After exposing the media outlets last year that were eager to be propaganda machines of the political parties in exchange for hefty sums, in another investigation, Cobrapost has found out that at least three dozen Bollywood celebrities were ready to follow the lead.
In a report called #OperationKaraoke, the non-profit website revealed that these celebrities were willing to endorse political parties by “posting favourable messages on their social media accounts to help create a buzz” ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
The celebrities who consented to do the needful discreetly for the promotions included: playback singers Abhijeet Bhattacharya, Kailash Kher, Mika Singh and Baba Sehgal; actors Jackie Shroff, Shakti Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, Sonu Sood, Amisha Patel, Mahima Chaudhry, Shreyas Talpade, Puneet Issar, Surendra Pal, Pankaj Dheer and his son Nikitin Dheer, Tisca Chopra, Deepshikha Nagpal, Akhilendra Mishra, Rohit Roy, Rahul Bhat, Salim Zaidi, Rakhi Sawant, Aman Verma, Hiten Tejwani and spouse Gauri Pradhan, Evelyn Sharma, Minissha Lamba, Koena Mitra, Poonam Pandey, Sunny Leonne; comedians Raju Srivastava, Sunil Pal, Rajpal Yadav, Upasana Singh, Krushna Abhishek and Vijay Ishwarlal Pawar; and choreographer Ganesh Acharya and dancer Sambhavana Seth.
The website has mentioned, however, that when approached, a handful of the celebrities refused to entertain this proposal, namely Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi, Raza Murad and Saumya Tandon, as they “chose to go by their conscience”.
For the sting operation, Cobrapost reporters assumed false identities, and claimed to be representing a fictitious PR agency, based out of Delhi. The website says that the celebrities were approached with a simple and direct question: Would you be willing to promote a political party discreetly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram? Most of these celebrities had no qualms in going ahead with the proposal.
The political parties they were asked to endorse in most cases were Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP); and Congress in some cases. These celebrities were mostly approached through agents.
The amount of money these celebs asked for ranged in crores. The report says:
Mahima Chaudhary, for instance, demanded Rs. 1 crore for a single message. “BJP toh kuchh bhi de sakti hai. They can give one crore a month (The BJP can give you anything. They can give 1 crore a month),” she said. [..] Not satisfied with the fee we would put on his table, [Sonu] Sood demanded Rs. 2.50 crore a month.
While Shakti Kapoor asked for a fee of Rs 9 crore for 9 months, Vivek Oberoi agreed to settle for Rs 80 lakh per month.
The illusion created by the BJP-led government that the demonetisation would put a curb on the black money transactions was also shattered during this sting operation. Majority of these celebrities were uncomfortable with “white” money, and wanted their pay in cash.
The report says:
Operation Karaoke again reminds us nothing has changed in the entertainment industry with all these celebs willing to accept a big component of their fee in cash, even some wondering if they could be paid all in cash. Minissha Lamba, for example, wanted her fee to be paid entirely in cash. She was disappointed when she came to know at least 20 percent of her fee would be paid in white. “Lekin aapne mujhe bola tha ki saara cash hoga (But you had told me payment will be made entirely in cash),” she wondered. Like her, Aman Verma also wanted only cash. “I would love all in cash,” he said. Bollywood bad guy Shakti Kapoor, who went to town praising demonetisation, an avowed aim of which was to curtail black money, had the gumption to blurt, “Number one mein daalo mat (Don’t pay in number one).” Pankaj Dheer, another BJP acolyte, had this to say on cash, “I am very comfortable because in cheque I am burdened till here.”
Bhattacharya, who lashed out at Karan Johar and Mahesh Bhat for “breeding” and “feeding” Pakistani artistes, and was arrested by the Mumbai Police for abusing a woman journalist on Twitter, was more than enthusiastic to be a part of this exercise.
He offered to make incendiary videos that would make viewers’ blood boil: “Wo mera video lijiye aap statement live … paanch-paanch minute teen-teen chaar minute ke khoon khaulane wala video lijiye (You take my video statement live. You can take three, four of five-minute long videos that will make [people’s] blood boil).”
The report added:
His hatred towards Muslims comes out when he talks of Rohingyas. Referring to a BJP legislator who made a highly controversial statement on Rohingyas, the singer says, “Ye isne bahut accha kiya tha Raja Singh bhi mere paas aate hain Hyderabad se BJP ke MLA Raja Singh bilkul wahan ke Yogi hain. Usne bola tha na Rohingya ko itna kyon de rahe ho seedha goli maar do. Baahar jaate hain toh theek hai warna goli maar do. Toh wo attitude hona chahiye … nahi main boloonga Rohingya ko goli maar do jo support karte hain unko goli maar do pehle unko maaro baad mein unko maaro (This fellow did the right thing. Raja Singh, the BJP MLA from Hyderabad, visits me. He is Yogi [Adityanath] of Hyderabad. He had said why give Rohingyas any shelter, why not shoot them. This should be the attitude … No, I will say shoot the Rohingyas and shoot those who support them. First kill their supporters and then them).” Yes, we would need these kinds of statements from you, we tell him, and when elections come, such issues would become topics of intense debate. Suppose black money and GST may become an issue. “Nahi GST ko main ek accha gana bana doonga na ek accha gana bana doonga (No, I will compose a good song on GST),” promises Bhattacharya.
The full report of the Operation Karaoke can be accessed here.