Online army pushes PM candidacy of Hindu hardliner Modi
Supporters of Nahendra Modi's bid to be PM are part of an unprecedented propaganda push that some say is guilty of cyber-bullying
Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi
Hardline Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi wants to be the prime minister of India - and he has an online army of supporters on hand to crush negative opinions about him.
Modi, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is the party's prime ministerial candidate for the general election due next May. He has his own TV channel, which beams his face and voice into millions of homes in Gujarat state where he is chief minister.
About 5,000 people work to re-tweet his tweets. His supporters say that he has more than two million followers on Twitter.They are part of an unprecedented online propaganda campaign to promote his candidacy.
But Modi's critics say that the campaign sometime oversteps the line and is guilty of cyber-bullying and harassment.
Despite the efforts of his online team, controversy dogs Modi. Ever since rampaging Hindu mobs massacred 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister, his every word has been deconstructed.
Now it's his intense campaign on the internet and social media sites that has generated sharp debate.
"BJP supporters are creating the impression that he is unstoppable, that he is bulldozing all his opponents. The buzz and hype around him is endless. I don't like it but it's certainly very effective," said New Delhi advertising executive Rewa Gupta.
The internet community of Modi supporters runs scores of Facebook groups such as the "Narendra Modi Army", "Narendra Modi 4 PM" and "Modi: Hit and Fit for PM 2014".
"The social media is awash with Modi supporters who are vigilant, organised and very active. They register their support for everything he does and pounce on those who criticise him," said Somnath Bharati, a member of the rival Aam Aadmi Party or Common Man's Party.
Last month, New Delhi journalist Vidya Subramanian said she received 60 abusive calls in two hours after writing an article about the BJP's sister organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In September, the famous south Indian writer Udipi R Ananthamurthy, received a deluge of abuse on the internet after he remarked that he had no wish to live in an India where Modi was prime minister. Some Modi supporters said they wished him dead.
"I received abuse from all over India. This could only happen in Nazi Germany. They have an army in cyberspace which acts within a day to terrorise critics. They tell lies, they intimidate," said Unanthamurthy.
Earlier this year, strategic affairs expert B Raman, who died of cancer in June, wrote about how he had been targeted by Modi's supporters. He called them "Nazi stormtroopers" whose methods "consist largely of abuse, vituperation, disinformation, character assassination and psychological pressure".
Arvind Gupta, head of the BJP's IT Cell, denied allegations of online bullying by his party or by Modi's supporters.
"We do not condone abuse or harassment. In fact, we are perhaps the only party which has a code of conduct for online behaviour," he said.