New Delhi — A day after HuffPost India published a detailed investigative report about the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah’s personal election unit, the Association of Billion Minds (ABM), opposition party leaders spoke out against the shadowy outfit.
The BJP has not responded to HuffPost India’s emails.
HuffPost India’s investigation revealed how ABM operates a network of Facebook pages, social media accounts, and websites that serve as disguised mouthpieces for the BJP, but carry no visible indication of their affiliation to the ruling party. Some of these websites have been used to propagate false and divisive information.
In interviews, the Congress party’s Research Department Chief and Parliamentarian Rajeev Gowda sought “fast track legal action” against the fake news promoted by the ABM and the ruling party, Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury urged the intervention of the Election Commission to “curb” ABM which, he said, is “working to defeat our democracy”.
Parliamentary party leader in the Rajya Sabha of the Trinamool Congress, Derek O’ Brien, accused the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of “attempting to use” social networks to “spread divisive propaganda and condition minds.”
Detailed remarks from the opposition leaders given in separate interviews to HuffPost India follow:
1) Rajeev Gowda, Rajya Sabha MP and Head of the Congress Party’s Research Department:
What The Expose Reveals About The Politics Of The BJP:
I am disgusted at the brazen manipulation of public opinion and the utilisation of an organisation of bright young people to nefarious ends. When I read that this is the group that created fake news — for example about Shehla Rashid — it disgusts me that people like these continue to thrive in the BJP ecosystem.
If you recall, Mr. Amit Shah once, in a public meeting, said we can create any fake news and make it go viral. That is something to be punished. Not something to be celebrated. And I am disgusted beyond belief that this is what Indian political discourse and the methods and tactics of parties have been reduced to by Mr. Modi and Mr. Amit Shah.
It shows you that they want to win by hook or crook. And this is not new for the BJP. They are capable of engineering communal tension and reaping their harvest. That is the story of evolution of the BJP right from 1990.
It is just that it is sad that people of India who vote with great hope and faith are subjected to these kinds of people. And they are not able to see through that. And your expose tells the story that this is what’s actually going on. And it tells you how bright minds can be bought, induced and turned into cogs in a fake news machine of lie creation.
Why Fast Track Legal Action Is Needed Against Fake News Promoted By the BJP
I think fake news must be identified and the perpetrators punished. People have died because of fake news. When you have an atmosphere of impunity, when you allow people to go out there and lynch anyone you want because of what they eat or supposedly eat, because of their choices of various kinds in a free country. And the moral leader of this country refuses to condemn an act of that sort until it is too late and weak.
That is why that atmosphere of impunity is there. That is why I say fake news should be punished. There needs to be a fast track legal way of dealing with it.
Why He Supports Political Consultancies
Political consultancy is a profession that needs to grow. There is no problem there. What they do is they tell busy and harried politicians— for example we have created something called the Data Analytics Department. In the Congress Party. We don’t have enough in house strength historically to understand all the nuances of data as they come in to figure out where to target, what to do etc so there is a lot of scope to bring in people who know messaging; data analytics; psephology.
Because we are also busy with other policy and politics related activities so consultants can play a role. We used a designer to help us with a manifesto. We can work on the text and the proposals. But the design and presentation also makes a difference in terms of how easy it is to read, how unputdownable it becomes. There is nothing wrong with political consultants.
On charges of the Congress party also spreading fake news on some occasions:
Mr. Rahul Gandhi, our President, has told us to stick to the truth. You know life is so much easier when you stick to the truth. You don’t have to keep cooking up stuff.
2) Sitaram Yechury, General secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist)
According to this detailed investigation into the Association of Billion Minds (ABM), it is a secretive, paid operation, formed stealthily, serving the BJP illegally. The ruling party must answer.
Why The ABM Makes A Mockery Of Indian Democracy:
As per your report, it has been active, especially after 2015, spending massive amounts of funds, playing with minds with fake news pushes and other tricks. BJP has never declared this parallel structure, which makes a mockery of our democracy.
Urging The Intervention Of The Election Commission:
It is serious how much BJP has tried to corrode the system and subvert Indian democracy through this ABM. We urge the Election Commission to act to curb this organisation working to defeat our democracy.
Corporate Funding of Election Must Be Banned, State Support In Kind Introduced
This is why we want proper and comprehensive electoral reforms starting with a ban on the opaque dark system of bringing in black money to polls - Electoral bonds. Corporate funding must be banned and there must be state support in kind for Elections.
Money and such illegality cannot be allowed to hijack our democracy.
3) Derek O Brien, Parliamentary Party Leader, Rajya Sabha, Trinamool Congress
There is so much good and positivity about the social network; so much knowledge to be gained and enjoyment to be had. Sadly, the BJP-RSS are attempting to use it to spread their divisive propaganda and condition minds. We are glad that the media has taken this issue up today. The Trinamool Congress was the first party to call out these pages and sites. Our party has raised this issue more than once in the highest forum of the nation, the parliament.