The frenzied reactions of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters on social media against anyone strongly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his policies are not organised by the party, says the cyber czar of BJP.
Arvind Gupta, BJP's IT cell chief, who is called an "innovation evangelist" by his office, says his job is to give out correct information. "How a particular person takes that information and communicates it is completely his or her own take. We can't control that," Gupta said in an interview.
Gupta, who was responding to a charge that often BJP and RSS supporters attack people who oppose Modi or his polices, at times in offensive language.
"Sometimes, misinformation campaigns are run by opponents and we need to counter that with correct information in real time. People have their own passion and communications styles," Gupta said, adding that "it's not possible to understand who is a member and who is not."
Gupta, who holds a B.Tech in electronics engineering from IIT-BHU and a masters in business & computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in the US, says there are guidelines for the supporters and members to follow on social media.
"We always ask them to follow these," he said, adding, "The prime minister himself has asked everyone to follow a certain etiquette. Ignore negativities, take criticism positively and work with positive energy on social media," he asserted.
The party, he stated, always communicated through official handles, spokespersons and office bearers.
Gupta, who headed the digital and social media campaign for Modi during the 2014 elections, conceded that it was also difficult to control social media.
The party has often come under criticism for allowing vicious verbal attacks on critics by its supporters.
The BJP-led government has been on a social media overdrive since it assumed power in May 2014 and Gupta says "Digital First" is now in BJP's DNA as directed by Modi himself. Gupta has been looking at BJP's cyber interests since 2010.
"Led by the prime minister, the thought is not just to bring parity in information dissemination. It is also to look at the overall parity so that citizens, media and everybody gets information together." Gupta said.
"It is digital democracy as well. It makes information available to all in real time and in the right manner. That's what we are seeing in our 'Digital India' programme," he said, adding that the government, the Prime Minister's Office and the party machinery are all in sync on this.
"It is not any one person's job. Everybody is playing their role. It is a job of the party to propagate the good policies of it to take it forward. It is the job of the government to ensure every citizen, every stakeholder gets the information," said Gupta, who has a team of about 20 people in Delhi. Various units in the states help to move information on the internet.
Gupta, who led the "Ab Ki Bar Modi Sarkar" campaign in the run-up to the April-May 2014 general election, said the transformational change in the past 15 months had also involved citizens in decision-making. The logos for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna and Swachh Bharat were all crowd sourced from the MyGov platform, he said as an example.
"The prime minister himself picks up messages from this platform."
He said the change is spreading out fast. "Every event is getting live-streamed. Many ministries in the last 15 months have come online and started giving their updates in real time," he said. The railway ministry, for example, is now taking complaints on its Twitter handle.
"This is something unique in this part of the world. This is the change in the DNA."
Speaking about the MyGov.in platform, which was made to build a partnership between citizens and the government, he said it has multifarious roles to play. "We will try to reach out to as many more people as possible. There is a big emphasis on villages and semi-urban areas."
On the interactive role that the BJP seeks through social media, Gupta said while some feedback was meaningful, sometimes it was not. "But even a small comment needs to be understood whether people are writing it in the correct spirit. Good feedback or criticism, both are welcome," he said.