On 14 March 2017, the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appointed Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga as a spokesperson. Bagga enjoys a significant following on social media—he has over 2 lakh followers on Twitter, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was also one of nearly 150 social-media users who were invited for a closed-door interaction with the prime minister at his residence, in 2015. Bagga describes himself on Twitter as a “#SwayamSewak,” and is well-known for vehemently criticising those who oppose the ruling party.
In October 2011, Bagga allegedly attacked the lawyer Prashant Bhushan at his chambers at the Supreme Court of India for his comments pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir. An organisation named Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena—a now-defunct group founded by Bagga—claimed responsibility for the attack. Several news reports named Bagga as one of the attackers. Following the assault, Bagga reportedly tweeted: “He try to break my Nation, i try to break his head. Hisab chukta [score settled]. Congrats to all. Operation Prashant Bhushan successful.” A trial on the case is underway. Earlier that year, Bagga was one of a group of people that disrupted the launch of the writer Arundhati Roy’s book The Broken Republic. In 2012, he participated in protests against the separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, when the latter visited Delhi. A report published in the Indian Express on 16 March 2017 quoted Bagga as saying that in 2012, the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi invited him to help him run an online campaign called “Modi-fying India.” The report also noted that his Twitter timeline had been cleared of tweets such as those referring to Bhushan.
On 16 March 2017, Kedar Nagarajan, a web reporter with The Caravan, met Bagga at the BJP’s Delhi office on Pandit Pant Marg. They discussed his new appointment, his social-media influence and the allegations against him of violence and online abuse.
Kedar Nagarajan: When were you informed about your recent appointment to the post of BJP spokesperson, and what does the appointment mean to you?
Tajinder Pal S Bagga: I was told about the party’s decision two days before the announcement. I started my politics at the mandal level, and I was part of the BJP at that time. I started my journey with the party when I was 18, at the Yuva Morcha level. I am happy that I have been given this post, but it is not like this is the first time I have done good work within the party.
KN: You have in the past, been accused of perpetrating several instances of violence. How do you respond to these accusations?
TPSB: In the case of [the attack on] Prashant Bhushan, the matter is sub judice. But, it has already been six years and he has been unable to produce any evidence against me in the court. He is just accusing and abusing me without any evidence. You can see the video; I am not in the video. Just because I was part of that organisation [the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena], I have been targeted. The person in the video is someone else and he got caught immediately. In the case of my protest against the book launch of Arundhati Roy, I was merely exercising my democratic right to protest. If someone is saying that Kashmir was never a part of India and that it should be given to Pakistan, then I have a right to object to such anti-national comments. The protest was not a violent protest. She also has a sedition case against her.
KN: In that case, the court can decide if she is innocent or guilty. Why are other people interested in this matter?
TPSB: We are not interested in [deciding]. But we will not allow anyone to speak if she is going to say that Kashmir was never a part of India. We will not allow it.
KN: Following the attack on Bhushan, you put out a celebratory tweet that read, “He try to break my Nation, i try to break his head.” Are you of the opinion that people who question the government, nation or the army should be assaulted?
TPSB: I did not assault anyone and they have not been able to prove that I did in court. If people are saying things about Kashmir and the nation, I have every right to take objection. If they are targeting army, then everyone has the right to protest.
KN: What about when people make comments on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act?
TPSB: Every day, politicians from Kashmir make comments on AFSPA. No one stops them. In these situations, I think the army should decide. The home ministry also takes into account what the army chiefs say.
KN: The opinions of journalists and residents of areas such as Kashmir often does not match that of the army. Should they be able to present their views as well?
TPSB: Nobody is stopping them. In JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University], in one year, at least 50 seminars are held on AFSPA, and nobody protests against any of that. But, if you celebrate [Mohammed] Afsal, then we will protest.
KN: Do you believe that your social-media influence played a part in your appointment?
TPSB: This is something that the party can tell you. But I do not believe that social media has had anything to do with my appointment to this post. Like I said, I have been a part of the BJP at the youth level, then the state level and I was also the youngest member of the national executive. Ten years back, when I was 21, I was a member of the national executive and there was no social media then. I have been tech-savvy for a long time—even 10 years back, I used to use Orkut. I believe that we should use social media as a political tool.
KN: News reports have noted that your Twitter timeline has been cleared of all tweets that were considered controversial, and which could be called derogatory. Earlier, people had also named you a “troll.” Why did you feel the need to delete your tweets?
TPSB: Six months back, I deactivated my Twitter account and when I reactivated it, naturally the tweets were gone. If a person deactivates his Twitter account for more than  days, then the previous tweets disappear.
KN: But you did have those tweets on your profile.
TPSB: My point is that I deactivated the account six months back, and then started my account again. If you show me each tweet, then I can answer.
