An alleged document prepared by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) to “corner the Modi government and various BJP governments in the country” through social media and on-ground strategies was extensively shared by top BJP leaders on May 18. The hashtag #CongressToolKitExposed soon began trending.

The document has been shared in two parts – four pages of a COVID-19 ‘toolkit’ and four pages of research on the issues with the Central Vista project.

The alleged toolkit urges Congress workers, volunteers and supporters to use the term ‘super spreader Kumbh’, ‘not comment on Eid gatherings’, respond to COVID SOS messages ‘only if a person tags the IYC handle’, ‘use dramatic pictures of funerals and dead bodies which is already being done by foreign media’, etc. It also advises social media volunteers to use the term ‘Modi strain’ for the new variant of COVID originating in India, etc.

Part II of the document analyses PM Modi’s dream project of redeveloping Central Vista. This section lays down the opportunity cost of the project, including COVID vaccines, oxygen cylinders and monetary relief to victims. The document also lists the project’s adverse impact on the environment and architecture.

“It’s deplorable on their part to attempt to spread misinformation during this global catastrophe,” wrote health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan.

Among the other top BJP leaders who amplified #CongressToolKitExposed were Smriti Irani, Tirath Singh Rawat, Piyush Goyal, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Tejasvi Surya, Kiren Rijiju, Anurag Thakur, P C Mohan, Hardeep Singh Puri, Shobha Karandlaje, Biren Singh, Pralhad Joshi, Rahul Kaswan, Manoj Kotak and Dr. VINAY Sahasrabuddhe.

The official Twitter account of ABVP also shared the alleged document. Amit Malviya, Sambit Patra, B L Santhosh, Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, Sunil Deodhar, Priti Gandhi, Suresh Nakhua, Sanju Verma, Om Prakash Dhankar, Charu Pragya, Y Satya Kumar, C T Ravi, C T R Nirmal Kumar, Ashish Chauhan and Anoop A J were among the BJP officer bearers and representatives who amplified the claim.

BJP supporters – Anand Ranganathan, Prashant Patel Umrao, Ankit Jain, Pradeep Bhandari, Shefali Vaidya, Shehzad, Vivek Agnihotri and Akhilesh Mishra – too jumped on the bandwagon. OpIndia and its editor Nupur Sharma and Swarajya did not stay behind as well.

Nearly every media outlet reported on the alleged ‘toolkit’ created by Congress.

Congress terms the toolkit ‘fake’

AICC Research Department chairman Rajeev Gowda told Alt News that the part of the document recommending social media and on-ground strategies (titled ‘Cornering Narendra Modi and BJP on COVID-19 mismanagement’) has not been prepared by his party. The section addressing the issues with the Central Vista project (titled ‘Central Vista Redevelopment: Vanity Project Amidst the Pandemic’) was made by the AICC’s Research Department, he informed.

“This (pages of the Central Vista document viral on social media) is part of a larger 6-page document which is a background note on policy and issues facing the nation. They seem to have obtained it illegally, and used it as a model to create a fake document, with forged letterhead,” Gowda furthered.

“The Research Department’s mandate is threefold – one, to support Congress MPs in their parliamentary work; two, to expose the failures of non-Congress governments; and three is to ideate about the future,” he said adding that what should or should not be said on social media is not the mandate for the AICC Research Department. “We tend to focus on factual/ fact-checked information that is the basis for arguments, speeches.”

Gowda had also tweeted that the document on “COVID-19 mismanagement” is fake.

Forged letterhead

(Note: This article refers to the four pages of the COVID-19 mismanagement document as COVID-19 toolkit or toolkit, whereas the document on Central Vista has been referred to as the name suggests.)

The letterhead on the Central Vista document does not match the one on the COVID-19 toolkit. The Central Vista document was first made on Microsoft Word and a PDF version was internally circulated, as per Gowda. While there can be differences in style and format on the body of a document, depending on the author, the header and footer on Word remain intact.

As clearly evident, a leaner font has been used on the COVID-19 toolkit. The page numbering doesn’t match either. The number ‘one’ has been written as ‘I’ on the Central Vista document while the other document reads ‘1’.

Gowda also shared an older document with Alt News, prepared by the AICC Research Department. The fonts and style match the legitimate (Central Vista) research but are distinct from the toolkit document. This further indicates that the toolkit is morphed. “I challenge them to produce the original document, and we will get it investigated forensically to expose their lies,” said Gowda.

The difference in the font used can also be spotted on the header. The top left corner of all pages say ‘May 2021’ but the ‘M’ in both documents are noticeably different.

The alignment on the footer is also distorted on the COVID-10 toolkit while letterhead, links and margins are perfectly aligned on the genuine document.

Morphed document – Analysis of properties

After Congress leaders, including Priyanka Gandhi, termed the COVID-19 toolkit ‘fake’, several BJP workers and supporters shared what they claim is the properties of the toolkit. Patra also shared a screenshot of the LinkedIn profile of the author of the document, Saumya Varma, who works with Rajeev Gowda.

This prompted Gowda to post another tweet clarifying that AICC indeed prepared a document on Central Vista but the COVID-19 toolkit was “forged and made by the BJP”.

He further said that Sambit Patra is showing the metadata/ author of the real document and attributing it to the fake.

Gowda shared the complete AICC 6-page research on Central Vista with Alt News (view PDF). We also looked at the properties and it is identical to the one shared by BJP members.

