It was Bharatiya Janata party’s (BJP) National Digital Operations Centre (NDOC) that headed the ‘mission 272’ campaign which eventually earned Narendra Modi his prime ministerial berth. Sadhavi Khosla, who had volunteered for Modi’s campaign for nearly a year, came out with serious allegations that prime ministerial campaign of Narendra Modi used social media volunteers to push decisive messages about public figures perceived to be opposed to the views of BJP.
In a book – “I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army” written by Journalist Swati Chaturvedi, Sadhavi claimed that she was part of a team of social media online campaigners whom she identified later as a troll group targetingcelebrities, political personalities, public figures and media journalists, who have views opposed to the BJP.Sadhavi left the group since she had aversions over the modus operandi of this group.
An MBA holder, Sadhavi has authored a book along with producing a documentary named “Fading Glory – Punjab, Hope Not Lost” that dealt with substance abuse mafia in Punjab.
In the backdrop of prevailing nationwide hatred campaign against Kerala, Sadhavi Khosla speaks to Evartha Delhi correspondent Sudheesh Sudhakaran.
Sudheesh Sudakaran: Can you brief about the National Digital Operations Centre?
Sadhavi Khosla: NDOC was an IT cell controlled directly by the BJP. During Modi’s campaign, there was a platform called “Mission 272” intended for those who desired Modi to become the prime minister though they didn’t want to join BJP. NDOC gave options where one could work for the party either as a volunteer or as a salaried employee. There were many such salaried employees also in the NDOC. In the Meanwhile, there were also people including me who were whole heartedly ready to volunteer both online and offline. The activities were centred to BJP headquarters in New Delhi.
Sudheesh Sudhakaran: I heard that you are from a family with some Congress background. How did you reach the BJP camp in 2014 from there?
Sadhavi Khosla: That was a time when Modi was gaining a solid foothold among the people. Besides, an anti-congress wave was also rising amid Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign. Hazare’s campaign was fully sponsored by the RSS. The BJP then brought in Modi as successor after the campaign’s sheen faded.
There was a huge propaganda to smudge the Congress and its leaders at that time. There were emails circulated in abundance depicting an awful representation of almost all the Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The motive of these email forwards was to impose that Congress was an Anti-Hindu party. They succeeded in creating a notion among the youths of upper community that Hindus would be suppressed under the rule of Muslim-favouring Congress. I was amongst the many to fall in this fake propaganda.
Sudheesh Sudhakaran: Can you explain the Modus Operandi of NDOC?
Sadhavi Khosla: Their main modus operandi is based on WhatsApp. Then many websites such as Post card news. Now they have started a new one named, Right log which uses advanced technology. Many fake posts and messages are created and circulated through these. They have such a strong network of volunteers across India, across the globe etc. These volunteers spread fake news within seconds.
See, BJP is playing mild games. From the party side, they want to be projected as a very clean party and Modi wants to present himself as a statesman in front of the foreign media. But they use these volunteers and these websites to spread their propaganda. And most of this work is done by the RSS. All get funded by the BJP. Who would run a website like Post card news if not funded?
Sudheesh Sudhakaran: Recently there is a huge nationwide hatred campaign against Kerala. Sangh Parivar favouring medias and social media handles are on the frontline. What is your take on this?
Sadhavi Khosla: I have never been to Kerala or West Bengal. I don’t know what exactly is going on there. But if you ask any BJP or RSS worker they will say that in Kerala, there are many religious conversions taking place. They will also say that there is much violence against Hindus. It’s been like this for ages. They will say the same for West Bengal too since it was ruled by the left for decades. If you look at it from the RSS standpoint, their biggest enemy is the left front. Though leaning a bit towards the left, Congress too is their contender, left still remains their prime rival since RSS is extreme rightist.
If you go through the WhatsApp messages floating around in BJP groups, you will come to know about how badly they have portrayed Kerala. They are spreading rumours of Hindus being attacked and many temples being vandalized. Now they are asserting that Hindus are not allowed to perform Durga Pooja in West Bengal. Though I know it’s untrue since I have many friends from there.