KN: Those tweets are now gone.
TPSB: Han toh wohi hi hain na. [Then that is that, right?] If you show me the tweet, then I can say. Look, I do not know what the definition of trolling [is]. I would say, it should not be abusive. If you are voicing your opinion without abuse and in your limits and you are not slandering anyone—[if it is done this way] then I can object, can I not?
KN: As a person who wields influence on social media, do you believe you have a responsibility to publish information and opinions based on facts?
TPSB: I always tweet only facts. Let me give you an example: in the case of Gurmehar Kaur, some people had shared some video on social media [Kaur was recently at the centre of a controversy, following her posts on social media opposing the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the RSS-affiliated student party. Her post was shared widely, and Kaur began receiving several death and rape threats for her comments.] The video was of a girl in a car. At that time, I tweeted saying it is not Gurmehar Kaur. After that, I said even if it was her, nobody has the right to invade a person’s personal life. You can search for the tweet and you will find it.
KN: Many suggest that BJP supporters and members tend to use Twitter for the publishing of hateful and negative material. Do you agree?
TPSB: This is not something unique to the BJP. Everyone who is on Twitter is an individual. I will give you an example of Amaresh Mishra. He was the IT head of Congress Uttar Pradesh. He was very close to [the senior Congress leader] Digvijay Singh. If you scan his twitter [timeline],you will find that he has also given rape threats to BJP people. [According to a biography on his Times of India blog, Mishra is a writer and historian who headed the Congress’s anti-communal front in UP. He was arrested in 2014, reportedly after he threatened on Twitter that he would kill Modi. His Twitter account has since been suspended.] Otherwise, go and look at [the producer and actor] Raghu Ram and [the singer] Mika Singh. They use maa-behen gaalis [profanities that employ references to a person’s mother or sister]. Both these people have said things like this at stage shows where they are promoting the AAP. So when BJP does it on Twitter, we are abusing?
People who use such language are everywhere, it is wrong only to point out those on the right that do this. The book by Swati Chaturvedi was also a biased book. Nobody supports rape and death threats in the BJP. [The journalist Swati Chaturvedi wrote in her December 2016 book, I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Social Media Army, that the party ran targeted hate campaigns on social media against those who opposed it. She had mentioned Bagga in the book.]
Also, the people that issued death threats to Gurmehar Kaur—ABVP filed cases against them, not Gurmehar Kaur herself. [In an interview conducted on 7 March 2017, Kaur told The Caravan that she had registered complaints with the police against those who issued threats to her.]
KN: News reports have also pointed out that you used to call television news channels to inform them about your plans to disrupt events and assault people who you did not approve of. How do you respond to these charges?
TPSB: I never called them and said I was going to conduct violence, I only said that I would be protesting. What is wrong with that? If Digvijay Singh is going to the house of terrorists at Batla House and I am protesting this along with 50 people, whom should I give this information? The media only, no? If the media is not there, then who will know? People from the media only ask us to inform them if we are doing any protest. There are no FIRs against me for any violence, so I am denying allegations that I have committed any violent crimes.
KN: Do you think people should be pelted with stones for their opinion?
TPSB: Which people?
KN: Any people. Students at JNU, or anyone organising a seminar. Those present at Ramjas College were pelted with stones during a seminar they organised, for instance.
TPSB: See, they only accused ABVP of stone-pelting. They [those present at Ramjas] claimed in defense that there was no discussion on Kashmir. But ABVP presented evidence that there was, that slogans were raised saying “Kashmir ko chahiye azaadi.” They [ABVP] have a right to stop.
KN: With violence?
TPSB: There was no violence.
KN: Even the JNU PhD student Umar Khalid’s matter is currently in court. What if I or anyone wants to invite him to a college to speak?
TPSB: On what subject?
KN: On any subject.
TPSB: On the issue of Kashmir?
KN: At Ramjas College, the discussion was on the situation in Bastar, on which he is doing research. Why does it matter whether he supports Mohammad Afsal or not?
TPSB: There was an agenda there, they had called speakers, and they had planned that they would repeat the JNU incident. And it happened. There is video evidence.
KN: The media coverage you have received has been for incidents involving rabble-rousing. Are you relieved that you will no longer need to be a part of such incidents order to get coverage?
TPSB: I keep coming on TV channels to do with other things also, so if you take off the lens with which you are viewing my presence on TV, you will see other things also. The campaign that I worked on called “Modi-fying India” was even mentioned in a book titled The Modi Effect, written by Lance Price. We conducted a “Modi for India” rock concert and that was also televised. The opinions I held earlier, I still hold now, and will present them. Even as a spokesperson, if people are doing foul things in the city and country, I will still protest.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
Kedar Nagarajan is a web reporter at The Caravan.