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BJP controls online narrative, but will trolls spoil the party?

  • Journalist’s book alleges party relies heavily on an ‘army’ of internet trolls.
  • These trolls have been used extensively to counter criticisms of the Modi government.
  • The Congress barely exists on social media; only the AAP is seen as a BJP rival.
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The IT Cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) played a major role in building up an aura around Narendra Modi on social media that enabled him to ascend to the Prime Minister’s chair in 2014, in an election victory that has changed Indian politics.



Swati Chaturvedi, a veteran journalist, has profiled the party’s IT cell in a new book, I am A Troll: Inside the secret world of the BJP's digital army. In an interview with FactorDaily, Chaturvedi claims that by using “trolls” to set and control social media narratives, the BJP has a “first-mover” advantage in cyberspace. To the layperson, this is evident in the level of support and enthusiasm for PM Modi as well as the party’s proactive approach to using social media for all things — be it enrolment, campaigning or opinion polls.



However, Chaturvedi claims that the IT Cell has adopted a vindictive nature and has pursued systematic online harassment of critics. She claims that the extensive trolling of actor Aamir Khan and his role as a brand ambassador for ecommerce site Snapdeal, following his comments on intolerance in 2015, was sanctioned by the IT Cell itself. The trolling resulted in Snapdeal not renewing its contract with Khan.



For its part, the BJP rejected claims made in the book. In an interview with The Hindu, Arvind Gupta, a BJP leader associated with the IT Cell, claimed the party never encouraged trolls and had published social media guidelines on its website.



Chaturvedi claims the Congress has become irrelevant on social media, pointing to the Aam Admi Party as being “fairly active.” Noting that many online supporters of the BJP feel emboldened by Modi’s historic victory, Chaturvedi expressed apprehensions about fake messages and campaigns, which could lead to violence. Will Modi’s online supporters, who helped propel him to power, end up causing him more harm?

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