India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the United States of America last week—but it’s not as if we need to tell you that. The media and digital storm that ensues every time our prime minister makes a visit to any foreign country ensures that the citizens of his country are kept up to date with his every move. But, have you ever wondered why there is no dissent shown toward his populist agenda on these trips? It’s thanks to the PM’s PR juggernaut . Which means that the opposition has to adopt ingenious methods to ensure its voice is heard. And the latest campaign is ‘Zuck, Wash Your Hands‘.
The Alliance For Justice And Accountability, an Indian-American coalition working to address the attacks on Indian communities, was largely responsible for organising the protests against Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley under the #ModiFail campaign. A part of this campaign was a website called zuckwashyourhands.com which referenced the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook HQ on September 27th. The two men were said to be hosting a Townhall Q & A which would be streamed live and questions would be invited from Facebook users, an exercise which would prove futile for what was one of the most self-aggrandising PR exercises for both, the social network and the prime minister.
The website started by offering an introduction to the Prime Minister, stating, ‘Meet Mr. Modi, the Prime Minister of India.He was previously banned from the U.S. for complicity with genocide. He almost has us convinced that his hands are clean.’ The website then quotes The New York Times article that detailed the timeline of the Gujarat Riots. ‘Meet Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. On Sep 27, 2015, Zuck is going to be shaking hands with Modi. Zuck, don’t get that blood all over your hands ‘, narrates the website which then offered a solution: ‘We decided to help Zuck by sending him Purell® hand sanitiser.’
The website stated that due to the high amounts of blood, rape and murder ‘Modi was complicit in’, they would be buying every bottle of hand sanitiser they could find and would send it to Zuckerberg via mail. The website claimed that they had sent more than 250 packages of Purell to Zuckerberg via mail, each of them bearing the name of a victim of the Gujarat genocide. ”The American public—and in particular, the leaders of Silicon Valley—must remember that Modi is not simply a prime minister making a trade visit, he is a man responsible for genocide,” a spokesperson for the protest told Scroll.in.
Homegrown’s ‘Modi And Zuckerberg: Questions You Won’t See Them Answering‘, had asked Zuckerberg how comfortable he would be sharing the stage with a man whose alleged involvement in a pogrom lead to the death and displacement of minorities in 2002—a question that was never destined to be answered. A slight delay and questionable choice in music aside, the live stream went off in an almost too-perfect manner.
— Vindu Goel (@vindugoel) September 27, 2015
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A day after this grand PR exercise, we are now left to grapple with tricoloured Facebook display pictures in support of Digital India, uploaded by users who are ignorant of the devastating Net Neutrality violations Internet.Org commits. It gets worse: articles covering the meeting by India’s top journalistic institutions were paid for by Facebook, and confessions from those present at the event talk of how questions to be asked were pre-determined.
The cause of ‘Zuck, Wash Your Hands’ certainly seems to be a lost one for those who believe that results matter over values. The meeting seems to have paid off handsomely, with no ounce of dissent against a person who refuses to talk about the most bloody aspect of his legacy, and another who can hardly claim any innocence as he aims to create the world’s largest social network for successive generations, in the name of fighting poverty.
But let’s not be so cynical. At least Facebook employees will have squeaky clean hands for the next few months.
Words: Devang Pathak