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Economic Times had covered the expose of PayTM by Cobrapost in Operation 136, Part II. Subsequently the story was quietly deleted without any official retraction. AamJanata believes that stories silently vanished tell a story of their own, and therefore is republishing the story here.

A sting operation conducted by Cobrapost called attention to reports that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) may have approached Paytm to get user details of protestors in the Kashmir Valley.

As per the investigation titled 'Operation-136 II', Ajay Shekhar Sharma - who is incidentally senior VP and brother of Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma - is captured on camera claiming that someone from PMO had called to asked for data of users to identify stone-pelters.

The video, however, does not mention whether Paytm complied with the alleged requests or not.

"PayTM=PayToPM"

Following reports, Paytm has released a statement on Twitter rubbishing the claims made by Cobrapost.

"There is absolutely NO TRUTH in the sensational headlines of a video doing rounds on social media. Our users’ data is 100 percent secure and has never been shared with anyone except law enforcement agencies on request. Thank you for your continued support."

However, Congress president Rahul Gandhi calls it " proof that (we) were absolutely correct about demonetisation".

The sting operation

Cobrapost's reporter had posed as an employee for an NGO affiliated to the RSS and is heard telling another top Paytm official that he wanted to promote books like the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayan on the company platform.

The reporter openly says that the campaign is driven by a Hindutva agenda, to which the official responds by admitting to having promoted PM Narendra Modi’s book 'Exam Warriors' by highlighting it on Paytm's homepage.

In the video, Ajay is also heard making his political affiliation to RSS very clear right at the onset of the conversation. He also claims that Union Minister for Rural Development Narendra Singh Tomar and MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan know him by name and face.

Originally published at: Economic Times

This post is republished in public interest from the Cobrapost website, which appears to be having trouble.

Cobrapost exposes more than two dozen media houses, including some prima donnas of India’s holy Fourth Estate, where they all show their underbelly in its most visceral form.

New Delhi: In the second part of Operation 136, Cobrapost has exposed owners and high-ranking personnel of more than two dozen media houses, both mainstream and regional, the biggest ones and the smaller ones, the oldest ones and the newer ones. ‘Operation 136: Part II,’ in fact, shows Indian media’s underbelly in its most visceral form, where even the “big daddies” do not mind agreeing to undertake a campaign that has the potential to not only cause communal disharmony among citizens but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party. This they will do if they are paid the right price, and sometimes they have no compunctions to quote a price as high as Rs. 1000 crore, as did the Times Group owner Vineet Jain, while others showed a propensity to indulge in any kind of illegality bordering on criminality.

The media houses agreeing to run the campaign are Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, ABP News, Dainik Jagaran, Radio One, Red FM, Lokmat, ABN Andhra Jyothy, TV5, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, The New Indian Express, MVTV and Open magazine.

We have received an exparte stay order from the honourable Delhi High Court on the evening of 24th May, 2018, which debars us from including the Dainik Bhaskar Group in our investigation. The honourable High Court has passed the injunction in favour of Dainik Bhaskar without hearing our side of the case, and we shall consequently be challenging the court order in the interest of truth and justice.

Senior Investigative Journalist Pushp Sharma used the same cover and the same ruse! Wearing the garb of a seasoned Pracharak, Sharma adopted malleable identities which he used according to the situation at hand. He first used his association with an Ujjain-based ashram, claiming himself to have been schooled at Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, to have studied in IIT Delhi and IIM Bangalore, settled in Australia and to have been running his e-gaming company out of Scotland. Sometimes, he claimed to be the head of the Madhya Pradesh unit of Om Prakash Rajbhar’s outfit, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, charged with party affairs in Karnataka, Maharashtra and the Northeast. At times, the journalist used all his assumed identities in a single meeting. As the investigation evolved to take on a pan-India character, he assumed the identity of a representative of a fictitious religious organization, Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti, purportedly on a mission, a gupt vyavastha (secret arrangement), at the behest of the “Sangathan” to bolster the prospects of the party in power in coming elections.

The journalist approached these media houses with his hideous proposition. As he offered them a fortune in return, Cobrapost saw them all crumble under the weight of a “big business opportunity” that was knocking on their doors without asking. Almost all bent themselves backward to grab this opportunity. However, there were two notable exceptions, Bartaman Patrika and the Dainik Sambad, which refused to play ball. No amount of cajoling or inducements could bring them around.

While meeting the owners and senior-most personnel of these media houses, Sharma asked them to run a media campaign on his behalf. While offering them a big fortune in terms of ad spend, which ranged anything between few crore rupees and Rs. 500 crore, he spread wide before them these essential ingredients of his agenda:

In the initial phase, the first three months, promote Hindutva through customized religious programmes to create a congenial atmosphere.
Then, the campaign will be geared up to polarize the electorate on communal lines by promoting speeches of Hindutva hardliners, the likes of Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Mohan Bhagwat, among others.
As elections approach, the campaign will target opposition leaders, namely, Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, caricaturing them using less than dignified language like Pappu, Bua and Babua, respectively, for them, in order to show them in poor light before the electorate.
They will have to run this campaign on all platforms – print, electronic, radio or digital including, e-news portals, web sites and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Negotiating hard, in what you can say was a value-for-money deal, the journalist drove home all these points as they all spread a red carpet for him. The interactions that the senior journalist had with all these media houses during the course of Operation: Part II can be summed up as follows:

