The Maharashtra government's intelligence department will conduct a probe into allegations some celebrities were pressurised to post tweets with regard to the farmers' protest, said home minister Anil Deshmukh on Monday, drawing an angry response from the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Deshmukh made the remarks on an online platform after the Congress, a ruling coalition ally in Maharashtra, sought an investigation into the BJP's alleged connection with recent tweets of some celebrities on the ongoing farm protest and to find out whether the saffron party "arm-twisted" them in posting those statements which were deemed pro-Centre.
In New Delhi, BJP president J P Nadda took a swipe at the Maharashtra government over the probe move, saying it has a unique model of governance that hails "noises of anarchy" from overseas but "harasses" patriotic Indians who stand for the nation.
"MVA in Maharashtra has a unique model of governance - hail noises of anarchy from overseas who show India in poor light but harass patriotic Indians who stand for the nation. It is difficult to decide what is more flawed: their priorities or their mindset?" Nadda tweeted.
Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant and some other party leaders on Monday raised the demand for a probe into tweets before Deshmukh in a meeting via video conference.
Deshmukh, an Nationalist Congress Party leader, is currently in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 recently.
A number of prominent personalities, including cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar and legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar, recently rallied around the central government on social media using hashtags #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.
This came after tweets by American pop star Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg backing farmers who are protesting near Delhi's border points against the Centre's three new farm laws.
After the virtual meeting with Deshmukh, Sawant in a tweet said, "Demanded investigation of BJP connection into the tweets of celebrities & security to be provided to our national heroes if needed & find out whether these celebrities were arm-twisted by BJP."
Responding to the demand, Deshmukh said the objection of the Congress leaders is in connection with the timing of the tweets and whether they were issued under pressure.
Deshmukh noted the tweets posted by badminton star Saina Nehwal and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar were similar.
The Congress's question is whether they (celebrities) were forced to issue tweets of the same kind simultaneously, the home minister said.
"You may have seen what kind of pressure is there on the media, how a politician is threatened with ED or CBI probe if he/she speaks against the BJP. We have all seen this.
"As far as your objection (about celebrities' tweets) is concerned, we will definitely probe into those. Our intelligence agency will probe it," Deshmukh said.
Deshmukh said during the video conference, Sawant discussed this "serious issue" with him.
"Despite being infected by COVID-19, I gave him time because this issue is related to farmers. I heard him out and assured to take action as per rules in this connection," the minister said.
Taking to Twitter later, Deshmukh said those felicitated with the Bharat Ratna (Tendulkar and Mangeshkar are recipients of India's highest civilian award) are respectable to all.
The NCP minister, however, added that the Congress has demanded a probe whether any BJP leader pressurised them (the Bharat Ratna awardees) into posting the tweets in question.
The persons felicitated with the Bharat Ratna are respectable to all of us. But has any of the BJP leaders pressurised them? The Congress has demanded a probe of that leader, Deshmukh tweeted in Marathi.
Meanwhile, addressing reporters in Mumbai, Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole accused the central government of pressurising celebrities, "like the underworld" once used to do.
He asked celebrities to not fall prey to such alleged pressure tactics because they are youth icons.
The Narendra Modi government is using celebrities to divert attention from the issues concerning farmers, the poor, unemployed and small industrialists, Patole alleged.
"The BJP government is doing what the underworld once used to do," Patole said.
Meanwhile, in a stinging attack, senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis termed the move to investigate tweets by celebrities as "disgusting and highly deplorable" and said the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) should feel ashamed while using the word "probe" for Bharat Ratna awardees.
The leader of opposition in the Maharashtra assembly said it seems necessary to probe the "mental state" of those who demanded the investigation and those who ordered it.
"Has this MVA Govt lost all its senses? MVA should feel ashamed while using the word 'probe' for BharatRatnas! Actually, now it seems necessary to probe the mental state & stability of the ones who made such demand & of people who ordered probe against our BharatRatnas!" Fadnavis tweeted.
In an apparent swipe at the Shiv Sena, which heads the MVA government, Fadnavis, a former chief minister, asked, "Where is your Marathi Pride now? Where is your Maharashtra Dharma? We will never find such 'ratnas' (gems) in entire Nation who order probe against BharatRatnas who always stand strong in one voice for our Nation!"
Hitting back at Fadnavis, Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sawant accused the BJP of deliberately trying to twist the issue.
Sawant said the Congress demanded the "probe of the BJP (connection to the tweets)", and not of celebrities.
"Why BJP is keeping mum on why tweets of Akshay Kumar and Saina Nehwal are matching with each other? Why (Bollywood actor) Suniel Shetty tags his tweet to a BJP office-bearer? Why BJP is scared of probe?" Sawant tweeted.
Sawant questioned why the contents of most of the tweets are identical and have the same word "amicable" mentioned in them.
The Maharashtra Congress spokesperson claimed there is a "great possibility" that some celebrities were "arm-twisted" by the BJP into issuing the tweets rallying around the Central government.
"Those need to be given protection. Those who have opined on their own their opinion must be respected," Sawant added.
"....it is the duty of MVA govt to provide atmosphere where every individual can exercise their right of freedom of speech without any pressure. Even if pressure is from Modi govt," Sawant added.