It is noteworthy that the Central Vista document has six pages, which is what the screenshot shared by Patra also says. But a total of 8 pages have been shared on social media, this includes four pages of the Central Vista research and four pages of the COVID-19 toolkit. It is clear that the two documents are distinct and the digital footprint shared by Patra is of the document Congress has vouched to be authentic. BJP has failed to provide the digital footprint of the COVID-19 toolkit. As one can clearly spot in both screenshots provided above, Patra has shared metadata of the document ‘Central Vista Vanity Project AICC’.

No evidence of implementation of social media strategies mentioned on the ‘toolkit’

What is a toolkit? It’s a document that lays down strategies for future course of action – what needs to be done and how. The COVID-19 toolkit defines what should be the messaging on social media and the actions that need to be taken on-ground.

However, most of the directions of the toolkit refer to events that have already taken place. A document meant for suggesting courses of action for May 2021 and beyond, has several events which have already occurred in the month of April.

“International media coverage by foreign correspondents in India can be tailored to exclusively focus on Modi and his mismanagement,” says the document prepared in May, whereas international media has been critical of the Modi government since April.

Akhilesh Mishra, former director of the BJP government’s online citizen engagement initiative ‘MyGov India’, shared Rahul Gandhi’s Instagram post depicting mass funerals of COVID victims. Mishra juxtaposed this with an article in The New York Times that also depicts mass funerals. Gandhi’s post is from April 29 and The New York Times article is from April 25, yet Mishra alleged that the ‘toolkit’ is responsible for the report even though the so-called document was prepared a few weeks later.

Mishra is connected with numerous pro-BJP propaganda pages. Alt News’s elaborate report on his ‘BJP connection’ can be read here.

The toolkit also instructs the repeated use of certain words and phrases to create a narrative on social media. To gauge its authenticity, Alt News checked if Congress members and volunteers were using these phrases in an organised manner or whether multiple individuals were using the terminologies. We found this wasn’t the case, and most of the limited usage was by people not associated with Congress.

Rajeev Gowda informed us that the Central Vista research was circulated internally on May 7. The COVID-19 toolkit also says ‘May 2021’ on the top left corner of each page. But in the almost three weeks of this month, none of the ‘strategies’ have been applied.

If ‘super spreader kumbh’ is searched on Twitter, all the recent posts are made by pro-BJP or BJP handles in reference to the Congress toolkit. So we truncated our search till May 17, before the alleged document surfaced. The number of tweets posted with that phrase, having at least one retweet, is countable – 15. Readers can check for themselves here. None of these seem to have been posted by Congress workers.

At another point, the toolkit asks Congress workers to use the phrase ‘Indian strain’ whenever talking about the new mutant coronavirus. It also says that social media volunteers may call it ‘Modi strain’. The term ‘Indian strain’ has mostly been used by the media, both international and domestic. Between May 1 to May 17, there are five handles with at least one retweet that have used the term ‘Modi strain’. Five tweets don’t make a campaign. Social media propaganda demands hundreds of tweets of the same narrative being put out.

BJP members widely shared a tweet by London-based author Sonia Faleiro to support their claim. However, neither has Faleiro used the word ‘strain’ (her tweet says ‘variant’) nor is she associated with Congress.

We found a few more tweets with at least one retweet where ‘Modi variant’ or #ModiVariant has been used. The most prominent among these are by Aparna Jain and Seema Chishti, none of whom are Congress workers.

The ‘toolkit’ then advises the use of specific adjectives for senior BJP leaders. For instance, ‘missing’ Amit Shah, ‘quarantined’ Jaishankar, ‘sidelined’ Rajnath Singh, ‘insensitive’ Nirmala Sitharaman.

That the home minister is ‘missing’ had become a talking point on Twitter after Nagesh Kariyappa, general secretary of the NSUI, filed a missing person’s report with the Delhi police claiming that Shah has disappeared when the country is facing a crisis. Most tweets are regarding his complaint.

‘Quarantined’ Jaishankar does not throw any tweet where the word has been used as an adjective for the foreign minister. An advanced search of ‘sidelined’ Rajnath Singh and ‘insensitive’ Nirmala Sitharaman also do throw any results. A term has to be used again and again to leave an imprint on people’s mind. Propaganda is not built by scattered use (or in this case, no use at all) but repetition.

The document further advises Congress workers to not respond to COVID SOS messages unless Indian Youth Congress (IYC) is tagged. Below is a screenshot that shows IYC national president Srinivas B V responding journalist Aditya Raj Kaul who has neither tagged him nor his organisation.

There are many such examples, including Srinivas’s response to BJP MP Hans Raj Hans who had used the hashtags #SOS and #SOSDelhi.

Srinivas had also tweeted photos of oxygen cylinders supplied to a person after anchor Rubika Liyaquat’s tweet. She had also not tagged IYC.

Rajeev Gowda and Congress social media department chairman Rohan Gupta have filed a complaint with the Delhi police commissioner against BJP leaders JP Nadda, Sambit Patra, Smriti Irani, BL Santhosh, among others for “forging the letterhead of AICC Research Department and thereafter printing false and fabricated content on the same”.

An analysis by Alt News has revealed that the AICC Research Department letterhead has been tampered with in the toolkit document, raising questions about its authenticity. An examination of the content of the document, meant to strategise a future course of action, reveals that it refers to events that have already taken place in the past. BJP till now has only shared screenshots of the alleged toolkit and has failed to produce the original – either the PDF version or the Microsoft Word version. Without the original document, BJP’s claims come across as inauthentic, especially because the ‘toolkit’ is made on a poor copy of the original letterhead used by the AICC’s research wing.

[Update: An SOS appeal made by one ‘Sakshi’ has been replaced with Aditya Raj Kaul’s tweet as an example to show IYC taking heed of messages where the organisation hasn’t been tagged.]