They agreed to promote Hindutva in the garb of spiritualism and religious discourse.
They agreed to publish content with potential to polarize the electorate along communal lines.
They concurred to besmirch or thrash political rivals of the party in power by posting or publishing defamatory content about them.
Many of them were ready to accept unaccounted cash, in other words, for the job to be assigned to them.
Some of them agreed to route cash through a third-party agency to turn it into white, even suggesting hawala routes such as Angadiyas.
Some of the owners or important functionaries admitted that they were either associated with the RSS or they were pro-Hindutva and would thus be happy to work on the campaign, forgetting the cardinal principle of journalism: neutrality.
Some of them agreed to plant stories in favour of the party in power in their publications, while others were ready to unleash their investigative teams to rake muck on opposition leaders.
Many of them agreed to develop and carry advertorials especially for this purpose.
Many of them agreed to develop content for this invidious campaign by employing their own creative team.
Almost all agreed to run this campaign on their platforms – print, electronic, FM radio or digital in its various avatars such as e-news portal, e-paper or social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Some of them even agreed to run down Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Manoj Sinha, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi, among others.
Some of them also agreed to run stories against leaders of BJP alliance partners, like Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha.
Some of them even agreed to paint agitating farmers as Maoists in their stories.
Many of them agreed to create and promote such content as would aim for the “character assassination” of leaders like Rahul Gandhi.
Many of them are ready to run the content in such manner as would not look like paid for.
Almost all FM radio stations agreed to allow their customer to monopolize their free air time.
Many FM radio stations also agreed to use RJ mentions to promote the agenda: Hindutva and character assassination of rivals.

Operation 136: Part II is unique in the sense that it not only has exposed all these media houses but has also brought to the fore the fact that in a technology-driven age an agenda can find a mobile app a very effective medium to reach out to millions of users. Our expose of Paytm does exactly that. It brings home the point that one does not need an elaborate arrangement of the conventional media such TV channels or newspapers. A simple mobile app can achieve what the conventional platforms cannot: it can deliver the message with a blink of an eye. In fact, our interaction with top Paytm honchos is quite revealing in many respects, for it not only shows the company’s affinity to both the BJP government and its ideological fountainhead RSS, but also shows that users’ data can be compromised.

As India has slipped two paces to 138 from its position of 136, as this investigation was underway, in World Press Freedom Index (https://rsf.org/en/ranking#), Operation 136 has found that most of the media houses are either owned by politicians themselves, particularly the regional ones, or patronized by politicians, and it is natural for them to become their masters’ voice. It was high time we coined a new phrase to define this journalism as crony journalism a la crony capitalism. For instance, ABN Andhra Jyothy, a prominent Telugu TV news channel is patronized by TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu. It is no surprise if we hear its Chief Marketing Manager E.V. Seshidhar say: “We have very good connects with TDP … We have do [sic] lot of what do you call we have main official what do you call for AP government Andhra Pradesh government, we have official event telecaster rights for Andhra Pradesh government.” While this connect goes beyond the TDP, to include the BJP and other outfits, Seshidhar even goes to say that their newspaper Andhra Jyothy holds so much sway that they could influence the outcome of the Karnataka elections.

On the other hand, Lakshmipathy Adimoolam, the owner of the 70-year-old prominent Tamil daily published from Chennai, wears his family allegiance to the Sangh Brotherhood on his sleeve. We are, therefore, least surprised to hear him say that he has imported especially designed software which could help in the promotion of Brand Modi: “You have newsletters … sent to … brochures, leaflets sent to party workers … say there is Modiji’s picture is there, just move your camera over here … it gives audio of Modiji.”

It was not that Cobrapost has exposed only those high ranking-personnel whose business is to negotiate a deal and bring business to the organization they are working for. In the course of this investigation, Cobrapost found some senior journalists, who have now donned the mantle of owners or CEOs, genuflecting before their big-ticket client and happily agreeing to work for his agenda. One such senior journalist was Purushottam Vaishnav who is working for Zee Media as its CEO Regional News Channels. Agreeing to run down political rivals by unleashing their SIT on them, Purushottam said: “Content mein jo aapki taraf se input aayega wo absorb ho jayega … humare taraf se jo content generate hoga investigative journalism humlog karte hain karwa denge jitna hum logon ne kya hai utna kisi ne nahi kiya hoga wo humlog karenge (Whatever input you will send in the form of content that will be absorbed … the content we will generate … we have been doing investigative journalism, we will do it for you. [Compared to Zee] None of the channels has done so many … we will do that).”

In fact, our investigation establishes the fact that the RSS, and as a corollary, Hindutva, has made deep inroads into not only the newsrooms but also the boardrooms of Indian media houses where even owners either blatantly admit their allegiance to the party in power and its parent organization or are eager to have an association with them. For instance, Big FM Sr. Business Partner Amit Choudhary admits to the relationship between the company that owns Big FM and the party in power in no uncertain terms: “Waise bhi Reliance BJP ka supporter hee hai (Anyway, Reliance is always a supporter of the BJP).” Then we have Basab Ghosh, Regional Sales Head of Open magazine, which is owned by the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, who also confesses to their allegiance to the RSS: “Acharyaji shayad aap bhi busy rehte hain aap shayad Open dekhte nahi hain regular. Main aapko ek baat bataata hoon. Open jitna support karte hain sangathan ka shayad hee koi karta hoga. (Acharyaji, perhaps you are a busy man and maybe you don’t read Open regularly. Let me tell you one thing. Nobody supports the Sangathan [RSS] as much as does Open).”

