Cobrapost stings 36 Bollywood celebs in ‘cash-for-social message’ pre-poll scam

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Cobrapost, the media portal famous for conducting a sting operation named Operation Duryodhana with Aaj Taj news channel in 2005 that exposed 11 MPs accepting money for tabling their questions in Parliament, is at it again. This time, Cobrapost has exposed three dozen Bollywood celebrities who are allegedly ready to promote a political party by posting favourable messages on their social media accounts in the run-up to 2019 elections for money.

Among them are directors, actors, singers, stand-up comedians and dancers including Abhijeet Bhattacharya, Kailash Kher, Mika Singh, Jackie Shroff, Shakti Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, Sonu Sood, Amisha Patel, Mahima Chaudhry, Shreyas Talpade, Pankaj Dheer and his son Nikitin, Tisca Chopra, Rohit Roy, Rakhi Sawant, Aman Verma, Hiten Tejwani and spouse Gauri Pradhan, Evelyn Sharma, Minissha Lamba, Poonam Pandey, Sunny Leonne, Raju Srivastava, Rajpal Yadav, Krushna Abhishek and Ganesh Acharya of the film and TV industries.

[caption id="attachment_216090" align="aligncenter" width="647"] (L-R) - Shakti Kapoor and Jackie Shroff[/caption]

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Most of these celebs reportedly succumbed to the lure of money, but there were some notable exceptions like Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi, Raza Murad and Saumya Tandon who rejected the proposition outright. Representing a fictitious PR agency and taking on aliases, Cobrapost reporters approached these celebrities with a simple question: Would they be willing to promote a political party discreetly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram? Almost all allegedly concurred to do it for a fee.

[caption id="attachment_216092" align="aligncenter" width="647"] (L-R) Vidya Balan and Arshad Warsi[/caption]

Cobrapost says, “Most of them were willing to accept the bulk of their fee in cash, which in other words means black money. Some actors even proposed that they would proxy promote the political party in their press briefings during the promotion of a film. Others promised to make the posts go viral with the help of their followers.”

The party in question was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and also the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress Party in some cases. The names of political parties were used in good faith and public interest, Cobrapost says, for narrative purpose only and this was not an insinuation of their actual involvement in the practice. The investigation was made to expose the celebs willing to endorse a political agenda in return for monetary gains.

According to Cobrapost, the celebs asked for fees ranging from Rs. 2 lakh to Rs. 50 lakh per message. Some even quoted a fee of Rs. 20 crore for an eight-month contract, and almost none of them said no to black money when told a bulk of their fee would be paid in cash.  Sometimes, managers dealt with the money matters but in most cases the celebrities were present when negotiations went on. A majority of these celebs reportedly negotiated for a fee much higher than initially proposed or they could command in the market.

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