Opposition leaders have been pointing to Huffpost India’s investigative report on the Association of Billion Minds (ABM) while discussing Narendra Modi and BJP’s spendings on advertisements and the “misuse” of social media in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and the need for elections reforms.
On 3 July, Congress leader Kapil Sibal told the Rajya Sabha that the BJP had used several social media accounts to target specific voters ahead of the polls and the “shadowy” firm that helped the party do this was ABM.
Sibal said, “Before we start talking about reforms, we must analyse what the problem is. The BJP has officially spent Rs 1.32 crore on Facebook, but unofficially Facebook pages namely Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat, Nation With NaMo, My First vote For Modi... cumulatively Rs 4.5 crore was spend and the organisation that was behind this was the Association of Billion Minds.”
He mentioned the Huffpost India report to inform the Rajya Sabha that ABM, which is supposed to be an NGO, was created only to support the BJP
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien had also mentioned the report in his motion of thanks address in the Rajya Sabha in June.
O’Brien had said, “There was a women’s NGO called Sarvani Foundation, now it’s called Association of Billion Minds. Go investigate the Association of Billion Minds. They are a surrogate advertising creator for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The expense of Association of Billion Minds doesn’t even go into the elections expenses.”
In April, Huffpost India had reported how in August 2013, on the advice of Prashant Kishore, Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) set up a women’s empowerment NGO as part of a discreet voter outreach programme.
On 10 August 2013, the Sarvani Foundation was registered in Ahmedabad with a former Jet Airways flight attendant and former sales support specialist for Adobe listed as its owners. One owner was the wife, and the other was the sister of a graphic designer in Kishor’s employ.
The Sarvani Foundation — now renamed the Association of Billion Minds (ABM) — assembled a cohort of IIT engineers, consultants, lawyers and young professionals, to become BJP party president Shah’s personal election consulting unit.
Huffpost India had found that ABM’s campaigns — which were often communal and divisive — were ramped up on the eve of critical elections and throttled down in the interludes between polls, even as the BJP has maintained a public distance from the firm.
As of April 2019, ABM’s team of at least 161 full-time employees in 12 regional offices across India provides the BJP with feedback on its key political moves, helped shortlist candidates for vital elections, and managed a phalanx of paid field workers who introduced themselves to party cadre as “Amit Shah’s team”.