A former volunteer in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s social media team has claimed that the ruling party pushed them to pressure e-commerce company Snapdeal to drop actor Aamir Khan as its brand ambassador after he appeared to criticise the government. The allegations are made in an upcoming book by journalist Swati Chaturvedi, which accuses the party of backing social media trolls who abuse its political opponents.
To bolster her claim, the volunteer, Sadhavi Khosla, 37, sent Chaturvedi WhatsApp messages she claims were from BJP’s IT cell head Arvind Gupta. One of these messages reads, “Time to attack Snapdeal…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,” according to The Indian Express. Screenshots of the message, among several others, can be seen in Chaturvedi’s book.
However, Gupta has denied the allegations, saying Khosla is making “unsubstantiated claims” as she “supports the Congress”. He added that Chaturvedi’s book is based on “fictitious stories” owing to “vested interests”.
Khan had faced severe flak for suggesting, at the Ramnath Goenka Awards in November 2015, that he and his wife were concerned about the “growing sense of disquiet” in the country, when asked about religious intolerance. Though Khan did not directly criticise the government or even mention any particular religious group, he was panned as being “anti-national” by several right-wing organisations and online trolls. Snapdeal publicly distanced itself from Khan’s comments, and did not renew his contract a few months later. Khan’s contract as the brand ambassador for the government’s Incredible India campaign also lapsed without renewal.
In addition to actors such as Khan, Chaturvedi claims in her book that the trolls also routinely target Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, his mother and party President Sonia Gandhi, journalists – especially women – and other critics of the Narendra Modi government. In the book, Khosla is quoted as saying, “It was a never-ending drip feed of hate and bigotry against the minorities, the Gandhi family, journalists on the hit list, liberals, anyone perceived as anti-Modi,” The Guardian reported.