Not that there is anything new but more than 30 Bollywood, Music and TV stars including actors, singers and comedians have been trapped by a an investigative website Cobrapost in a sting operation carried out over several months that they will do messaging to their followers on social media “for money”.

Their supporters would say – they have always worked for money – portraying various characters – positivce or negative on the ‘rangmanch’, and therefore whats the big deal?

On the surface, there is no big deal.

But there is sadly – a big difference in what this sting has exposed and it carries a very pungent stench of corruption of their relationship with their followers.

When stars do commercials, serials or movies, vieweres and their audiences know they have been paid to say or do what they are doing. Their viewers know they are giving the message ‘NOT THEIR OWN’.

But when their followers – follow them onn social media, they read their stars’ posts to be truthful and their own and not ‘doctored’ or suffering from any contamination  of money, bias or other.

And the big deal is – that this sting exposes that to be the case.

The sting operations titled “Operationa Karaoke” expose claims that these celebrities from Bollywood, the music and television industries agreed to promote political narratives of particular parties on social media for a fee.

In most cases, the party was the Bharatiya Janata Party, in some others, it was the Aam Aadmi Party or the Congress, the media house added.

Cobrapost conducted the sting posing as employees of a fictitious public relations agency and using aliases. The sting operation revealed that 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 were willing to post favourable messages on social media for political parties.

Sonu Sood was contacted at his residence in Oshiwara in Andheri West, Mumbai. The undercover journalists told him that their PR agency is tasked with the promotion of BJP on social media in the run-up to 2019 elections. Making the plan very clear they told him that the BJP can hire you as their brand ambassador, but it will hit your credibility as an independent stake holder.

Sonu fully takes it in and says, “[Yes, they would say] That’s why he is talking. He is not [a] neutral person that we are talking about, yeah.”

They further tell him:

What you have to do is appreciate the good work done so far by the BJP government on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Since you are a celebrity what you would say would carry credibility among the people.

Sood cannot agree more on this point as he says, “Toh ismein kuch haqeeqat hai ([Yes, they think] There is some truth in it).”

Some other actors who also on this list included Tisca Chopra, Minissha Lamba, Koena Mitra, Poonam Pandey, comedians Raju Srivastava, Rajpal Yadav, Upasana Singh, Krushna Abhishek.

Some of the stars “were willing to sign a dummy contract for endorsement of products to disguise the real nature of the proxy political campaigning,” Cobrapostsaid.

“They agreed to send us their PAN and banking details, and many actually did so. They swore to keep the entire exercise a secret, and the agenda hidden. Some actors even proposed that they would proxy promote the political party in their press briefings during the promotion of a film or an event.”

In many cases, stars agreed to take only 20% in white and 80% of their payment in cash.

While some agreed to promote messages for no money, some celebrities, including Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi, Raza Murad and Saumya Tandon, refused to promote any political party.

-R. Shankar in Mumbai

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