The Bharatiya Janata Party surprised all — including analysts with its midnight announcement of fielding popular Twitter "troll" and BJP's Delhi spokesperson Tajinder Singh Bagga as a candidate in the upcoming Delhi elections.
Bagga, the 34-year-old Twitter "star" started his career by founding an ultra-nationalist fringe outfit called Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena, an outfit that physically attacks political and ideological opponents such as Prashant Bhushan and Arundhati Roy and participated in disruptions of public events.
But why did BJP choose Bagga, whose antics and often problematic comments do nothing to sanitize his reactionary image on social media?
Bagga's claim to fame came with Twitter, a platform that the tech-savvy influencer (read troll) used to the best of his benefit. He uses his Twitter handle essentially as a tool for mobilising support for the government and inflaming right-wing netizens against opposing ideologies. And too often, he does it with the help of fake news and videos.
When photos of Deepika Padukone standing behind Kanhaiya Kumar and meeting and injured Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union president Aishe Ghosh appeared in the media, it was Bagga who was the first to take up the hate-mongering baton against the actress and call for a boycott of her films. Once his tweets were out, his army did the rest. Within half an hour, #BoycottChhapaak and #BoycottDeepika were top trends.
In 2017, Bagga who is followed by the Prime Minister himself was named a BJP spokesperson.
The hyper-masculine Tweeple has no qualms about sharing inflammatory and often fake news, even at the cost of maligning others. Bagga does not seem to think twice before sharing images out of context or in ways that distort the meaning of an image or video. Like when Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal shared a stickfigure cartoon against Nazism, Bagga maligned him by saying Kejriwal was against the Hindu "swatika". (The image in the cartoon is a Nazi swatiska which bears subtle differences to the Hindu religious symbol).
Kejriwal insulted Swastik Remember this before giving your Vote pic.twitter.com/ma9OokiuRu — Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) January 16, 2020
His talents have been on display ever since the anti-CAA protests broke out in December after the passing of the controversial act. First, he claimed anti-CAA protesters in Mumbai including former student leader Umar Khalid raised "anti-Hindu" slogans. Similar claims were made by him regarding peaceful women protesters in Shaheen Bagh.
Lies, brazen lies. Paid pipers of the regime are here to spread lies so that we get busy countering them. And lose focus from the ABVP violence against JNU students. Not happening, shithead. Find a better lie next time. https://t.co/LIQWD07TQd — Umar Khalid (@UmarKhalidJNU) January 6, 2020
Several fact-checks conducted by news organisations found both claims to be untrue or unverified. Even actors such as Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Konkona Sen Sharma called out Bagga's tweets. Sonam went so far as to say that "shame" is not in his "DNA".
How can you expect people with no moral compass or conscience to do anything but this. Shame is not in their DNA. https://t.co/WOpNRZAxiC — Sonam K Ahuja (@sonamakapoor) January 6, 2020
It isn't just fake news about incidents, Bagga is an expert at sharing divisive messages. After being detained by Kolkata Police in Bengal following an alleged incidence of violence between BJP and Trinamool Congress cadres during PM Modi's recent visit to West Bengal, Bagga posted videos of children in Bengal chanting 'Jai Shri Ram', insinuating that Mamata Banerjee was arresting people based on religious affiliation.
At every anti CAA rally, I have spotted Hinduo se Aazadi, Hindutav ki Kabar Khudegi Slogans.. at pro CAA rallies, the Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki Jai. think about it.. have a good Friday.. https://t.co/1btbWE5ayR — Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) December 27, 2019
. @MamataOfficial कितनो को जेल भेजोगी, अब तो बंगाल का बच्चा-बच्चा यह कह रहा है pic.twitter.com/GnrODtchmh — Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) June 2, 2019
His key(cuss)words on social media are "Leftists", "Tukde-Tukde gang", "anti-national", "Lutyens gang" an the like and Bagga often uses them.
