Is Saket Gokhale being selectively targeted for spreading ‘fake’ news?

Gujarat police’s prompt action sparks allegations of bias

Saket GokhleImage: NDTV


On December 6, 2022 Gujarat Police detained Saket Gokhale, the national spokesperson for the Trinamool Congress (TMC), for allegedly promoting a fake news story concerning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Morbi in response to the October bridge collapse tragedy.

According to those with knowledge of the situation, Gokhale has been arrested by the police on suspicion of uploading on Twitter a “false RTI reply” detailing the millions of rupees the government spent on PM Modi’s visit to Morbi in Gujarat.

As reported by the PTI, the Indian Penal Code Sections 465, 469, and 471 (all of which deal with forgery) and 501 (printing or engraving materials known to be defamatory) were the basis of the FIR, according to police.

Gokhale’s arrest was allegedly the result of a “political vendetta,” according to the Trinamool Congress (TMC). TMC national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien provided more information about the arrest in a tweet. On December 5, Gokhale boarded a flight from New Delhi to Jaipur at 9 p.m. When he arrived, the Gujarat Police was waiting for him at the airport in Rajasthan, where they picked him up. According to O’Brien, Gokhale called his mother at 2:00 am on December 6 to inform her that he was being taken by the police to Ahmedabad and would arrive there by noon.

The TMC spokesperson said on Twitter that the police had taken his phone and all of his things after allowing him to make a two-minute phone conversation. “The cooked up case is filed with the Ahmedabad cyber cell about Saket’s tweet on the Morbi bridge collapse. All this cannot silence the All India Trinamool Congress and the Opposition. BJP taking political vendetta to another level,” he alleged.

Later, Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the TMC and the chief minister of West Bengal, supported Gokhale and denounced the “vindictive attitude” of the BJP administration. Banerjee, who is currently in Rajasthan, added that Gokhale didn’t make a mistake.

Gokhale, 35, tweeted a screenshot by a twitter account called @thedaxpatel which quoted a Gujarat Samachar article claiming an RTI had revealed that Rs. 30 Crore was spent on PM Modi’s visit to Morbi in the aftermath of the bridge collapse. Gujarat Samachar has reportedly denied filing any such RTI.  There were about 135 fatalities from the bridge accident. On November 1, the PM travelled to the town in his native state, where he also met the injured people and saw the scene of the disaster. The twitter account @thedaxpatel could not be found on twitter at the time of writing this article. 

Is arrest the norm for spreading fake news?

The menace of fake news is not a recent issue in India, it has not just proliferated but appears to be actively promoted, often even generating social tensions, outbreaks of violence. Political parties and prominent personalities in India have tried to gain political advantage by polarising the elector/voter’s mind by providing “news” with “dubious content” with the intention of deceiving them. This also leads to an intensification of tensions between different sections of society. The above instance, where a political personality tweeted an alleged fake news, was not an exceptional circumstance. Nevertheless, the action taken over the same was disproportionate, an arrest. 

While it is true that every fake news has the potential of disturbing the social fabric of the society, leading to creation of tensions among communities or even violence and riots, there is a history of inaction and indifference to such attempts, thus raising suspicion that the recent arrest was made out of political rivalry or even vendetta.

Some examples of such attempts of spreading fake news where the perpetrators have fortunately not been deprived of their personal liberty are:

  • Colonial Navy Symbol Fiasco: In September, 2022, India Today anchor Shiv Aroor did a show wherein he claimed that Manmohan Singh’s government had the Indian Navy bring back a colonial ensign after it was banished during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rule. Aroor’s point of outrage, implied if not explicit, was that while the BJP, from Vajpayee to Modi, cared for India’s nationalist ethos while the Congress was far removed from it. 

  • When the said claims were fact checked by Alt News, it was revealed that the ensign was not reintroduced under Manmohan Singh but under Vajpayee. Additionally, the colonial ensign was not brought back, apparently on the Navy’s request, not for any sentimental reason but because it needed to be visible in the open sea. No such punitive action has been taken against Shiv Aroor. 

  • Shraadha Walkar case fake identity video: On November 21, a video was shared by many known faces on the right including Priti Gandhi, national social media in-charge for the BJP, where a man was being interviewed about the Shraddha Walker murder case. The man can be heard saying that it was “normal” for Aaftab, the accused in the Shraddha murder case, to cut Shraddha’s body into 35 parts. In fact, if a man is angry, they can even cut the body into more than 35 parts. When asked about his hometown, the man replies by stating that he is from Bulandshehar and his name is Rashid Khan.  Priti Gandhi had shared the video with the caption, “Meet Rashid Khan from Bulandshahr. He strongly believes that it is absolutely normal for Aftab to have chopped Shraddha into 35 pieces. Where are we headed?” 