Without knowing the truth behind this we, Indians, believe all these things and that’s the problem. This WhatsApp has created a lot of abhorrence between the communities. Imagine I am getting a message in Whatsapp stating “Hindus are in a bloodbath in Kerala” along with a picture, wouldn’t I believe at the first glance?
Sudheesh Sudhakaran: Political murders in Kerala are another propagation, isn’t it? National media report Political murders in a biased way as incidents of RSS workers being killed.
Sadhavi Khosla: The Political murders are propagated in such a way that it is illustrated that these are attacks on Hindus. The very day when I stopped extending my support to Modi, I was labelled as a ‘jihadi’ and an anti-Hindu by the Sangh Parivar and BJP workers.
— KummanamRajasekharan (@Kummanam) May 13, 2017
It’s not just against Kerala alone, they are tarnishing the whole nation’s social constancy.They are spreading that much hatred in this country.
For instance, take the incident of Congressmen slaughtering cattle in a public place in Kerala. Personally, I am dead against this act, but what did the BJP do? They started polarizing the North Indian states by showing that the Congress is an Anti-Hindu party. I am a devot Hindu. Nobody in my family eats beef. I am not even comfortable to eat food in a restaurant where beef is served. But it is not a matter of concern for me if my neighbour consumes beef. We cant impose our choices on others. BJP who promulgates cow as their mother ensures the availability of beef in Goa which is ruled by them and raise concern in the name of beef in Kerala.
As soon as Yogi took charge as the Chief Minister, all the slaughterhouses in UP were banned. We all know that Muslims are mainly engaged in this sector. How could we concur to such bans that curb the livelihood of people from a particular community? They are scaring the minorities.
Sudheesh Sudhakaran: There is a group attack seen from the part of BJP’s-IT cell when someone tends to raise their voice against BJP-Sangh Parivar online. How do they make social media and the mainstream media by their side?
Sadhavi Khosla: Today, 90 % of the media is controlled by the BJP. in their ha. Tell me, which newschannel criticizes the BJP? None…BJP is controlling the media with the corporates they are acquainted with. They even influence the public opinion.
Take a look at the trolls that unleashes attack over twitter. There will be volunteers and paid trolls. For example, BJP pay per tweet for trolling Rahul Gandhi. People are paid money to ridicule Rahul Gandhi while he posts something on Twitter. Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga who was a troll is currently a BJP spokesperson. One who can verbally abuse and troll can reach higher positions in the BJP and this is a perfect paradigm for it.
In November 2015, when Aamir Khan expressed his sentiments on the state of affairs in the country, the BJP’s IT cell, headed by Arvind Gupta, organised a social media campaign to pressure e-commerce firm Snapdeal to drop the actor as its brand ambassador. We (volunteers at the BJP social cell) were ordered to troll the actor and smear his name on various platforms and instigate people to boycott his movies. My ideologies and conscience did not permit me to be a part of the BJP’s bigotry brigade. Disenchanted, I left NDOC.
Sudheesh Sudhakaran: There will be an enormous need of money for such PR works. How do they manage to find this money?
Sadhavi Khosla: Corporate sponsorships are the main. Then there are NRIs who funds abundantly mostly the Gujaratis. One of my friends had conducted a digital campaign for Modi in 2014. The funding was done by Essar Group. Lakhs of rupees were paid, that too in cash.
Sudheesh Sudhakaran: Not just in North India, this kind of fake propaganda is being spread through social media in Kerala also. On behalf of had been worked in BJP’s IT cell, what you have to say to the Keralites?
Sadhavi Khosla: Don’t believe whatever you get in WhatsApp. Anyone can make anything and circulate it through WhatsApp. It is the primary weapon for spreading hatred politics and fabrications. Beware if the BJP groups or trolls try to put forward a fact, undoubtedly it will be a bogus one. They have means to create and spread lies.