While the journalist had a tough time in convincing Ajay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm that he was there to fulfill the assignment received directly from the Sangathan under a “gupt vyavastha” or secret arrangement, the senior vice president of the mobile-app utility payment company candidly admitted his association with the top brass of both the RSS and the BJP. Taking his prospective client as someone belonging to the Sangh Brotherhood, he made a very shocking revelation. Referring to the stone pelting in Kashmir last year, Ajay Shekhar said: “Jab JK mein band huye the na pathar … toh humari personally PMO se phone aya tha kaha gaya tha ki data de do ho sakta hai ki Paytm user hon (When the stone-pelting stopped there in J&K, I personally got a phone call from the PMO. They told us to give them data saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users.)” Paytm users may now be wondering if the company has violated its policy of privacy and data safety!

Another interesting fact that has emerged during the course of ‘Operation 136: Part II’ is that although they might be swearing by their allegiance to the RSS or the BJP, they don’t give a damn to Modi’s public stance against black money for which the Prime Minister did not back away from subjecting the entire citizenry to untold miseries by enforcing demonetization in November 2016. Punching holes in what has been gloried as “surgical strike” against black money, we found Vineet Jain, Managing Director of the Times Group, and his aide Executive President Sanjeev Shah, naming some big corporate houses which could help make black money squeaky clean and even suggesting to employ the services of ‘Angadias’—a Gujarati name for hawaladars or hawala operators of illicit money—to get the job done. While Vineet Jain says, “Aur bhi businessmen honge jo humein cheque denge aap unhe cash de do (There are other businessmen who would give us cheque against the cash you may give them), his aide Shah informs us: “Who will take that from him in Delhi suppose if Goenka says I want it in Ahmedabad so that I Angadia will have contact in Ahmedabad where they will exchange in number on a note or whatever.” Hope our Prime Minister and other arms of his government are listening!

Of all interviews that the journalist had with the owners and personnel of all these media houses in the course of this investigation, Manda Mhatre’s stands out in its revelations. While criticizing her own party, and claiming that it was the RSS leadership which ensured she got a ticket to fight election after she switched loyalties from NCP to the BJP, what the BJP legislator from Belapur, Pune, told Cobrapost is quite revealing: “Mere ko Sangh wale bol rahe the ki Muslim masjid todo ye karo. Main boli sorry main ye nahi kar sakti. Masjid sthal sab kachre ke maafiq dekhte hain. Itna log ko hum haay nahi le sakte hain kyonki aadhe log apne se jud gaye hain (The Sangh people were telling me time and again to destroy the masjids of Muslims. I told them ‘Sorry I can’t do that.’ They all look at a masjid something like trash. I cannot afford to earn so much ill-will of all those people [by resorting to such hate] because many Muslims have joined the BJP).”

We know it well that such open confessions of their allegiance to the ideology of the RSS could be brushed aside as personal opinions, but given the position they hold in their respective organizations what they say cannot be taken lightly. The reason is that it is rather the business interests that have an overarching influence on the editorial policy of a media organization, and Operation 136 has once again shown it in ample measure. The first part of Operation 136 had exposed India TV, Dainik Jagaran, Hindi Khabar, SAB TV, DNA (Daily News and Analysis), Amar Ujala, UNI, 9X Tashan, Samachar Plus, HNN Live 24×7, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat, ScoopWhoop, Rediff.com, IndiaWatch, Aj and Sadhna Prime News.

All these on-camera confessions make it clear that the malaise of paid news has set in deep as it is no longer confined to a few individuals who would show no scruples while publishing paid content, camouflaging it as news stories or reports. Over the years, paid news has become institutionalized, as this investigation establishes, for no one in authority in news business would receive an agenda, which is overtly communal and defamatory, with enthusiasm, let alone committing to undertake it, particularly when there are clear-cut guidelines to follow and laws to abide by.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) has well laid-down provisions, for instance, to deal with various unlawful acts that these media houses agreed to commit. Section 153(A) makes any attempt to “promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups” punishable with imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine or both. Section 295(A) of the IPC also provides for the same punishment to be meted out when an individual deliberately, and with malicious intent, hurts the religious feelings of a community. Then, Chapter IXA of the IPC deals comprehensively with offences related to elections. Section 171 of the IPC makes interference with the free exercise of electoral right, in any form, punishable with an imprisonment of one year or fine or both. These provisions of the IPC, thus, ensure that the offence of polarizing a group on the basis of religion, caste or community is punished. The provisions of Chapter IXA of the IPC with regard to free exercise of electoral rights are overarching in their ambit as they are also relevant paid news to influence voters to gain electoral benefits.

In addition, the provisions of Cable Television Networks (Regulation Act) 1995, along with Cables Rules, and Representation of People’s Act, along with Conduct of Election Rules, make paid news and communal polarization for electoral gains an offence. Both the Cable Act and the Cable Rules prohibit transmission or re-transmission of programmes that do not conform to the advertisement code. While Rule 6 of the Cable Rules prohibits programmes of communal nature or that promote anti-national attitudes, Rule 7 also lays down the advertisement code prohibits publication of advertisements of political or religious nature. Rule 7(10) of the Cable Rules further states that “all advertisements should be clearly distinguishable programmes, viz., use of lower part of screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme”. Then, Section 125 of the RPA makes communal polarization an offence punishable with imprisonment for three years or fine or both, while various provisions of Section 123 declare an act aimed at polarization and the practice of paid news as “corrupt practices” making election of a candidate null and void.

