When it comes to political manoeuvring, BJP has high-end ways of getting things done. The latest expose on similar lines is the discreet way in which the cash-strapped national party runs aggressive online campaigns using a farrago of fake news under the cover of a women’s empowerment NGO named as the Association of Billion Minds (ABM).
Though the NGO doesn’t have any visible connection to Modi or BJP, it formulates online propaganda and controls a vast network of Facebook pages dedicated to pro-Modi campaigns and fake news that are communal and divisive.
According to an investigative report released by Huffington Post India, the NGO was a brainchild of the campaign research advisor of BJP Prashanth Kishor. Founded in August 2013, almost a year ahead of the 2014 Indian election, they started off as an organization that would work with acid-attack survivors ‘as a precursor to building a network of influential supporters who could be translated into votes as the Lok Sabha elections drew close.’
While BJP carefully distanced itself from the organization, the NGO has turned into BJP party president Shah’s personal election consulting unit with a dedicated group of IIT engineers, consultants, lawyers and young professionals working around the clock carefully threading party campaigns, says the report.
Many of the party campaigns including “Main bhi Chowkidar”, “Nation with NaMo”, and “Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat” were the ideas conceived by ABM. The team ‘designs, executes and memeifies’ these campaigns and makes them viral across a network of Facebook pages – many of them maintained by the NGO – with millions of followers.
In the advertiser transparency campaign report rolled out by Facebook, two pages managed by ABM came out to be the biggest spenders on Facebook.
Apart from the online campaigns, the firm plays a key role in every aspect of the BJP’s election planning. “‘The firm compiles detailed dossiers on potential candidates from each constituency, prepare poll booth-level political intelligence reports, plots out routes for teams canvassing for votes, run polling day war-rooms, and designs and manages online propaganda campaigns,” reads Huffington Post India’s report.
ABM now has at least 161 full-time employees in 12 regional offices across India.
The report further states that the anchor for many of ABM’s online activities had posted heavily edited misleading videos of opposition leader and Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s statements on the tragic killing of at least 40 Indian troopers in Pulwama, Kashmir, on 14 February, and on loan waivers to indebted farmers.
The flaws in election funding laws in India have enabled parties like the BJP to conceal their relationship to entities that are campaigning on their behalf such that of ABM.