LEFTISTS MURDERED MILLIONS LEFTISTS MURDERED MILLIONS LEFTISTS MURDERED MILLIONS LEFTISTS MURDERED MILLIONS LEFTISTS MURDERED MILLIONS LEFTISTS MURDERED MILLIONS LEFTISTS MURDERED MILLIONS LEFTISTS MURDERED MILLIONS LEFTISTS MURDERED MILLIONS pic.twitter.com/TYOShQauGr — Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) January 14, 2020
Bagga does not just use Twitter to expose the alleged "anti-nationals" of India (read anyone who questions the government) but also uses it to publicise his own stunts, designed with crass humour and often bigoted, sexist and communal undertones. In a controversial move that actually got his account suspended for violations, Bagga ordered a copy of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's 'Anandamath' and sent it to Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray's residence after the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP government started a special session of the Maharashtra Assembly without singing 'Vande Mataram'. His appointment as the BJP spokesperson in March 2017 evoked many angry reactions. Similar reactions have come out again.
If an abusive low life and third rate troll can be fielded as an MLA candidate, IT cell head certainly deserves to be President’s nominee to Rajya Sabha. — Nagendar Sharma (@sharmanagendar) January 21, 2020
'Not a troll'
A story published in The Indian Express following his appointment reported that Bagga's Twitter, which has been full of inflammatory content - including justifications of his attacks on dissenters like Bhushan as well as support for use of violence against those against his idea of "India" - were removed from his timeline. In an interview that was published in the same story, Bagga said that despite allegations, he was not a troll.
Nevertheless, in March 2018, Bagga waded into another controversy when he was accused of creating and publicising a t-shirt (under his graphic t-shirts label 'T-Shirt Bhaiya', another platform for pro-BJP propaganda) with the graffiti of a man tied to a tank and the words "Indian Army saving your a** whether you like it or not". The image, an insensitive reference to a Kashmiri man who was tied to the head of a truck by Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi of the 53rd Rashtriya Rifles during the 2017 Jammu and Kashmir bypolls to "deter" stone-pelters, went viral on social media.
Thuggish BJP leader Bagga sells Kashmir Human Shield T-Shirt saying it's wearing patriotism on chest. Court found Army Major act of tying man to jeep unconstitutional. Celebrating the flouting of Constitutional values isn't 'patriotic'! https://t.co/CZDmMWVOr9 via @thewire_in — Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) March 28, 2018
Heard Stone pelter Guy filed Defamation case against me and @TShirtBhaiya ( Reports in Media) . He can file 100 more cases, but we will not stop selling Major Gogoi T-shirt https://t.co/nqMoXbqxiF — Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) March 26, 2018
Apart from being an outright bigot given to communal tendencies, Bagga has also time and again revealed himself to be deeply sexist and problematic when it comes to women. He had once mocked actress Swara Bhaskar on social media, for her masturbation scene in a film, earning widespread rebuke for his comment.
You piece of shit. — Shruti Sawant (@ahaughtylibran) January 6, 2020
But it seems that Bagga's willful trolling on social media has paid him off as Bagga, who was himself trolled for being ignored in BJP's first list of candidates, now finds himself as the MLA candidate from Hari Nagar, a West Delhi constituency with a considerable Sikh population. (Sikhs makes up over 10 percent of the predominantly Hindu West Delhi). Bagga's "success" on Twitter can be the reason why the BJP perhaps did not choose party veteran Harsharan Singh Balli. Balli had won the Hari Nagar seat in 2008 and holds the credit for being the only Sikh to have been elected four consecutive times as MLA. He is the founder of BJP's Sikh unit and an important leader in West Delhi.
In 2013, the BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal coalition had together contested the same seat. However, this time, fallout over the CAA and National Register of Citizens protests have thrown a spanner in the works, opening up the ground for the veritable outsider Bagga.
With AAP's two-time and presiding Hari Nagar MLA Jagdeep Singh resigning from the party after being denied a ticket and Rajkumar Dhillon being fielded instead, Bagga may just be able to exploit his social media fame to mint votes.
With political parties actively exploiting Twitter for campaigning ahead of Delhi elections, memes and trolls have now become an important part of the political vocabulary. After all, politics is a game of perceptions and social media is the stage upon which it is today played. And when it comes to social media, the wheel that squeaks the loudest always gets the oil.