Apart from these and other legal provisions, there are “Norms and Guidelines on Paid News” of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority and “Norms of Journalistic Conduct, 2010” of the Press Council of India, which all media establishments are expected to adhere to. But do they really care for such scrupulous adherence? Our investigation says no.

We would like to make it clear that Operation 136 should in no way be taken as an effort to undermine Indian media or question its sanctity as an institution. Our investigation does not intend to cast any aspersions or pass judgment, either, on the journalists who are working in these media platforms. They have done good journalism in the past and will do so in future. However, if the management indulges in paid news, in all its gray shades, it creates a very difficult atmosphere for the journalists to ply their trade in. This story aims to underline our earnestness to address the malaise that has been dogging Indian media for the past three decades or so and look within to make course correction, so that the faith of India’s citizenry in this vibrant pillar of democracy is not dented.

We've been seeing this phenomenon all through since the 2014 Lok Sabha election that swept the BJP to power in India. Assorted supporters of Modi and BJP backing off warily as individuals or in groups as they realize that the trailer and the film have little in common. And of course there are those like me, who insist that this is one blame that cannot be laid at BJP's feet, because the trailer and the film are exactly the same, except that those "discovering now" have now been removed from the ranks of the protected and added to the ranks of the disenfranchised. And that appears to have made all the difference.

These people come in a few broad categories of regret:

Organizations with an agenda

Every large collective that could be exploited for votes was tapped into by the BJP. From affiliates of its parent RSS to criminal godmen with profits to make or crimes needing impunity. From rights groups to identity struggles and across ideologies. With overt deals for support or subtle manipulation. And one by one they have been waking up to the disaster that this government is. Many business houses are staring at the economy in disbelief today. Surely they will be assessing who they fund next.

One feels pity for the likes of Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathan, who literally blew away five years worth rights for farmers because they were fooled by pretty promises and didn't look to actually verify claims. They have had brutal awakenings with the collapse of the agrarian economy. First the cattle slaughter ban decimating their investments in cattle, then the demonetisation decimating their income and crippling investment into the new crop cycle and finally the GST - which very few understand, but which is severely restricting the MSME. Going from threatening to tie cattle outside BJP offices over the cattle slaughter ban to writing bitter articles about malpractices and raging farmer protests, SSS is basically doomed to a limbo till the next elections and yes, very definitely out of love. Similar scams have played across other collectives of people and this includes RSS organizations like the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, reined in for long from protesting exploitative labour laws, declining jobs and the demonetisation. The RSS has wisely given them permission to protest against the BJP - likely so that they can be told to shut up when it is time for elections again.

Then of course there are the likes of Ram Rahim. Facilitated in every effort to escape accountability to the point of allowing a build up of violent protesters to intimidate the Court from an unfavorable verdict and flown out by helicopter after being convicted! It came as no surprise to anyone that Ram Rahim's sudden departure from remaining apolitical to endorsing BJP openly had come with an understanding of cases against him being dropped. Regardless, with the discovery of 600 skeletons from Dera Saccha Sauda, it is pretty much understood that he will spend the rest of his life in jail or graduate to the Parliament. Needless to say, his supporters are unlikely to vote for the BJP again either.

For profit organizations

With the Congress failing, BJP had made it abundantly clear that you were either with them or against them and those with them would prosper. The likes of Ramdev went on to build empires and gained favorable government actions, land and more - and he isn't going to ditch BJP in a hurry. The rest were dreaming of bonanzas, but are left staring at their own balance sheets as the economy slows and all kinds of dubious gamechangers helicopter in.

And I'll include corporate media here. As the propaganda for the next election starts warming up, several channels that could see nothing but good in the BJP and nothing but evil in the Congress have suddenly returned to journalistic integrity. Hatchet jobs on BJP opponents are off non-BJP channels now. Which should not be understood as the profession finding ethics, but a more likely answer being closer to wallets - the expected bonanza for the corporate media did not materialize, while their journalists were systematically stripped of dignity. Where as recently as last year, journalists thrashed by BJP goons on court premises held silent marches in support of themselves, but the TV screens remained loyal to the autocracy, today the non-BJP media is merrily erupting into criticism of the very same things it was not able to see for the last five years.

Because BJP's considerable ad revenue not withstanding, corporate media is a business and there is no such thing as a business doing well in India these days - unless you're Alibaba. Mobile wallets celebrated a bonanza for a few months and will likely hit a worse situation now as cash returns. The smart ones converted to payments banks. The rest will likely be left scratching their heads wondering what happened like everyone else. Corporate media runs on advertising revenue. Arnab lying without consequence to the public is no longer half as funny as outright hate mongering would have been a short year ago. There is trouble in the cowshed. Media is back to being BJP affiliated media or up for grabs and the twain don't meet right now. And they won't, unless BJP bankrupts its own mouthpieces, or fixes the economy. The ones roped in by their wallets are off seeking their fortune in greener pastures. Both being unlikely, the coming election is likely going to be bipolar with "reality" depending on what channel you are watching.

