rebutting Modi's allegations that Gandhi, as the then prime minister, had used the aircraft carrier INS Viraat for a personal holiday in 1987.

The posts on Ramdas call him a "travel agent of late Rajiv Gandhi" and accused him of being a part of the Adarsh Housing Society scam.

The messages, incidentally, also fuel conspiracy theories around Gandhi’s assassination. In a number of these groups, near-identical messages did the rounds, asking how no other Congress leader died in the suicide bombing that killed Gandhi in Sriperumbudur in 1991. The posts went on to insinuate that other Congress leaders as well as Sonia had inklings of the incident and hence, stayed away from the event.

While disinformation around Gandhi has been forming a major bulk of content shared on these groups over the past one week, these groups are also seeing considerable amount of disinformation around other issues, especially those involving the BJP's rivals. Texts inciting hatred and anger against Kashmiris have been a regular occurrence on WhatsApp since the Pulwama terror attack.

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Updated Date: May 13, 2019 13:15:27 IST