DEEP FAKE: On the eve of the polling day a fake video showing three Congress MLAs, namely Avertano Furtado, Sankalp Amonkar and Savio D’Silva allegedly negotiating with the BJP on switching over if they won the elections.
By Rajan Narayan
Will the social network decide the outcome of elections from now onwards? Perhaps not but it could certainly influence the results. There is concern over the EVMs being hacked during the long gap of 24 days between the polling and the results. Which will be announced only on March 10, 2022 after the entire polling schedule is completed.
ON Saturday, February 12, 2022 late evening, a Hindi news channel called Khabar from Delhi tried to disrupt the election about to commence in Goa. On the eve of polling day on February 14 the news channel circulated a video of three Congress MLAs, Avertano Furtado of Navelim, Sankalp Amonkar of Mormugoa, Savio D’Silva of Velim and Churchill Alemao of Benaulim (TMC) promising to defect to the BJP if they win their seats. The four candidates were shown demanding Rs1 crore to Rs4 crore for the switch from the Congress and the TMC to the BJP.
There was total panic in the Congress and the Goa Trinamool Congres. Till it was discovered that the news video was fake. That the Delhi-based Hindi channel which telecast the video on Channel 13 on YouTube has resorted to what is called deep fake technology to create a false video. Using this deep fake technology it is possible to morph faces and even voices to give an impression that the candidates concerned were trying to strike a deal with the BJP on the eve of the assembly elections!
THE Congress party contacted the MLAs mentioned in the fake video. They denied ever having bargained with the BJP to join it if they won the February 14 election to the assembly. Churchill Alemao also strongly denied that he had taken part in any such meeting. The Congress MLAs and the TMC candidate mentioned in the video rushed to the office of the Chief Election Commissioner along with GPCC president Girish Chodankar and Goa state election-incharge Gundu Rao. On behalf of the TMC elections incharge in Goa, Mahua Moitra, with Churchill Alemao lodged a complaint with the Chief Electoral Officer Kunal. In the meanwhile the Telecom Ministry and Meta also acknowledged that the video was fake. The Chief Electoral Office promptly directed that the video should be removed from both the Aacebook network and television netork. The publication of any news relating to the video before polling started on Febraury 14 was also banned.
The most curious aspect of the deep fake video was that it appeared on the social media of the Aam Aadmi party even before it was telecast and was put on YouTube. Both the TMC and the Congress party have filed complaints against AAP also. The general impression all this confirms is the perception that AAP is the team B of the BJP. This impression has been re-enforced by Arvind Kejriwal offering residents of Goa free pilgrimage visit to Ayodhya, Ram Janmabhoomi temple, Ajmer, Vailankanni, etc.
SPOOKED BY 2017
THE reason why the fake video tended to be believed initially is because of what happen after the 2017 elections when Congress won 17 seats as against the 13 seats won by the BJP. The Congress had an unwritten agreement with the Goa Forward that it would help the Congress to form the government. But the condition set by Vijay Sardesai, Goa Forward’s chief, was that Digambar Kamat should be appointed the chief minister and not Luizinho Falerio, who was then GPCC president and determined to be the chief minister. It is alleged that he used his close relations with Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi to sabotage the chances of Digambar Kamat being the chief minister of Goa.
In the meanwhile, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Transport in the BJP government at the Centre, flew down to Goa. While the Congress fought over who would be chief minister Gadkari persuaded both the Goa Forward and the MGP, which has won three seats each, to extend support to the BJP. With the help of couple of additional Independents the BJP hastily staked its claim to form the government and went on to form the BJP government of Goa!
PERHAPS this time too in the latest bit of fake video incident the Congress feared that history may repeat itself given the dirty tricks department of the BJP at work again. It did not matter that the hand behind the fake video was perceived to be that of the AAP. Since the AAP and the BJP have been coming very close in recent times.
