The Narendra Modi government had to field its crisis managers on Thursday to end what it called a "strong misinformation campaign," which it feared could hurt the ruling BJP's electoral interests in the Delhi elections due soon.
The trouble was causaed by a WhatsApp message that was being circulated fast and furious. It purported to reproduce a government reply in Parliament on whether it was planning to lower the retirement age of central government employees from 60 to 58 years.
The message alleged that the government had said in the Rajya Sabha that it would be tabling a bill proposing a cut in the retirement age in the Budget Session in March 2015.
Three ministers issued strong denials in quick succession, even as the government ordered an investigation into the origins of the message. Finance minister Arun Jaitley told NDTV, "These are all baseless rumours and there is no question of altering the retirement age of central government employees. It is 60 years and will remain 60."
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh too denied any such proposal.
A study of the message circulated on WhatsApp confirmed that someone has altered the question posed by a Rajya Sabha MP on December 11 and the minister's reply, meticulously keeping the format of a written reply in Parliament intact.
To ensure a quick burial for what could have burgeoned into a major headache for the government, the department of personnel and training also posted the government's actual reply online and issued a press release to say that there was no proposal to lower the retirement age.
Top sources called it "an act of forgery by an expert." They alleged that it was a "political conspiracy" intended to enrage the large population of central government employees in Delhi. "Central government employees had contributed to the rise of Aam Aadmi Party's fairly successful debut in the 2013; six months later the same voters voted for Modi and dumped AAP," said a senior minister.