The economic right wing

If the political right is about majoritarian might being right and under the bus with the rest in the social sphere, the economic "right" (also known as "pro-capitalism") is about prpfits being right and under the bus with the rest. THe two converged smoothly under the BJP govt with the upper caste and upper class providing a hinge that was in common with both for the most part. It is inherently a perspective that lacks egalitarian ethics and was ripe for the plucking when it came to exploiting for votes. Disenfranchisement of ethnic minorities seduced religious supremacists, while deprivation of economically vulnerable gave the pro-profits a high. The mentality is the same - rob the less powerful and distribute among the powerful for instant high of prosperity and power combined with contrast with those lower sinking further. Sadly, it is one thing to disenfranchise the poor and quite another to disenfranchise the profiteers. Honeymoon there was over the minute the economy gods stopped smiling. So people who didn't really see a problem with BJP's extremely disturbing relationship with fascism and made utopian proclamations along the lines of "shaadi ho jayegi to apne aap jimmedar ban jayenge" are now suddenly realizing that communalism is an unacceptable thing after all. Because they can hardly whine about losses to big business when people dying in queues didn't make them blink.

Those who overlooked the sheer number of hate mongers supporting Modi, because it would help bring the "pro-business" to power are now scandalized that the hate mongers voted Modi for hate and not economy. Somehow they hadn't paused to analyze whether the collapse of law and order and decisions by people turning "intellectual" into an insult would help or harm economy. It was one thing to believe that a few dead people and impoverished people-not-like-us were an acceptable price for getting the perfect environment where the free market could ride into the sunset on a swastika. It was quite another thing for the promised free market to not materialize. The GDP was a final slap to their gullibility - for those who still hadn't been repulsed by the economic slaughterhouse that the demonetisation was (many believed it hurt only the poor and not so much the cashless, till corporate profits dropped - people dying in queues was regrettable necessity - economic slowdown was sin). Now they realize the cost. They condemn the damage done to country. Regardless, claimed ethics aside, the bottom line is that they no longer believe the BJP can do anything useful for the economy, or they'd have been fine with a genocide or five too. Today, even Rupa Subramanian of all people admired Rahul Gandhi's speech - of all things. It doesn't get any more "game over, BJP" than that.

The gullibles

These are, quite simply idealistic but lazy fools, who want good things to happen and are content to endorse someone to deliver it without oversight and consider their duty done. They are busy and are quite happy to leave the details to someone who has a good ad. As the propaganda fog wears thin, they are waking up from their zombie like complacency to realize that their ideals that they trusted BJP to enact are not actually being acted on and are all upset in the manner one rants at customer support - when in reality they have been scammed for their votes and influence, not just been provided bad service to.

This class of gullibles also includes various activists who served as useful fools for BJP objectives - sometimes even when they are ideologically opposed to BJP. Feminists, for example were used to bring down credibility of Sheila Dixit government first and then the ethics of the entire left with a series of trials by media of anti-BJP public figures accused of abusing women, anti-Aadhaar activists were used to discredit UPA2 on Aadhaar or Muslim reformers challenging Triple Talak to discredit Islam or the skillful inflaming and use of Tamil nationalist sentiments on Jallikattu to disrupt and control Tamil politics, even as protesters thought they were rejecting BJP. This was basically the skilful magnification of selectively chosen causes to bring down opponents while not caring about those causes in the least. This continues today, because Social Media idealists are a lazy lot, given to exhibitions of ethics more than analysis of social realities and independent conclusions and actions. It is easier to trend a tag provided and be "neutral" by criticizing "even their own" without noticing that there never is a tag for all the rapists in the Parliament - including those defending a convicted Ram Rahim - for example. Useful fools, they are called and in my view, such activists do more harm than good by reducing important struggles to political tools.

It would be ironic that the left or parties that have come up on the basis of activism can't engage activists in protest like the BJP - except it isn't ironic, because BJP is the only party that actually systematically targeted various activists to leverage their influence and use them as fronts instead of making statements as themselves. This is how it was from the start when the Hindutva brigade learned at the lap of the Zionists on how to use rationalists and atheists to discredit Islam - the good old Orkut days. Indian atheists rarely fall for this selective incentive for criticism anymore (Taslima Nasreen and Tarek Fatah are not Indian).

When own tail is on fire

And then there is the sort of BJP supporters who are fine with BJP till they become the victims. In many ways, this already includes the organizations that are backing off and the oracles of the free market, but it also includes several individual cases like Dr. Jwala, who got disenchanted when she accused Tajinder Bagga of harassment and instead of finding support, found herself unfollowed by a Prime Minister who allegedly doesn't unfollow people, while Tajinder Bagga got appointed as spokesperson of the party. It includes the three office bearers of ABVP in JNU who resigned. Now ABVP has been up to a lot of shit in JNU, but it took demands for JNU to be shut down and their own education to be imperilled for them to realize that the BJP stand was wrong. Target minorities, undermine institutions, frame people, violent protests and all is fine. But such a terrible college must not be shut down, because their degree gets into trouble then. Cue ethics.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Now it remains to be seen how BJP makes a play for credibility once more to con people for 2019 and how many of these gullibles fall straight back into their laps once the light and sound show begins.

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So a few days ago,anonymous hackers calling themselves "Legion" hacked Rahul Gandhi's Twitter account and made profane tweets from it.

Anonymous legion hackers then compromised the official Congress handle and other accounts, all of them with official inc.in email IDs.

Yesterday, the anonymous hackers calling themselves "Legion" hacked Barkha Dutt's Twitter account

followed by Ravish Kumar's.

The group of hackers made a tweet claiming not to be affiliated with the BJP.

