In her December 2016 book, I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Social Media Army, the journalist Swati Chaturvedi reports on the social media strategy, campaign and cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the online “trolls” that support it. She examines the social-media strategies the party employed during its campaign leading up to the 2014 general elections, and how it has used social media to its advantage since it came to power. In her book, Chaturvedi states that she spoke to more than two-dozen former and current members of the National Digital Operations Centre (NDOC), the BJP’s digital-campaign wing.
One such individual is Sadhavi Khosla, a former volunteer who worked for the NDOC for nearly two years, until late 2015. Khosla told Chaturvedi that the NDOC and its heads—including Arvind Gupta, the national convenor of the BJP’s IT cell—ran targeted campaigns over platforms such as WhatsApp and Twitter against those who appeared to criticise the Modi government or the BJP. On this list, Khosla said, were celebrities such as Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan as well as journalists such as Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt. According to Khosla, after Aamir Khan commented in November 2015 on alleged acts of intolerance in India, the cell ran a campaign to ensure that he was ousted from his role as the brand ambassador of Snapdeal, an e-commerce platform. She also spoke to Chaturvedi about the methods that the NDOC volunteers used, including threats of physical and sexual violence. Khosla told Chaturvedi that the absence of any reprimand from the BJP leadership for such acts led to her disillusionment with her work. Since the release of the book, several BJP members, including Gupta, have denied Khosla’s allegations, and accused her of lying about her involvement with the BJP. Many have also claimed that she either defected to, or was working for, the Congress party.
On 2 January 2017, Kedar Nagarajan, a web reporter with The Caravan, met Khosla, and later continued the conversation over the phone. They discussed the structure and functioning of the NDOC, the work she did, as well as the events that led her to resign. They also spoke about the allegations that have been raised against her. At the beginning of their discussion, Khosla said, “I would not be surprised if my phone is tapped and my activities on the phone are being monitored.”
Kedar Nagarajan: What drew you to the National Digital Operations Centre?
Sadhavi Khosla: I want to set one thing very straight, I was neither a member nor an employee of the Bharatiya Janata Party—I was a volunteer. I was driven by my passion to be part of a movement that was created at that point in time. In 2012-13, there was a huge anti-establishment wave with the Anna Hazare movement and all that. I think that this was the first point in time where young Indians—apolitical people and educated Indians—came forward to be part of a political change. The year 2014 was the first time I registered my voter ID card and chose to vote.