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An enterprising Abhishek Kumar shows us cartoons of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the slogan on Robert Vadra, posted there on the message board: “Congress ka haath Damaad ke saath (Congress’s hand [symbol] is always with its son-in-law [Vadra]).” We couldn’t resist appreciating the creative genius behind the hard-hitting message and know we are talking to the right man.

Kumar will do negative propaganda against the fictitious Netaji’s opponent, but using a different method, saying:  “… ek aadmi ko matlab maarne ke kiye ek hi tareeke ka istemaal hahin kiya jaata (… you don’t have to use the same method to kill a man).” Each day they would pick up an achievement of Netaji and share it with their group of one lakh visitors. This way, says Kumar: “Iss tareh se wo ek lakh se kai crore tak pahunchta hai (This way it reaches many crores through the one lakh).” This is how it goes viral. The loopholes of the opposite camp would be exploited in the same manner for negative publicity, but says Kumar:  “Lekin ye kis angle se kar rahe hain wo dekhna hai (But we will have to see what angle we have to use).”

[Tweet "#OperationBlueVirus China is invading India, leave it, only remember Modi Gujarat and 2012 and 2002 …"]

Kumar is running a campaign for the BJP on social media, and the job has been subcontracted to his company by a Bangalore-based firm. To show how effectively they are doing a campaign for the BJP on social media, Kumar shows another message posted by his team and reads out for us: “Cheen India mein ghus raha hai wo chhodo bas Modi Gujarat aur 2012 ya 2002 yaad rakho … Pakistan ghuspaith kar raha hai humare sainik ke sar kaat liye wo chhodo … Modi Gujarat aur 2002 yaad rakho … unees sau chaurasi ka danga theek hai … chara ghotala wo chhodo bas Modi Gujarat aur 2002 yaad rakho (China is invading India, leave it, only remember Modi Gujarat and 2012 and 2002 … Pakistan is invading us beheading our soldiers on the border, leave it as well, only remember Modi Gujarat and 2012 and 2002 … 1984 riots are okay … fodder scam leave that as well … remember only Modi Gujarat and 2002 …).”

This evocative message, Abhishek claims, has reached millions of Indians: “Lakhon karono tak pahunch gai baat aur dekho yahan daba ke comments (This has reached millions of people … and see the flood of comments).” And this magic is done with a pool of network groups. Kumar claims: “Mere yahan log itni pahunch wale hain (I have people with really good connections).”

It means you are doing a negative campaign against Congress Party? Nodding, Kumar replies: “Haan … (Yes).” They will do a negative campaign against Netaji’s opponent in the same manner as they are doing against Congress.

[Tweet "#OperationBlueVirus Rahul Gandhi aur … Mittal inki ek purani friend thi .. usko inhone bana liya ki gangrape hua hai …"]

Look at the audacity with which he is planning to make a damaging content against Rahul Gandhi to go viral on social media a few days before elections: “Dekha aise hi rape … arre bhaiya sab idhar udhar ghuma fira ke rakhte hain … hum kuch nahin keh rahe hain inse milo … parho toh neeche masala … bata deta hoon aapko (See, this is about a rape … they keep the content ready by twisting it here and there … we are not saying anything on our own … look here … read the spicy stuff below … let me tell you about it).” It involves one Sukanya Devi. He then goes on to explain what the affair was: “Inka jo Rahul Gandhi aur … Mittal inki ek purani friend thi … uska thoda kuch hai … usko inhone bana liya ki gangrape hua hai … usne shayad kuch case bhi kiya tha … wo hi toh hai neeche likha hua ye sab baatein jo hain (This Rahul Gandhi … he had a friend called … Mittal … there was some affair … they have made it out into a gang rape … she had perhaps filed a case also … this is what is written all here below).” This is how he would do negative publicity against anybody by digging out all the muck.

Operation Blue Virus by Cobrapost details the kind of services offered by IT companies for a fee. Operation Blue Virus, an undercover investigation by Cobrapost, shows how IT companies across the country are engaged in a racket of reputation management, offering fake fan-following on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and negative publicity to sully the reputation of a political leader, or a corporate house, for money. Among their clients are corporate houses, big or small, NGOs, scam-tainted senior government officials, individual politicians and political parties.

Posing as a front man for an imagined politician from an opposition party, Cobrapost Associate Editor Syed Masroor Hasan, approached over two dozen IT companies. The Request:

Netaji, his master, wants to launch a campaign on social media before coming assembly elections. But his opponent’s reputation has to be destroyed with negative publicity, simultaneously. This will help Netaji win not only assembly election with a handsome margin but also a Lok Sabha ticket in parliamentary elections due in 2014, and then a Cabinet berth. Budget is not a problem.

While it is hardly surprising that IT companies readily agreed to create fan followings, the shocker is that none of the companies refused to destroy the reputation of his supposed political opponent. Unsurprisingly, some offered to hire journalists or even detectives to throw muck at Netaji’s opponent. But utterly unbelievable are offerings of services like buying votes of the poor and spreading rumours or exploding a bomb to force a particular minority community stay indoors on polling day, so bogus votes could be cast. The asking price for these reputation management services ranged from a few lakhs to a couple of crores, to be paid in cash.

Many of these malpractices violate various laws, such as the Information Technology Act 2000, the Representation of the People Act 1951 and the Income Tax Act 1961, and are as such punishable under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Operation Blue Virus reveals that if the claims of the companies exposed are to be believed, among political parties, BJP is at the forefront in social media campaign, so is its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, with scores of companies working overtime for him. This puts a question mark on the claims of the BJP leadership that there is a wind blowing in favour of their party and Narendra Modi. The larger-than-life-image that Team Modi has assiduously carved out for Modi over the past one decade may not be that real, rather invented, and is reminiscent of the Goebbellian propaganda, to sway the opinion of gullible public. It is no surprise then that even a milder criticism of the BJP’s star campaigner invites scathing attacks from his followers on social media, claimed to be in millions in count.