Digambar Kamat was the first to react insisting that he would not let 2017 repeat itself. But this time the threat to Digambar Kamat comes not from the BJP but from within his own Congress party. It may recalled that very recently the Congress has given tickets to both former BJP MLA Michael Lobo and his wife Delilah for the Calangute and Siolim constituencies, respectively.
Just as Atanasio Babush Monserrate got the BJP ticket for Panaji. In the case of Panaji the BJP chose Babush over Utpal Parrikar, son of the late Manohar Parrikar, because Babush promised he would win all the five Tiswadi seats for the BJP. Similarly, Michael Lobo has promised the Congress that he would win all six seats of Bardez taluka.
If the Congress does not get a clear majority it is unlikely that any of the other alliance partners like the Goa Forward and the NCP-Shiv Sena alliance will support Michael Lobo for the chief minister’s post. So much so the scenario depicted in the fake video doing the rounds on social media and another television channel was taken seriously by most of the senior leaders of the Congress.
In the case of Churchill Alemao there is another reason why the deep fake video carried credibility. When Churchill Alemao was a member of Parliament in 2015, he was seen demanding money in a video courtesy a Tehelka sting operation. Members of Parliament are entitled to a Rs10 crore grant for the development of their constituencies. During the sting operation, Goan journalist Mayabhushan, then working for Tehelka, asked Churchill on spy camera whether he would provide Rs2 crores for a Mobile Konkani Library? Churchill is seen in the video demanding Rs1 crore as a kickback for sanctioning the Rs2 crore for the project.
It was in similar sting operations that the then national president of the BJP, Bangaru Laxman, and former Defense Minister George Fernandes, were also exposed. So much so that this time around too nobody was very surprised about the video showing Churchill Alemao demanding Rs4 crore to switch to the BJP if he won the Benaulim seat on so called video journalism.
However the video was quickly proved fake. It was the product of deep fake technology which permits morphing of faces as also faking voices. The ultimate blame or credit for the aborted sting operation must go to I-PAC boss Prashant Kishor. It was the I-PAC chairman who introduced all this high-fi communication technology to Indian politics. Prashant Kishor who has spent considerable time in the US marketing candidates on US elections, is very familiar with the social network.
I-PACK is the master of manipulation of not only YouTube videos but also Facebook and WhatsApp posts. Many of you must have received requests on Facebook network from Arvind Kejriwal and Amit Palekar. When one of our senior correspondents mentioned this to a senior I-PAC executive her response was “We were the ones who taught Arvind Kejriwal all these tricks!” We may remember that Prashant Kishor was the consultant to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and played a major role in the massive victory of AAP in the New Delhi assembly elections.
The first time around AAP won 67 of the 70 seats in the New Delhi assembly elections. That to in the first election contested by the newly formed party by a former income- tax commissioner, AAP promised both the Congress and the BJP which had alternatively ruled New Delhi till AAP swept them away.
There are Facebook posts claiming that Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool Congress chairperson, has sacked Prashant Kishore. Apparently, this is because of reports she has been getting from TMC leaders in Goa, that the Kolkata-based party is doing badly in the Goa assembly election. It may be recalled that there have been protests from many high profile TMC candidates who were not given a ticket to contest the February 14 elections. This included advocate Yatish Naik, who was expecting a ticket to contest in Saligao, and Clovis Da Costa was expecting the ticket for Velim.
JUST as Goa Forward was Kingmaker in the last assembly election in 2017, it would appear that Babush Monserrate and Michael Lobo will be the kingmakers in the current election just over. But unlike Michael Lobo, Babush Monserrate has never staked a claim to become chief minister, even though he had the support of the ten Congress MLAs who defected to the BJP with him.
There is no limit to Michael Lobo’s ambition as he has already announced that he is a candidate for the chief minister’s post if the BJP wins the 2022 elections. But as of now it seems that we are heading for an extremely divided mandate and we do not know who will align with which party. There is a long wait as the results of the February 14 assembly elections will be announced only March 10 when the entire polling process will be completed.