Which is all very excellent, except there are some very good reasons to believe that the hackers could indeed be affiliated with the BJP. And BJP has a long history of its fronts being "apolitical" or "not-affiliated", going right back to a notable event I attended in 2009 or 2010 (I forget), organized by "Friends of BJP" - which claimed to be an apolitical group. Countless Hindu Sena this that and the other variants have conveniently popped up to attack targets of BJP at opportune moments and vanished into obscurity.

India Against Corruption ran a nationwide protest against the previous government. An "apolitical" organization, that just happened to be amply funded by the RSS, included plenty of BJP affiliated public figures, AND had protests happening in front of every BJP office, was... apolitical.

For that matter, the RSS itself, whose members form a large part of the government and who gets foreign funds for rescue and social work, but managed to put LAKHS of its workers on the streets campaigning for BJP's Lok Sabha electoral campaign is.... (you guessed it by now) an apolitical, cultural organization. I hope you get my drift. If it walks like a BJP affiliate, acts like a BJP affiliate, quacks like a BJP affiliate AND it claims to be apolitical...

A heads up by the BJP insider handle

A handle calling itself "BJP insider" had tweeted in July that BJP's IT cell had recruited professional hackers to hack and suspend accounts causing problems to boss (Modi) on Twitter and Facebook. This handle has been around for a couple of years at least and consistently tweets what it claims is the scuttlebutt around BJP headquarters.

By itself, it may not mean much, as several months had passed. Or it could mean a lot. Who knows. It is hardly like BJP has never hired people to do their dirty work online.

Rumors of targeting of political opponents and critics being planned

After the second week of demonetistion, there were several rumors that BJP had plans to target political opponents in various ways. The manner in which they circulated and the variety of actions being suggested as possible don't suggest a single source.

Also some deliberate events happening to discredit conspicuous critics of the demonetisation gave credibility to the rumors. For example, the most popular one expected was Income Tax raids on people. However the "false alarm" with Mamata Banerjee as well as ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh under investigation for a scam within days of a powerful speech and article pointing out concerns about demonetisation certainly raise questions about the timing.

The targets of the hacks

All the identities targeted are top targets of BJP's online troll gangs. Both individuals and organizations. Incidentally, once this was raised, @Joydas was among the first to comment that a token BJP hack would happen. And it did. No undesirable tweets got posted and a large "dump" of their database was apparently put up that no one seems to have downloaded (because the hotshots basically DoSed their own server with it, looks like). What is in it could be anyone's guess. But given the complete lack of agitation in the bhakts normally frenzied about the slightest adverse development, it is difficult to believe this to be an adverse development.

Symptoms of BJP's photoshop industry at work

Screenshots posted of what appears to be a transaction notification email to Barkha Dutt from the Standard Chartered bank have two glaring issues.

 

Receipient? Seriously?

Should be recipient, yes? Strange to believe that either Standard Chartered or a mobile application coder good enough to get the interest of a "hacker" would make such a basic mistake. Leads one to question whether the screenshots are real. It wouldn't be the first time the BJP's photoshop department threw up an "original" document, only to reveal themselves with atrocious spelling mistakes (entire political science, anyone?)

Standard Chartered seems particularly lazy about sending notifications

When is the last time you received bank notification of  transaction a day after it happened? And that too for what would apparently be a VIP account given the balances claimed. And no, there doesn't seem to be the possibility of a transaction done just before midnight and notified after midnight, given that this is the afternoon of the next day.

What email application is it anyway?

While I admit I didn't search very hard, I did employ the assistance of google search. The only match anywhere in applications seems to be one called "fake text messenger" - unless of course the hacker built their own email app or has something obscure. Or it may be some custom OS - who knows, maybe will help cops trace the phone.

What navigation is that anyway?

There doesn't seem to be any "menu" provided for this "email". Back arrow next to the icon one can understand - goes back to the archive. Where would an arrow pointing right go? Twitter? :p

No need to delete, archive, etc and reply is out of question of course, given the quality of spellings.

What's that url again?

We have here a banking notification that points to a mobile site at one place and regular site the other. No https (though the url will redirect). Who in the world points to mobile sites in notification emails in the age of autodetection? Probably "hackers" who hack using mobile phones. Either they are very very good or nowhere near the server, given how tricky mobiles can be.

Whoever has seen an email from a bank that ends like this?

No disclaimer text "this is an automated email blah blah blah" What to do if you've got a notification for a transaction you didn't do, etc. No support email... No sign off... really? With half the email being an overlap, unlikely they had to cut it off for space.

Though in all honesty, I don't have a Standard Chartered account, and they may have the casual approach to notifications. If you do have a Standard Chartered account, do me a favor and send me a screenshot of a notification (blurring as appropriate) on Twitter? My handle is @Vidyut

And well, finally... what the hacker chooses to see or ignore

Some emails supposedly "leaked" by the hacker are like total Kashmir Pakistan obsession. I mean seriously, a politically indifferent hacker gets into a big journo's account, and all he can find is emails on Kashmir? ok.

Really? REALLY?

This is probably the first when a hacker out to "expose" missed actionable information (or even to seek it, looks like, if this is the highlight of the hack). For that matter, it could be anyone's inbox.

Worldclass hackers, put up a 98MB download with piddly bandwidth, DoSed their own expose? Hilarious. I suppose by the time the traffic goes down, BJP will have it taken down as "action taken".

If you can download the files they have posted, I would highly recommend you not do so unless you know what you are doing and have secured your machine appropriately. If you have to ask how to, don't.

