Meeting against the backdrop of Muzaffarnagar riots, the National Integration Council today called for a collective effort to contain communalism as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that threat from divisive forces to the nation's integrity must be dealt with firmly.
Wrapping up a day-long meeting of NIC, the Prime Minister said a national effort by people of all sections of society including politicians is needed to prevent incidents of communal violence.
Briefing reporters at the end of the meeting, attended by Union Ministers, political leaders and eminent personalities from media, business and industry, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said almost all members pointed out that there are narrow and partisan vested interests behind communal violence and that collective effort is needed to contain the menace.
The misuse of social media to spread objectionable content and hatred among communities came under attack from the Prime Minister and a number of Chief Ministers who demanded some mechanism to check its uncontrolled use.
Theere were demands for an oversight mechanism to prevent and control the social media from running riot in such situations.
The NIC meeting expressed serious concern over growing incidents of communal violence and the need for parties to stop exploiting them for political gains, especially with elections round the corner.
Summing up their mood, the Prime Minister said the recent communal violence in some cases have brought to notice circulation of fake videos aimed at inciting the feeling of hatred in one community towards the other.
He said before this, in 2012, people have fanned hatred against the people of the Northeast which resulted in their mass exodus.
"Social media helps youngsters to get new information and new thought. It should be used in ensuring brotherhood and communal harmony.
"It is necessary to maintain independence of giving opinion and views by people in social media. But at the same time, it is also important that we donot let miscreants and troublemakers to misuse social media. I feel today's meeting will look into the issue of misuse of social media and deliberate on it," he said.
In his concluding remarks, Shinde said the country was facing new and emerging challenges in the wake of use of technology like use of social media.
"They have the potential to create enormous trouble but, if used properly, can be a powerful tool for spreading the message of peace and brotherhood," he said.
Shinde told reporters that it was not easy to completely ban the social media as there were issues of freedom of speech and expression but there should be some restrictions on it.
At the meeting, the need for early passage of the legislation to check communal violence was voiced while states like Tamil Nadu expressed apprehension that its provisions could be misused.
Shinde said the proposed legislation would be brought to Parliament as early as possible for its passage.
"We expect that such human crime (like Muzaffarnagar riots) is not repeated. That is our goal," he said.
The Prime Minister asked parties to refrain from taking advantage out of communal strife and said states should crackdown on elements fanning such violence irrespective of their political affiliations or influence.
Underlining that the onus for preventing communal violence lies with the states, he said effective steps should be taken by the administration to ensure that small issues don't snowball into a big controversy.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who had experienced the misuse of Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) in which an attack on two youth in Pakistan a couple of years ago was circulated during the Muzaffarnagar riots, lamented that there was no mechanism to check objectionable content being transmitted through social media.
"It is necessary that Internet and mobile service providers have the capacity to restrict transmission of SMS, MMS and emails through these mediums," he said.
These companies should have a technology to trace origin of such objectionable contents.
"If they do not have such capacity then they must develop them. I request Government to take immediate step in this regard," Yadav said.
Expressing concerns at the misuse of social media for inciting communal violence, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said such unscrupulous elements need to be tackled "with a firm hand" so that people do not fall a prey to their hate propaganda.
"It has been seen that a few sections of the media and some unscrupulous users of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter often use them to spread rumours, circulate fake videos, messages and images in a bid to hurt the sentiments of the religious communities, which have the tendency to arouse the passions, vitiate the peaceful atmosphere and lead to communal unrest," he said.