Cobrapost, a small but controversial outlet known for undercover stings, describes itself as a non-profit news organisation that believes too much journalism in India has been “trivialised”. It has dubbed its story “Operation 136” – the figure is a reference to India’s ranking in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
Their website says its recordings show that some of the country’s leading news organisations are willing to “not only cause communal disharmony among citizens, but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party”- and all in return for cash.
An undercover reporter from Cobrapost, Pushp Sharma, says he approached more than 25 of India’s leading media organisations, offering them all a similar deal.
Mr Sharma says he outlined a three-stage strategy his paymasters wanted to bankroll.
First, he proposed the media organisations promote what he describes as “soft Hindutva” – the idea that Hindu faith and values are the defining ideology of India. He suggested this could involve promoting the sayings of Lord Krishna or retelling stories from the Bhagvad Gita, the epic poem that is one of the most holy texts of Hinduism.
The next stage would involve attacks on the BJP’s political rivals, particularly Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition Congress Party.
Finally, the plan was to move on to promoting incendiary speeches from some of hard-line proponents of Hindutva, including some divisive radical Hindu figures.
The idea of this stage of the operation, Mr Sharma explained to some of the executives, was to polarise voters in the hope that the BJP would benefit at the ballot box.