Maybe it is possible that Legion ain't BJP backed. I'll believe it when BJP arrests them. Surely an attack on a political party, account of an MP and journalists - who have protected sources who could be at risk - warrants investigation and arrests right? So let us see.

1

The Indian socio-political space is polarized as never before. The religious and economic right wings came together in an unprecedented show of solidarity and gave India its first Prime Minister who refuses to answer any questioning. The writing was on the wall. Subramanian Swamy had detailed the RSS "plan" as far back as 1999 with remarkable accuracy if one is to read it with the wisdom of hindsight.

Arundhati Roy had spoken of the economic separation going on in the Indian society in words that have since been seared onto the minds of most people who read them.

What we’re witnessing is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in Independent India. The secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country. It’s a vertical secession, not a lateral one. They’re fighting for the right to merge with the world’s elite somewhere up there in the stratosphere.

Journalists, bloggers, social media commentators have been pointing to this situation coming. This blog has certainly not pulled any punches, and the only surprise in it is the number of people who apparently did not imagine that people given to disregarding law and country while not even in power are wreaking complete mayhem now that they are.

Repulsive utterances and acts have systematically decimated any gullible people who had believed that the country would thrive under a Hindutva right extremist government. Pretty much the only supporters the government has left is its core constituency - those who support them not in spite of their communally hostile views and acts, but because of them. Businessmen are already talking about lack of investments, rupee continues to sink and so on.

Call it BJP's anti-intellectualism committing suicide by pitting itself against institutions of education or call it the simple end of the election campaign resulting in the fog of advertising coming off people's eyes, blaming the right is not such a difficult thing these days. They seem to be doing more than half the work themselves.

In the process, what is happening is a complete absolution of those who are not these barbarians. The nice halos of liberals, intellectuals, leftists and what not other identities with lofty morals are shining brilliant more from the lack lustre contrast of a determinedly incompetent right than any particular merit of their own.

How easy it has become to forget that the Congress pretty much handed the country to BJP on a platter, or that the excellent campaign of Kejriwal suddenly stopped talking of deliverables and dived into Gods after pitching the meager finances of the party into Varanasi and ensuring that hundreds of other seats did not campaign well for shortage of money? A careful Modi wave respected the Gandhi and Yadav parivars even when it swept across UP in a historic win. BJP returned the favor in Delhi elections giving AAP the landslide win so close to Kejriwal's heart. Of course, Kejriwal wasn't ungrateful. After becoming CM and whisking off for treatment at the supposedly hated PM's recommendation, his party did a nice purge of leftists who could have a problem with placing results over ethics or process.

And it goes on. Rahul Gandhi has started finding his eloquence. A near dead left is suddenly visible on Twitter. The country, as is normal for a democracy has no real answer for who should lead it.

Unless India wants to keep swinging between opportunists, the need of the hour is for a struggle for the intellect. A struggle to examine social norms, assumptions, and holy cows and test them against own reasoning, own experiences in life,  own sense of judgment. A struggle to assert own authority to demand accountability and performance from a government.

While there is no doubt that the Hindutva right is a disaster for India not just socially and economically, but in terms of intellectual capital, fundamental freedoms and perhaps even national integration itself, blaming the Hindutva right for the state of the country would be a mistake. For all their faults, their unsuitability was never hidden. A phenomenal carpet bombing of propaganda, entire cover ups of history, brutal and crude campaigns, opportunistic use of human rights propaganda and more got them a landslide victory. A complete multi-pronged brainwashing campaign with a budget to rival the GDPs of entire countries and still, their vote share wasn't a third of the voters in the country.

Can a citizen afford to forget that while the Hindutva right may be guilty of conducting this "advertising scam" and while it may be "guilty" of governing exactly as it has always said it wants a country to be run, it is the complacency of the left and the intellectuals that completely failed to challenge even a single prong of the facade? The word intellectual implies a mind that spends time in thought. A mind capable of more efficient thinking, more robust processes of concluding. Is it not time that the citizen asked whether the country's public intellectuals have served it well?

I have yet to find a reasoned argument that can engage with a crude and illogical defamatory conclusion that makes up in quantity what lacks in quality when it comes to propagation. Why is it that our intellectuals have not made an effort to fight the dangerous undermining of critical thinking nationwide, even as there has been no shortage of them screaming alarm that it was happening?

The right has never pretended to include people. Their concept is simple. "We are the rightful rulers of this land, and we'd like the rest of you to vanish. In any case, we will oppose you anything you want, fundamental right or otherwise" This is no secret. The fundamental of the ideology plays out when it is possible to simply accuse someone loudly enough for it to be a truth to be fixed with a lynch mob. It is not that the mob is stupid enough that no one realizes that the targets are probably framed. It is that the mob is fine with the destruction of the targets for whatever the superficial reason. Be it a Dadri lynching or "terrorists" in JNU.

The question of national integration has to be one for the left to answer. Because the left claims to believe in inclusion. Have they been talking to be understood by all, if a country can be fooled into pseudo-nationalist outrage at the drop of a hat? Have our public thinkers thought loud enough?

While our upper and middle classes are seceding into the stratosphere economically, is it not equally true that our intellectuals have so seceded into an intellectual stratosphere that their ideas of free speech and fundamental rights don't sound familiar to the masses?

