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Mumbai: With the deadline nearing for the government to pass a final order on the proposed merger between National Spot Exchange Ltd (NSEL) and its parent Financial Technologies (India) Ltd (FTIL), supporters and opponents of the move have squared off in a high-decibel campaign.

Investor groups and brokers have released full-page advertisements backing the proposed merger to recover the money of nearly 13,000 NSEL investors in the 5,574.34 fraud at the commodities spot exchange that surfaced in July 2013. FTIL, which is staunchly resisting the union, is using social media to make its case.

An advertisement issued by the so-called NSEL Recovery Group on Thursday questioned the genuineness of the number of investors, saying only a few broker-members of NSEL had submitted the KYC—know your client—details of investors.

Print advertisements have made their appearance only recently, ahead of the 5 April deadline for the government to pass a final order on its merger proposal, but social media, especially microblogging site Twitter, has been abuzz for long.

Data sourced from Twitter show that opponents of the merger used the hashtag #stopmerger to get their message across. On some days, there were over 200 tweets per minute opposing the merger. On 2 March, there were 260 such tweets per minute followed by 210 tweets per minute the next day.

Analysis of such tweets further shows that newly opened individual accounts expressed their solidarity against the merger by posting pictures that said they were “united against forced amalgamation".

A draft government order on 21 October suggested merging NSEL and FTIL in public interest. This would mean FTIL assumes all the liabilities of NSEL and becomes party to all agreements entered into by the latter. The draft order was put up for feedback from stakeholders and the public.

On 5 February, the Bombay high court directed the government to hear all the parties and their contention within 30 days and pass a final order within four weeks of the hearing. The court further said that the government’s final order, once it is passed, will be kept in abeyance till the court hears the case and the final order will be subject to the court’s clearance.

Senior FTIL management including its promoter Jignesh Shah held so-called town hall meetings—informal gatherings—with the company’s staff in February, said an employee at FTIL who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“All staffers were told that social media has a lot of power and so everyone should open Twitter account and post anti-merger tweets," said the employee.

An email sent to FTIL on 5 March seeking a comment on the spurt in Twitter activity and meetings held between the management and staff remained unanswered.

According to keyhole, a real-time hashtag tracking tool, there were over 500 posts with #stopmerger on Thursday seen by more than 9,000 users. Nearly 98% of the posts were retweets.

Ketan Shah, a prominent investor in the NSEL case, said that while individuals stuck in the crisis have been active on Twitter for long as part of their campaign to recover their money, there has been a sudden spurt in activity by individuals trolling investors and even ministers while opposing the merger.

All FTIL shareholders have also been sent mails to oppose the proposed merger from a group called “Share Holder’s Association of FTIL". An FTIL statement issued on 10 March said that 99.5% of its shareholders sent a mail to the ministry of corporate affairs, protesting against the proposed merger.

Surprisingly, NSEL, which is at the centre of this crisis, has till date remained largely silent even as its parent and investor groups fight it out.

“We have made our submissions at the appropriate forum. We do not believe that this matter can be resolved through media campaigns," NSEL joint managing director Prakash Chaturvedi told journalists on Wednesday.

The merger, a long-standing demand of investors affected by the fraud at NSEL, was recommended by the commodities market regulator Forward Markets Commission (FMC). According to FMC, the workforce and financial strength of NSEL has been depleted and so it is “financially and physically incapable of effecting any substantial recovery from the defaulting members".

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