Few contestants in the Bigg Boss Telugu house have a support base like that of Kaushal Manda, a model turned TV actor.
It would seem that Kaushal enjoys support no matter what he does and how the contestants are portrayed by the Bigg Boss team, and this could only be attributed to his self-proclaimed fans, who rally under the banner of 'Kaushal Army'.
However, there are allegations doing the rounds that a lot of these people under the banner of 'Kaushal Army' are indulging in organised voting, thereby violating the rules of the game.
Organised voting and targeted abuse
Many patrons of the show have begun discussing, both online and offline, about 'Kaushal Army' and the organised effort that these self-claimed fans make to ensure that he stays in the game.
Hundreds of pages have been formed on social media like Twitter and Facebook, along with a large number of WhatsApp groups, where support is organised for Kaushal.
In fact, TNM has seen several WhatsApp groups where members openly advocate creating as many fake email accounts as they can, enabling each of them to send thousands of votes each day, for the contestant of their choice.
Many claimed that they had created up to 50 accounts, while some said that they even created 100.
Some posted a video, which explained to people how they could vote for Kaushal from multiple accounts.
Find some screenshots below.
The same people also target abuse at contestants, especially women, with filthy and vulgar language.
Contestants like Tejaswi and Deepthi Sunaina perhaps had it worst.
While Nani had addressed the abuse that Tejaswi had received online, saying, "I am doing my duty as a host but I want to tell people something as a human being. I am furious because it is common to like or dislike a housemate or even wish that they leave the house, but the language and words that are being used are disgusting. Are these poisonous people really roaming the streets in society among all of us? If you have so much hatred inside, that will only finish you off one day. This is just a game show."
However, even though a large part of abuse was from self-proclaimed Kaushal fans, Nani made no mention of it.
The angry responses of the women contestants towards one of Kaushal's actions appear to have made the Kaushal army target them.
A compromised game?
"The game is interesting but the bigger game is life and people who can't form an army to defend real values in the bigger game are getting together to defend someone that nobody knows about. Kaushal has demonstrated the most vile behaviour in the house and yet people seem to be supporting him," says Babu Gogineni, a rationalist and activist, who was also an inmate of the house.
Babu contends that the integrity of the game was compromised, with the re-entry of eliminated contestants, Shyamala and Nutan Naidu.
Their stay outside in the free world, he says, gave them a chance to gauge the situation outside, campaign for more support and even make deals with social media entities in anticipation of entering the house again. They knew all about Kaushal Army, he adds.
"Compared to this, look at how we entered the house: we were taken from our homes 36 hours in advance, sequestered in a hotel room with a shadow who would ensure we were not in touch with the outside world, the shadow even slept in our hotel room. Then we were blindfolded and made to lose orientation and taken into the house.
"On re-entry into the house, Nutan Naidu and Shyamala spoke to selected housemates and whispered to some. They came back as totally different people, were deferential to Kaushal and their close friends whose behaviour too may have reflected this input."
He goes on to add, "I had no clue about the Army etc. but I could not accept the re-entry on principle and started preparations for my withdrawal. I distributed my T shirts amongst my housemates and withdrew from activities, something that Nani garu also noticed".
Additionally, some YouTube channels have also spread misinformation that is seemingly in favour of Kaushal.
"There is a YouTube channel called Tollywood Nagar which announced that I visited Nutan Naidu in hospital along with Kaushal's fan. This is firstly untrue, and secondly, I have not met any fan of Kaushal in the real world, except for Nani," Babu jokes.
"Nani garu is competent and is able to handle situations with wit and humour. I like him a lot. But there is a challenge now to his claims of impartiality because he has consistently protected Kaushal in his feedback.” Babu says.
"The organisers have a duty towards all of us fellow contestants who are being attacked, abused and defamed by the 'Kaushal Army' and confront Kaushal about this cyber hooliganism. Who is heading the so-called Army?" Babu asks.
Many have also raised doubts if Kaushal Army was started even before he joined Bigg Boss, as several pages were seemingly created in advance even as Kaushal had entered the show.
Some old pages on Facebook with a large reach appear to have been renamed and become active for this purpose, as they were formed months and in some cases, years ago.
In fact, even contestants of the show have raised similar doubts.
When asked if Kaushal may have created the 'army' before he entered Bigg Boss, former contestant Nandini Rai, who was also a target of abuse by his self-proclaimed fans, said, "Only he should know that, because once he only hinted that whoever is pitted against him gets eliminated from the house. Any contestant who comes out of the house and has a look at the army's comments will feel like that, including me."
"The truth can only be told by Kaushal once he steps out of the house. I didn't think that I would be targeted in this way. In fact, it is affecting Kaushal. The abusers have to think, even if Kaushal hasn't planned this, then we will definitely complain to him. We are receiving such negative comments because of him," she added.
"What is surprising is that the game organisers have been saying or doing nothing, to the outside world," Babu says.
However, Star India is confident that its voting system is tough to rig as they have independent auditors to oversee the entire process.
In a statement to TNM, a Star India spokesperson said, "The second season of the Telugu show Bigg Boss 2 presently airing on our Telugu general entertainment channel Star Maa is based on an international format Bigg Boss that has travelled globally and done more than 275 seasons. As a broadcaster, our responsibility is to stay true to the format and offer quality entertainment to our viewers. We have put systems in place for voting which are fairly tough to rig and the voting is audited by independent auditors."
"It has always been an endeavour on the part of our partners/service providers to ensure the technology is as foolproof as we can make it. We have been seeing some of the nasty comments and statements being put on social media and to address some of these comments, our host has appealed to viewers to be responsible and not get personal or nasty on social media," the spokesperson added.