  • On November 25, the Bulandshahr Police notified that the man in the video has been arrested and his real name is not Rashid Khan but Vikas Kumar who already had multiple cases lodged against him. He was later arrested. No action, however, was taken against Priti Gandhi for spreading fake news, a powerful persona of the party in power. No action was taken against the youtube ‘news’ channel that aired the video either . In fact, the video still exists online. In fact multiple tweets from verified accounts that still identify Vikas Kumar as Rashid Khan and use that fact to spread hatred, are still up on the microblogging site. 

  • JNU Doctored Video: In 2016, it was alleged that Shilpi Tiwari, a close aide of Union HRD minister Smriti Irani, was  behind the circulation of one of the ‘doctored’ JNU videos. At least two out of the seven video clips of alleged ‘anti-national’ sloganeering in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) captured on 9 and 11 February are believed to have been ‘doctored’. Tiwari was also the campaign manager for Irani during the Lok Sabha election in Amethi. The forensic report had said the second video shared online by Shilpi had ‘discrepancies’ in the lip sync as the audio and video streams were from different sources and “merged with an intention to make these recordings appear as representations of true events.” Even though this news was picked up by mainstream media, there was no action taken against Shilpi. Her personal freedom was not denied.

  • Shaheen Bagh fake news: In January, 2020 Amit Malviya, the powerful head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell, shared a video on social media of a random group of persons claiming that the women of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh are being paid to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Malviya’s allegation was found baseless by a collaborative Alt News-Newslaundry investigation 

  • Covid-19 cure fiasco by Ramdev:  A First Information Report was filed against yoga preacher, Ramdev and four others for allegedly conspiring to sell a fake Ayurveda medicine with the misleading claim to cure COVID-19 following clinical trials on some patients. Patanjali claimed ‘Coronil’ and ‘Swasari’ had shown “100% favourable results” during clinical trials on affected patients, at Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar. The FIR said the claim had been made without getting the Union AYUSH Ministry’s approval. While the FIR was filed, no arrest or further action was taken against Ramdev. 

  • Bombs hurled at West Bengal Schools: In February, 2022, News18 aired an unverified and misleading live debate programme titled ‘Toh hijab ke liye bam barsaenge?/ Danke ki chot par’ (Translation: Asking openly- So will bombs be hurled for hijab?). The show appeared to be stigmatising and demeaning the Muslim community on national television by broadcasting unverified news. It was revealed by fact-checkers and news portals such as Alt News and The Print, that in truth, there were no bombs being hurled during the protest, and the claims made by News 18 were not supported by any ground reports or statements from local administration officials. 

  • It was only after CJP moved NBDSA, filed a complaint and presented their case during online hearings was the show then removed. But, even after the facts presented were found wrong, there was no action taken against the host, Rima Prasad. Her personal freedom, fortuitously was not curtailed. 

  • Vaccine Jihad Propaganda: A show titled कट्ट़रपंथियों से सीधे सवाल करने वाला बहुत बड़ा खुलासा | देश में कौन कर रहा है Vaccine वाला जिहाद ? (Translation: Fanatics to be questioned on this big revelation. Who is involved in “Vaccine jihad” in the country?) was aired on May 30, 2021 that showed one Niha Khan, a nurse, who allegedly wasted around 29 syringes by inserting it into people’s arms but not administering it and disposing it. It was found that the video on basis of which the show created this communal narrative was in fact of some other country, thus the channel was responsible for spreading fake news and utter misinformation. The hosts of the show constantly used offensive and discriminatory terminology to give the alleged incident a communal angle. 

CJP had filed a complaint with the NBDSA against Zee Media’s channel Zee Hindustan show about a so-called big revelation that involved “Vaccine jihad” in the country. While the channel was ordered to be taken down, there was no action taken against the host of the show.


On the contentious and divisive issue of fake news, there are many who are notoriously active on the part of the ruling party and its right wing ecosystem, and have been often accused of spreading misinformation and hate online. The only difference lies in the fact that while in this case Saket Gokhale allegedly made false claims in his tweet about the Prime Minister, these accounts use the menace of fake news to promote their divisive propaganda.

While there is no specific law against fake news in India, sections of Indian criminal law are regularly applied to criminalise free speech of those who may be critical of the current dispensation. However any action is conspicuously found wanting if the offenders/practitioners of fake news enjoy political patronage. While denial of personal liberty –arrest (as in the case of Saket Gokhale) cannot be the course that any established democracy should take to tackle the phenomena of fake news, selective application of criminal law, albeit unjustly, just further spreads the climate of immunity for those in powerful positions whose agenda is not dissemination of information but spreading hate and division.


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