On May 18, the top brass of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the opposition Congress of conspiring a nefarious plan to gain political capital from the pandemic. The plan, documented in a ‘toolkit’, included sullying the image of the country, using COVID volunteerism as a PR and marketing activity and using phrases like “Modi strain” to shame the Prime Minister. In an article published on May 19, Alt News explained how the toolkit was created on a forged letterhead.
In this investigation, we will reveal how a pro-BJP Twitter handle talked about a ‘new toolkit’ 10 days before the ‘toolkit’ attributed to Congress was made public by BJP leaders.
But before we delve into our second investigation, let us first understand what the ‘toolkit’ controversy is.
What is the toolkit controversy?
At 10:01 am on May 18, a Twitter handle called ‘Team Bharat’ (@teambharat_) released four screenshots each of two documents.
The first set of screenshots were allegedly from a document titled, “Cornering Narendra Modi & BJP on COVID Management”. For the purpose of this article, this document will be referred to as the ‘toolkit’. This is the document that caused the outrage. The second set of screenshots was from a document titled, “Central Vista Redevelopment: Vanity Project Amidst the Pandemic”. For the purpose of this article, this document will be referred to as the ‘Vista’ document.
— TEAM BHARAT (@TeamBharat_) May 18, 2021
On the morning of May 19, BJP leaders began sharing a screenshot of the file properties of one of the two documents. The file name, as seen in the screenshot below, reads ‘Central_Vista_Vanity_Project_AICC’, suggesting that it is the file properties of the ‘Vista’ document. While only four screenshots of the ‘Vista’ document were shared on social media, the file properties suggest that it was a 6-page document. It must be noted that the same screenshot was shared by multiple BJP handles.
BJP alleged that both the ‘Vista’ and the ‘toolkit’ documents were prepared by Congress. However, it has been three days since Alt News’s initial report and four days since the ‘toolkit’ screenshots were shared on social media, but no one in BJP has been able to produce the original ‘toolkit’ document to back their allegations. A forensic analysis of the original ‘toolkit’ document can help in determining the authenticity of the ‘toolkit’.
Who was the first to share the file properties screenshot?
While ‘Team Bharat’ was the first to share screenshots of the alleged ‘toolkit’, the handle wasn’t the first to share the screenshot of the file properties of the ‘Vista’ document.
File properties can be accessed from a computer that has the physical file. The fact that ‘Team Bharat’ wasn’t the first to share the screenshot of the file properties, while it was the one that announced the ‘exposé’ of the alleged toolkit, raised suspicions if they were used as a proxy for this exposé.
Through Twitter advanced search, Alt News was able to determine that the first handle to share the file properties screenshot was ‘Modi Bharosa’ at 9:41 am.
Who has created a toolkit for Congress?
Ans: Saumya Varma
Who is Saumya Varma?
Ans: Political Researcher- Office of Rajeev Gowda at AICC Research Dept
Who is RajeevGowda?
Ans: Ex-MP & national spokesperson- Congress
— Modi Bharosa (@ModiBharosa) May 19, 2021
Who runs Modi Bharosa?
The portal ‘Modi Bharosa’ was in the news after the revelation that Facebook policy head Shivnath Thukral was previously associated with the website. The portal has existed since before 2014 and has been actively involved in promoting Narendra Modi and the BJP. The operations of ‘Modi Bharosa’ were previously headed by Anuj Gupta, who according to his LinkedIn profile is an OSD (Officer on Special Duty) to the Minister of Railways.
— Modi Bharosa (@ModiBharosa) October 29, 2013
According to the last known information (archive link), Modi Bharosa is headed by Zankrut Oza, who according to his Twitter bio is a digital media and PR strategist working with the Government of India.
‘Modi Bharosa’ revealed the ‘toolkit’ idea 10 days before it was made public
While ‘Modi Bharosa’ was the first to share the ‘file properties’ screenshot on Twitter, that doesn’t automatically mean that they had physical possession of the file, as they may have received the screenshot from a different source.
However, on further analysing tweets from the ‘Modi Bharosa’ handle, another startling fact was revealed. Alt News came across a tweet thread made on May 8 that spoke about the ‘toolkit’ made during farmers’ protest, and how a similar ‘toolkit’ has been created by the same ecosystem to defame the PM during the pandemic.
Have you remembered the ‘toolkit’ during Farmer’s protest & how anti India lobby worked worldwide? Now, when India is facing the pandemic, the same ecosystem is ready with new ‘toolkit’
Modi’s Rally, Kumbh & other Hindu Festivals (1/n) pic.twitter.com/T2zMtnGKbg
— Modi Bharosa (@ModiBharosa) May 8, 2021
We discovered that several points jotted down in the thread also have a place on the ‘toolkit’ ascribed to Congress, screenshots of which were shared 10 days after this thread. A side-by-side comparison of the May 8 tweet thread by ‘Modi Bharosa’ and the toolkit can be seen below.
‘Super spreader Kumbh’
The ‘toolkit’ suggested that Kumbh should be highlighted by Congress workers and volunteers. It urged the use of the phrase ‘super spreader Kumbh’. “Politicising religion and allowing super spreader Kumbh. International media has already established this,” it said. On May 8, ‘Modi Bharosa’ had tweeted screenshots of four international news reports which match the narrative that eventually made it to the ‘toolkit’ on May 18.
In Point 1-c, the ‘toolkit’ spoke about how the focus should be solely on Kumbh, and the issue of Eid gatherings should be avoided. Four days before the toolkit was released, ‘Modi Bharosa’ had tweeted along the same lines.
Prime Minister Modi’s image
The ‘toolkit’ talks about how the Prime Minister’s approval ratings have been high despite the pandemic and strategises on how his popularity can be eroded. As an action item, it suggests liaisons with foreign journalists and Indian Oped writers. A tweet by Modi Bharosa on May 8 shares several screenshots of opinion pieces in international publications which held PM Modi responsible for the crisis in India.
The section on PM Modi’s image also suggested that dramatic pictures of funerals and dead bodies should be used, which is already being done by the foreign media. In a tweet on May 8, ‘Modi Bharosa’ shared multiple such images featured in international publications.
The ‘toolkit’ also suggested the use of the phrase ‘Indian strain’ and ‘Modi strain’ to tarnish the Prime Minister’s image. In a tweet shared on May 12, two days before the toolkit was released, ‘Modi Bharosa’ criticised media outlets that have called B.1.617 variant as ‘India variant’.
Another tweet on May 12, also spoke about the Indian variant.
PM Cares fund
An entire section is dedicated to PM Cares fund in the ‘toolkit’ and how it is an opaque private trust. On May 8, ‘Modi Bharosa’ put out a tweet with a similar narrative, a comparison of which can be seen below.
Yet another section in the ‘toolkit’ is dedicated to the Centra Vista redevelopment project. On May 8, the handle had tweeted that the project is being targeted and 10 days later, the ‘toolkit’ advised Congress cadre to target Central Vista.
Alt News has reached out to the team of ‘Modi Bharosa’ to get a statement on the handle being the first one to share the file properties of AICC’s Central Vista document, and further coincidences about their Twitter thread on May 8 having uncanny similarities with the toolkit released on May 18. We are yet to hear back and this article will be updated if and when they respond. BJP leaders have failed to provide the original ‘toolkit’ document despite questions raised about the authenticity of their allegations. Moreover, Alt News analysis had found that the letterhead for the ‘toolkit’ did not match the ‘Vista’ document, and came across as forged. On May 21, Twitter marked the ‘toolkit’ screenshots shared by multiple BJP leaders, members and sympathisers as ‘manipulated media’.
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