Two years after police personnel had allegedly picked him up, blindfolded, kept in a ‘police unit’ throughout the night and interrogated him in Bhopal, Abhishek Mishra is once again in the news and for similar reasons.
The difference is that two years ago, BJP was the ruling party in Madhya Pradesh and few people were aware about the incident but after Mishra’s arrest on January 22, 2019 from a Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh, it has hit headlines and there has been a strong reaction.
Not just the Home minister issued a statement and the MP government has objected to the action against ‘a resident of the state’ without even informing local police and his family, the officials have shot a letter to Delhi police commissioner demanding action.
This tells a bit about the journey of Abhishek in the last three years—from a BJP-sympathiser who made videos against ‘JNU students’ to a pro-Congress activist, his success as a Youtuber, the social media attention he got and of course the flip side—getting into trouble with the law-enforcers.
From a BJP-sympathiser to pro-Congress activist
Till early 2016, he was seen as pro-BJP. It is not clear what made him switch sides. Conversation with people familiar with the functioning of IT cells of the parties say that some guys close to BJP IT cell didn’t like him.
It seems he had fallen out with them and the hostilities remained even later. Was it because he was aware of their style of functioning? It can’t be said with surety.
On November 11, 2016, he had the first such experience. The police had allegedly stormed into his house and taken him away. “I was kept blindfolded. I felt that during Vyapam scam so many people were killed and I too would suffer a similar fate”, he would say later.
He claimed that he had got information about huge cash kept in a top BJP leader’s car and posted about it, following which ‘the directives were given to the police to catch him’.
“Main samajh raha tha ki mera ant aa gaya hai”
“Main samajh raha tha ki mera ant aa gaya hai”, he claimed in a video later. Abhishek was allowed to go, the next day. “They took my laptop, seized my pen drive, cell phone and though I promised that if I had made a mistake, I would apologise but I later found that an FIR was registered against me”, he said in a video that was later posted.
Though this experience had apparently unnerved him, it was also the episode that pushed him more towards the Congress. Already, his videos mostly targeted BJP and its leaders.
The months spent in efforts to get bail and recover his seized goods, turned him more towards Congress leaders. It was more common to see photographs of Abhishek along with senior Congress leaders now.
Lakhs of followers on YouTube, huge traffic on website Viral in India
A teenager hailing from Chhatarpur, Abhishek had come to Bhopal to study engineering in a private college. However, it was the same time when the YouTube revolution had begun—youngsters had started making money by posting amateur videos on the forum.
With more than 1.36 lakh followers on his YouTube channel and his videos grabbing millions of eyeballs through social media—Facebook and WhatsApp, he was clearly making an impact.
He was making moolah too and hence had employees who worked for him. Many of his videos had 2 lakh to 7 lakh views on YouTube. Besides, his website ViralInIndia.net that has mostly anti-BJP content gets huge traffic. And, in addition, his personal accounts have 1 lakh followers on Facebook and Twitter, together.
For a party (Congress) that hadn’t given much attention to social media initially, especially in Madhya Pradesh, Abhishek was useful. He was not a member of the party but he targeted BJP in his videos and posts.
A look at his site suggests that the videos are the ones people often forward in WhatsApp groups and often lack in substance. But in a video posted in November 2016, he made his point.
“If you post anything against BJP, you will face action and may get arrested. “Those associated with BJP will post fake messages…they have so many fake websites…. but there is no action against them”, he said.
The top ‘pinned’ tweet on his Twitter profile reads, “I post against BJP so that the next generation won’t ask me what I was doing when the country was being robbed.
In November 2016, he didn’t have political support and it was a BJP government at the helm in Bhopal. By 2019, he had enough political links and now a police team from outside the state came to arrest him.
Interestingly, media reports had no clear reason why he was arrested—some said it was a ‘communal post’, others termed his criticism of a Union minister as reason and elsewhere it was mentioned that a woman had made complaint.
Further, several media houses termed him MP Congress’ IT cell chief and the party leaders had to clarify that he was never a party functionary. A lot of questions remain regarding the manner of arrest. Clearly, there is more than meets the eye.
The murky world: Social media, peddling political parties’ agendas and the enmities
Innumerable youngsters who are directly or indirectly linked to the political parties—many of them lured by prospects of power or proximity to politicians but rather than hard work on the ground, end up peddling their parties’ agenda or fake news, nurturing hostilities, without even getting recognition or making it big.
Abhishek is one of the few who has got success and his story gives us a peek into the functioning of IT cells that have become a necessary part of political culture now—the hopes, the benefits, the risks and the enmities.
Will he come out wiser or it is just the next step before his plunge into more serious political activity in coming years? Time will tell.