Don’t discuss politics on social media: Assam government to employees
The Sarbananda Sonowal-led Assam government is all set to regulate social media interactions of its employees. A draft policy, which has been uploaded on government website for comments and feedback to be submitted by September 15, proposes that government officials must refrain from “political discussions” while using social media in their “official capacity”. It also bars them from making “personal comments for or against any individual or agency”.
The draft policy claims that it is borrowed from the “Framework and Guidelines for Use of Social Media for Government Organisations” prepared by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government in 2012. There is, however, a slight shift from those guidelines. The framework recommended that professional discussions should not be politicised. The Assam government’s policy discourages political discussions altogether.
Employees, Assam’s draft policy suggests, can respond to queries and comments in their personal capacity as long as they “clearly identify themselves”. “Confidential information must not be divulged and should not be seen to represent official view unless authorised to do so,” it says.
This development has come amid reports that the Narendra Modi-led Union government has been planning to make the UPA’s 2012 guidelines stricter. In July 2016, the Central government informed civil servants and officers that they were strictly not allowed to criticise the government on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
However, it’s not just government employees who are on the Assam government’s radar. The Sonowal government has shown zero tolerance to any criticism against the government on social media. A 16-year-old boy from Golaghat was apprehended twice in May, each time by a different district police force, after BJP functionaries lodged complaints against him. The teenager had uploaded an “offensive” video on YouTube, making fun of several BJP leaders including Sonowal and State Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The language of the teenager, as examined by India Today, was abusive and derogatory.
The same month, in another such incident, a Congress worker, Dipankar Bora, was arrested for allegedly uploading some photos of BJP-AGP MLAs and other government officials in social media accusing that they were drinking beer in an official meeting. “We wish the police showed the same promptness in taking action against people who post much more incendiary posts threatening communal harmony. I have personally made several complaints against such posts, but no action has even been taken on them,” said Congress Parliamentary Party leader Debabrata Saikia.
Last year in May, Assam police arrested Parimal Gore, an office bearer of the Revolutionary Youth Association, the youth wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, from his home in Biswanath district on charges of using social media with an “intention to promote enmity between communities”. On May 7, Gore had shared a post on his Facebook wall — originally written by one Bipul Sharma — which was critical of Chief Minister Sonowal and Samujjal Bhattacharya, advisor of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU). The arrest was made based on a complaint by AASU. Incidentally, Sonowal started his political career as a member of AASU and still maintains a close association with Bhattacharya.
Such arrests have continued in Assam despite the fact that in 2015, the Supreme Court had scrapped Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 — empowering the police to arrest a person for allegedly posting offensive materials on social networking sites — for being unconstitutional. “What may be offensive to a person may not be offensive to others,” the apex court had said. “The chief minister believes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi constantly monitors what is being said on social media. So whenever someone posts anything critical about Sonowal, he gets scared thinking that Modi may form a negative opinion about him. That’s the reason he wants to muzzle social media voices,” says a cabinet colleague of Sonowal on condition of anonymity.
Assam is not the first state to issue social media guidelines for its employees. In December 2017, the Jammu and Kashmir government prohibited officials from criticizing its policies on social media. It also restricted them from using “personal social media accounts for any political activity or endorse the posts or tweets or blogs of any political figure”. In July, the Union government initiated an inquiry against the Kashmiri bureaucrat Shah Faesal for writing some Twitter posts that allegedly had violated service rules.
Despite several calls and text messages, Sonowal did not respond to queries related to this draft social media policy for his employees.
Source : India Today