However, more disturbing is the use of social media for fanning communal sentiments by vested interests. Social media has its share of blame for riots in Muzaffar Nagar or the exodus of Northeastern ‘Chinis’ from cities across India. What requires to be done in the wake of Operation Blue Virus is a thorough investigation into the functioning of the IT companies in question and bring them to justice and a revisit of country’s cyber laws to plug the loopholes, both in letter and in implementation,  without impinging on freedom of speech. Otherwise, it will be not too long before social media, ubiquitous, unbridled and untamed, becomes the bane of society with all its attendant ills.

IT Companies exposed in the sting:

Bipin Pathare, Om Consultancy Services, Andheri East, Mumbai

Ab ye dekho ismein na ismein kitne part hain ek hai part Adiba karke na … aap maloom hoga aapko ki itna Adiba ka hai 233 Adiba ka hai … toh aapko suppose iska voter dekhne ka hai kitna 112 mein toh aapko voters milenge … kitne voters hain … haan 1141 hain" Read More about illegal IT services Bipin Patare of Om Consultancy offered

Trikam Patel, Co-Founder, Triams, Bangalore

Uske liye kya hai na shaitan dimaag chahiye hota hai … wo thode aise hi gunda gardi log rehte hain na wo hi karte hain … ye jo iske liye detective agencies hain unko kaafi doston ko bhi jaanta hoon wahan pe unke … mere clients hain websites wagaireh maine banaye hue hain … unko main approach karke ek do bando ko laga doonga … toh dheere dheere se unka kya subject hai kahan pe jaate hain kahan pe aate hain … unke personal relations kuan hai kya hai … poore jo  bhi jaankari hum logon ko dete hain wo hum log database mein store karte hainRead more about illegal IT offerings by Trikam Patel of Triams

Abhishek Kumar, Virinchi Software, Patparganj, Delhi

"Inka jo Rahul Gandhi aur … Mittal inki ek purani friend thi … uska thoda kuch hai … usko inhone bana liya ki gangrape hua hai … usne shayad kuch case bhi kiya tha … wo hi toh hai neeche likha hua ye sab baatein jo hain" Read more Abhishek Kumar of Virinchi Software describing workings of slander

Vivek Arora, Prismartec,  Nand Dham Industrial Estate, Marol Maroshi Road, Andheri East, Mumbai

"Hum ek random blogger create kar denge wo bhi US se directly … aur Facebook pe Facebook pe aaj jitna yahan pe negative publicity karoon main agar doosre jo aap layenge humare saamne ki bhai ye thoda sa mudda uthayein jo negative usko aap uthayein … wo hum yahan pe uthayenge usko" Read more from Vivek Arora's idea of IT services

Vishal Saini;  Harmeet Singh, Webstreaks, Derawal Nagar, New Delhi

"Negative chahiye uske andar … agar wo Congress hai toh BJP ki nikali jayegi .... Viral marketing ke liye ek bilkul fake ID … laptop assembled" Read more on how to trash competitors

Sanjeev Singh; Ravi Agarwal, Webolaxy, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi

"Wo Sir itni profile bana denge itni profile bana denge Internet pe itni profile … kum se kum … log honge chaar hazar Facebook pe negativity daalenge" Read more on how perceptions of widespread negative image are invented

Agam Panwar and Rakesh, Blue Sapphire Creations, Lajpat Nagar, Delhi

… humne kai logon ke ORM kiye hain  … jaise humare Google pe kisi ka galat naam aa gaya ki bhai ismein ye corruption hai funs gaya kaam … ye iss officer ne chori kiye hain … usko saaf karne ka kaam jo hai wo humne kiya … usko saaf karne ka kaam jo hai wo humne kiya hai …" more on how to clean scam stains

Priyadarshan Pathak, Websol Media, Railway Road, Gurgaon

Rohit Mahajan, Director; Mohit Mahajan, Director; Shwetank Pathak (Sales Head); Vikas Chopra (Sr. Team Leader), Cloudmay India, Sector 16, Noida, Uttar PradeshR.N. Sangwan, Managing Director; Amit, Alliance Softech, Dwarka, New Delhi

Fuad Mandlik, Director, Live Pages Infotech, Goregaon, Mumbai

Neeraj Kumar, Valuebound Interactive Solutions, Koramangala, Bangalore

Smeeta Thakare, Creative Head; Vipin Patil, Business Head, Integerz e-Business Solutions, Borivali, Mumbai

Tusar Kumar, Business Development Manager; Pratik Chaudhry, Creative Head; Richie Chauhan, Executive Vice President, Tekege Solutions/Ergo Agency, Shapur Jat, New Delhi

Prashanth Maxim Sequeira, CEO and MD, Arokia IT Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore, Karnataka

Prateek Patel, Director, Unlock Technologies, Mahiveer Nagar, Kandivali West, Mumbai

Atul Tibrewala, Managing Director, E-Vision Technologies, Main Avenue, Santacruz-West, Mumbai

Pradeep Gupta, PageUp Media Technologies, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh

Deepak Malik, Business Consultanant; Pawan, Chief Technical officer, NS Technologies, Sector 10, Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Mahendra Bedekar, Creative Head; Amrut Patki, Senior Visualizer; Suraj Naik, Manager (Human Resources–Admin); Neeraj, Business Development Head, Tridat Technologies Pvt. Ltd.,  Byculla, Mumbai

Neeraj Sinha, Torus Infotech, Azadpur, Delhi

Abdul Vasi, Director, HostCats, RT Nagar, Bangalore