Remember when Snapdeal was pressurised on social media in November 2015 to dump Aamir Khan as their brand ambassador by right-wing trolls?
A former volunteer of the BJP’s social media cell told the Indian Express that they were instructed to do so by the party’s IT cell head.
Sadhavi Khosla quit being a volunteer at the end of 2015. She shared the WhatsApp messages sent to her by the BJP IT cell head with journalist Swati Chaturvedi – who is publishing a book titled I am a Troll.
Aamir Khan had spoken at the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards on 23 November 2015.
Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child...She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet.
After these remarks, Khosla said the social media cell organised a campaign to remove Khan as the brand ambassador of Snapdeal. She shared messages she claims to have received from the head of the IT cell, Arvind Gupta.
The messages had links to sign an online petition for Khan’s removal and at the end of January 2016, his contract was not renewed by Snapdeal.
Gupta claims the BJP never “encouraged trolling” and has a set of social media guidelines on its website. He said he was not in charge of social media activities of the party since its restructuring in 2015.
Another WhatsApp message from the Hindu Defence League on 24 November 2015 that Khosla shared read: “Time to attack Snapdeal like…(we) did with greenply plywood and forced them to withdraw the defamatory ad!! Snapdeal customer care number…& threaten of negative publicity & ruining business if amir khan is not kicked out from brand ambassadorship!! Let’s show Hindu unity.” [sic]
On 30 July, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar launched a veiled attack on the actor when he said, “I am only trying to point out… If anyone speaks like this, he has to be taught a lesson of his life”.
Calling the actor’s words “arrogant” he said, “Some of our people are very smart, I know. There was a team working on this. They were telling people you order and return it… The company should learn a lesson, they had to pull his advertisement.”
“If there was even an unfavourable mention of Modiji anywhere, Gupta’s digital tracking tools would pick it up and the pack of hyena-like trolls would descend,” Khosla is quoted saying in the book.
Khosla also said that Gupta’s core team managed 20-21 WhatsApp groups, segregated on the basis of profession and gender, among other categories. Through these groups he sent out directives for tweets.
The attacks on Khan prompted Khosla to say. “For 25 years, they were our superstars. Now for the past two years, they have become terrorists?”.
She said that apart from receiving ‘guidance’ on the hate they were supposed to spew and hashtags they had to use, there was a “hit list” of journalists in which industry veterans like Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai were to be constantly attacked.
“BJP’s Internet Support is Organic”
The BJP IT Cell chief took to Twitter to respond to the allegations by Khosla.
6 tweets to set record straight.— Arvind Gupta (@buzzindelhi) December 28, 2016
1. Sadhavi Khosla sought to work for BJP for Punjab polls. On being refused she joined Congress campaign
2. Sadhavi Khosla has not been part of any BJP IT/social media cell. Any such claim is false, scurrilous and self promotion— Arvind Gupta (@buzzindelhi) December 28, 2016
3. BJP or its ITCell have never encouraged trolling. Internet support for BJP is an organic, bottom-up mass movement and a voluntary connect— Arvind Gupta (@buzzindelhi) December 28, 2016
4 No proof has been presented, apart from a supposed Whatsapp forward, of an Internet causes petition. The story has been left hanging. Why?— Arvind Gupta (@buzzindelhi) December 28, 2016
5. The reason is obvious. A half-baked story is being used to sell a third-baked book by a quarter-baked journalist cum fiction writer— Arvind Gupta (@buzzindelhi) December 28, 2016
6 Having said that, I believe a call for a peaceful economic boycott is a legitimate expression of free speech. History offers many examples— Arvind Gupta (@buzzindelhi) December 28, 2016