A blog by a right wing blogger, Amrit Hallan comes to mind. In it, he compares why Niti Central shut down, but Scroll thrived. To me, the reason seems to be that Niti Central was set up with the specific purpose of electoral propaganda when BJP was in the opposition. Its archives contain often reckless condemnation of a lot of things done by the UPA2 that BJP is currently doing, and it is no longer a suitable publication for the purposes of those it served, because its own archives would condemn those it favors. My guess is that in a few months, it will mushroom up in another avatar with content more suitable to publicizing the work of this government and nothing inconvenient criticizing very similar actions by another government.

But reading the piece by Amrit Hallan was a revelation. Not because his analysis differed from mine - that is bound to happen - I have an extremely cynical view of political propaganda as a whole and BJP affiliated propaganda in particular. What stunned me was how he saw the "Left". From reading his post, the inescapable perception is that of the "left" as he puts it (including leftists and "Congis", activists, etc) as a monolith. He goes to the extent of speaking of leftists promoting each other by name or linking to pieces and creating an artificial credibility where none exists. To look at the piece in terms of its merit as a debate would laugh it off the stage, because it is so absurd.

Yet, if someone does not understand the thinking that leads to stands on fundamental rights, would not completely independent instances of agreement with rights they do not wish to give appear to be an incomprehensible conspiracy? If I did not understand, say for example architecture and published something that creates an unstable building for reasons completely beyond my knowledge, would experts who trashed my article not appear as a conspiracy of elitists unwilling to recognize my masterpiece because I did not agree with them?

Would it not appear as a conspiracy to someone conditioned to react with hate to "enemies" of India, if their reaction were criticized for impinging on the rights and safety of another? To someone who has never had a deep dialogue on citizenship and the right of every citizen to their nation, would it not appear that there was nothing being impinged in order to correct a perceived threat?

If I wrote an article criticizing the beef ban in Maharashtra from an animal husbandry perspective, Asad Owaisi retweeted it, because he perceives the beef ban as a targeting of Muslims, a few dalit activists retweeted it because of the lack of recognition of dalits eating beef as a legitimate diet of Indian Hindus, if those endorsing fundamental freedoms retweeted it because they oppose the imposition of religious belief on people..... would it not appear to be a conspiracy to a well meaning, if ignorant urban product who has never cared for cattle, but been brought up considering it holy and further radicalized to believe that a cow is nothing and nothing but a symbol of Hindu faith?

Why would an urban mind think about the crisis of fodder and water in rural India? Why would it think of a centuries old thriving trade (and exports) of Kolhapuri chappals? Why would it think of massive income from the export of beef, because Indian taboos make India the only country in the world where beef (considered superior meat) is actually cheaper than goat meat, resulting in massive export business? These things are not told to the mind, the ideas of individual rights are not informed to the mind. What remains is a fog of outraged insult that anybody would kill and eat their mother. That is where the bizarre questions come from.

Would you kill and eat your mother?

Well, I wouldn't tie her in a cattle shed either!

That is what they know. Then begins the desperate search to make an emotional stand sound logical.

No one can know what they don't know. What sort of an intellectual capital have we created that there are so many among our masses who are unaware of the reasoning behind fundamental rights? What sort of an intellectual capital have we created that there are so many left in ignorance that they can be fodder for opportunists to feed ideas for political profit? How is it that we can have a country where the population of cows rivals that of states, and yet the products of our education have no idea of the economy cattle sustain beyond religious faith?

The cow is just an example. This kind of deficit of reasoning that results in dangerous, life threatening outrage can be traced to a lack of adequate information, lack of education, lack of public debate.

We could sneer at them for their stupidity, but it would be useful to remember that we are all products of our circumstances. None of us were born wise. None of us stop learning. All of us learn in various ways unique to us that trigger deeper thought on assumptions that often lead to complete changes in views.

Whose responsibility is it to inculcate such thought? Actually, no one's. Today, we have an abundance of activists pointing out problems and demanding solutions from governments and advocating change, but relatively few reformers who create change regardless of society or government. Governments themselves have over and over abdicated this responsibility. Remember, it wasn't fanatics ruling when we chose to embrace liberalism so thoroughly that our films went from coolie and mazdoor heroes to flashy cars and item girls. It wasn't fanatics in rule when our media chased wealth so thoroughly that national integration was no longer for public content. No more ek chidiya anek chidiya and mile sur mera tumhara. Now paisa bolta hain.

Well, paisa spoke. It spoke so loud that it created an entire fantasy world for youth who never experienced a public space where children dreamed of becoming teachers and scientists instead of MBAs and MNC employees. It never told them of social injustices and showed them films like Amar Prem. Their world is one where these ugly things don't happen. In fact, they are "less privileged", if you look at the bling they are bombarded with as "normal".

You cannot expect private individuals to educate public intellect. You cannot even force them to speak so that they are understood by masses without violating their rights to free speech. That almost sounds like forced conscription for weapons of mass instruction. Something a government will never bring about regardless of political party in power, because idiots are easier to con with pipe dreams than people asking why midday meals are so pathetic and where the money went.

So who is left, whose responsibility it is to create intellectual capital?

No one's. It is a responsibility abdicated by one and all.

But I can tell you what will happen if we do not have a more thinking citizenry. We will burn each other to the ground when incited by opportunists for goals that won't give us a thing beyond the heady sense of being the neighbourhood's biggest bully. Regardless of whether it is the left or the right, the dalits or the brahmins, the Muslims or the Hindutvawadis, everyone will burn. No matter who the opportunists, the ones dying in street fights are always cannon fodder.