Popular YouTuber and former Big Boss contestant Vikas Phatak - also known as Hindustani Bhau - has had some major setbacks lately. Earlier this year, his YouTube channel, with around 1.5 million subscribers, was taken down by Google, and more recently he had his Facebook page and Instagram account removed by Facebook.
This happened shortly after Phatak posted an incendiary video calling for the killing of 'anti-nationals', which was reposted on Twitter on August 18 by comedian Kunal Kamra to call Phatak out.
Three days later, activist Saket Gokhale put out a tweet thread, claiming that Phatak's rise on the internet was aided by a Vadodra-based firm called Xovak Digital, which is founded and run by two individuals - Raj Dangar and Manan Shah - who have close ties to the to the ruling administration and the BJP IT cell. Soon, the "Hindustani Bhau" Facebook page was also deleted.
Spokespersons for both Facebook and YouTube told BOOM that the accounts run by Phatak violated the community guidelines of their respective platforms, which led to the ensuing take-downs.
Xovak Digital - The BJP Link
Phatak's controversial statements laden with patriotism made him an instant hit among the right-wing, but did also draw political attention.
Activist Saket Gokhale took to Twitter on August 21, and posted a thread about Phatak being managed by someone called Manan Shah and his company Xovak Digital, and claimed that both the company and the manager had links to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Exclusive:— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) August 21, 2020
While Insta took 2 days to suspend the account of vile hate-speech peddler "Hindustani Bhau", he continues to have a profile on Facebook.
Turns out, the entire digital strategy & social media of "Hindustani Bhau" is handled by a firm of BJP workers.
Looking through Hindustani Bhau's official Twitter handle, we confirmed that Phatak was indeed managed by Manan Shah (@mananrockx) and Xovak Digital.
Xovak Media is a Vadodra-based tech company that provides web development and internet security support. According to their website, the company was founded by Shah and another individual named Raj Dangar.
While Shah has been described as a cybersecurity expert, Dangar's description state that his strength lies in industry networking, government and media relations.
News articles about 27-year-old Shah describes him as an ethical hacker with an unconventional past - according to news reports, like this Economic Times article, Shah dropped out of school to train himself in the cyber world.
Apart from founding Xovak, Shah is also the founder and CEO of Avalance Global Solutions - a Vadodra-based cybersecurity firm. According to this News18 report from July 2019, Shah has had a vast repertoire of clients which include the Government of India's Ministry of Defence.
Now let's look at the other founder of Xovak: Manan Shah.— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) August 21, 2020
Shah claims to be an "ethical hacker" & also has a company called "Avalance Global" which worked with Facebook & Modi govt which includes Defence Ministry.
Manan Shah was also a BJP IT cell coordinator in 2019.
Gokhale posted a screenshot of an Everipedia page (a wiki-based encyclopedia) on Shah, where he is described as "the convener of BJP IT Cell Vadodara, Gujarat and a part of General Elections".
BOOM was not independently able to verify these claims. We approached Shah for an interview, but he declined.
Dangar, on the other hand, is highly connected with the ruling dispensation through familial ties, and his social media accounts are a dead giveaway. His Facebook bio describes him as a former leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) - the student wing of the right-wing Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
His Facebook cover page shows a picture of another individual with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Looking further through his Facebook photos, this person turns out to be Bharat Dangar, Raj Dangar's brother.
Gokhale added photos from Bharat Dangar's Facebook profile to claim that he is a senior BJP leader and a former mayor of Vadodra. In the photos, Bharat Dangar is seen with top level BJP members like Amit Shah, Vijay Rupani and JP Nadda.
Here's a little glimpse of how well-connected Raj Dangar's brother Dr. Bharat Dangar is with the top leadership of his own party BJP.— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) August 21, 2020
These are pictures of Dangar with Amit Shah, Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani, and BJP President JP Nadda.
We looked through Bharat Dangar's Twitter profile and found Gokhale's claims reiterated in Dangar's bio. He described himself as a former mayor of Vadodara, and an ex president of BJP, Vadodara City.
Raj Dangar, while being part of Xovak, is also involved with Avalance Global Solutions as a Partner and Chief Operating Officer.
While we could not independently verify some of the claims made by Gokhale, it appears that Vikas Phatak has had considerable support from individuals and groups who are well-connected to the ruling dispensation.
We were also unable to ascertain if the company still works with the government or the ruling party, and all requests for comments were either declined or not responded to.
The Hindustani Bhau
Phatak became a viral meme sensation in May 2019, after he posted a video of a monologue in the front seat of a car, where he asks 'anti-nationals' to leave the country. Encouraged by the widespread reception of his video, he started making more. The content of his videos are characterised by frequent use of expletives, call for actions, and incitement of hatred against those he deem as anti-nationals.
Soon Phatak's videos were all over the internet, on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, to name a few. Mashups of Phatak's videos along with popular Bollywood songs and scenes from Bollywood movies became viral. Few months later, he entered reality television show Bigg Boss as a wild card entry. Phatak's online popularity rose, gaining him millions of followers across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
As time progressed, Phatak's commentary grew more aggressive and violent in nature. Earlier this year, YouTube deleted his channel with over 1.5 million subscribers. A YouTube spokesperson told BOOM, "We have strict policies prohibiting harassment on YouTube, and terminate any channel that repeatedly or egregiously violates those policies, and in accordance with our strike system."
On August 18, comedian Kunal Kamra posted a video of Phatak, where he made such a call for violence against comedians who speak against Hindu gods and against the nation. Kamra's post became instantly viral, and resulted in massive reporting of Phatak's Instagram account (which had now gained 2 million followers) and Facebook page.
HM @AnilDeshmukhNCP & @MumbaiPolice,— Kunal Kamra (@kunalkamra88) August 18, 2020
Calling for open violence is a crime. This is a mob building & hate spreading excercise. This is deeply alarming. Could lead to violence & an artist not getting due process.
Remarks like "System side main"
are an insult to our constitution... pic.twitter.com/oeCfdGFRu5
In a week's time, his Instagram account and Facebook page were taken down by Facebook. A Facebook spokesperson told BOOM, "We've removed this Facebook Page and Instagram account for violating our Community Standards and Guidelines."
We reached out to Phatak several times, but the calls went unanswered. Several requests for interview with him were also declined by Xovak and his manager - Manan Shah.
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