Exclusive Paytm: "What can I tell you about the stuff I have had to do for the Sangh?" claims Ajay Shekhar

Paytm: "What can I tell you about the stuff I have had to do for the Sangh?" claims Ajay Shekhar

Paytm's Senior Vice Paytm's Senior Vice President claims to have received calls from PMO to collect user information President claims to have received calls from PMO to collect user information 


cobrapost - May 25, 2018

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Sudhanshu Gupta, Vice President; Ajay Shekhar Sharma, Sr. Vice President, Paytm, Noida

Paytm began its journey in 2010 as a mobile app-based utility payments facilitator. It was founded by One97 Communications founder-promoter Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Its biggest break came in 2016 when the BJP government at the stroke of mid-night declared demonetization on November 8, banning with immediate effect currency notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 denominations. Overnight, the company became a house-hold name while demonetization reportedly helped it earn revenues of more than Rs. 813 crore that fiscal ending March 2017, as it saw a steep surge in its wallet user base from 150 millions to 200 millions, whereas common citizens found their hard-earned money to have become worthless and were forced to stand in queues for hours before banks to deposit old currency notes. More than 150 common citizens lost their lives during those 50 days as the government made it necessary for every transaction, even while buying grocery, to be made through digital modes of payment. Millions of citizens stood aghast when they saw in a video Vijay Sharma, apparently drunk high on this overnight phenomenal success, making mockery of their plight, even calling them names, while saying in a celebratory function, “We are killers, we are killers … jo humare saath nahi hain wo royenge … ek saal mein wo kiya jo unhone dus saal mein nahi kiya … kaleza diya, khoon diya, jaan dee, sab kuch laga diya [swear word] (We are killers, we are killers … those who are not with us will cry … we achieved in a single year what they could not in ten years … you [the citizens] paid the price with your blood and life and lost every single penny [swear word]).” With more than 7 million registered merchants and more than 200 million wallet users across the country, a number which is increasing with ticking of the clock, Paytm is now a much diversified e-commerce company, becoming indispensable for Indian shoppers, second only to Flipkart in valuation.

Knowing full well that in this technology-driven age, when there are hundreds of apps available for every single activity a man can imagine, Sharma decided to check it out if Paytm too could promote his agenda on their apps. Surprisingly, he was not disappointed when he met Vice President Sudhanshu Gupta and Sr. Vice President Ajay Shekhar Sharma. These interviews proved to be quite revealing and shocking, as the top honchos not only boast of their close association with the RSS but are also candid enough to confess to have shared the data of millions of their app users with the central government.

It was Sudhanshu Gupta who Sharma first met to discuss his agenda. No sooner the journalist has begun briefing about it, Sudhanshu is quick enough to reveal the association that his company has with the government of the day. Showing a Paytm app, he says: “By the way main aapko ek cheej aur dikhata hoon in case you should obviously know our political affiliation … this is our Paytm app. Nowdays Mr. Modi is right here. Unki book aayi hai abhi extra Exam Warriors. We are … We are actually promoting this book … (By the way, let me show you one more thing, in case you should obviously know our political affiliation … this is our Paytm App. Nowdays Mr. Modi is right here. He has written a book extra [sic] Exam Warriors. We are … we are actually promoting this book …).” He goes on to tell us they are also promoting the PM’s book in its e-format. Trying to give him a shot of what he is looking for, the journalist seeks another meeting with Paytm vice president, but Sudhanshu is curious to know more of it. As he says: “So mere ko na what I will have to do is I really have to understand how do you want to propagate and what is your content (So I have to … what I will have to do is I really have to understand how do you want to propagate and what is your content).”

So, to satisfy his curiosity, the journalist tells him all about his agenda and how he would like Paytm to play it out. As soon as he has finished, Sudhanshu begins to share an innovative idea: “While you talking I am getting some ideas of that … toh hum kya karte hain na hum Paytm app pe quiz chalate hain … hum aapki Bhagwad Gita ke round chala denge (While you talking I am getting some ideas of that … so what we do is we run a quiz on Paytm app … we will run a quiz round on Bhagwad Gita on it).” Nothing would be better than this, the journalist tells him, for promoting our agenda of Hindutva. “Bilkul. Wo hee quiz chala dete hain log matlab aap vishwas nahi karoge kuch toh daily kum se kum pachees–tees hazaar log aakar ye quiz khelte hain … ye chala dete hain hum aapke liye (Yes, sure. We will run that quiz. You won’t believe at least 25–30000 people play that quiz daily on our app … we will run that quiz for you),” informs Sudhanshu.

This short meeting led to another meeting some time later in Delhi hotel. Accompanying Sudhanshu for this meeting was none other than Paytm Sr. Vice President Ajay Shekhar Sharma, the younger sibling of Vijay Shekhar Sharma, who runs the company on his brother’s behalf. After pleasantries are over, and when Vijay Shekhar asks what he can do for their client, the journalist reiterates what he has already told his colleague. His agenda is promotion of Hindutva through Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti. We would not like to bring the Sangathan in the picture as sponsor of this campaign. “Sangathan ko saamne nahi layenge? Main toh Sangh se bahut juda hua hoon (You will not bring the Sangathan. I am closely associated with the Sangh),” Ajay Shekhar shoots back, revealing his association with the RSS. Then he goes on to dropping names of the likes of Arun Kumar, Krishna Gopal, S.K. Mishra and even Shiv Raj Chauhan. He interacts with all these big leaders of the Sangh, he tells us, mostly for business purposes. “Sangh mein centre mein mila hua hoon Arun Kumarji, Prafull Kelkar jo editor.  Matlab mere kabhi discussion mein ye baat aayi nahi nikalkar jo baat aap bol rahe ho matlab mere har tareh ke discussion hote hain (Among the Sangh leaders at the centre, I have met Arun Kumarji and Prafull Kelkarji who is editor. I mean what you are telling us never propped up in our discussions ever. I mean I have discussions with them of every kind),” he raises a pertinent question. But the journalist knows how to deflect such doubts. He is smart enough to tell them with all innocence that he is working under a “gupt vyavastha”, that is, a secret arrangement, and then Sangh is known for working as clandestinely as any secretive organization across the world does. But he is unable to believe his prospective client that even the big leaders of the Sangh were not privy to such an important undertaking. Finally, as a master stroke, the journalist tells Ajay Shekhar that even the RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat had visited his ashram and he knows him personally. If Ajay Shekhar doesn’t believe him he can always check on the net as everything is available there. This somewhat assuages the curiosity of Ajay Shekhar, who while still wondering why such important thing did prop during all those discussions says: “Itna bada kaam kar rahe hain aur hum toh kya batayein hum kya- kya kaam kar rahe hote hain kuch hum bhi nahi bata sakte aapko matlab kuch aise kaam humse karwaye Sangh ne main aapko bata nahi sakta theek hai (Now, what can you say when they are doing such big job. I too cannot share with you all those kinds of jobs we also have done for them. I mean the Sangh has got us do such jobs for them that I cannot tell you at all, okay).” But the ultimate revelation is yet to come. Hold your breath!

Telling us how the Panchjanya Editor Kelkar is a good friend, he reveals: “Arre meri dosti toh unse dosti hai matlab aap agar Panchjanya ko uthayenge na toh usmein Paytm ke ad dikhenge aapkp aap dekhna kabhi jaake aapko dikh jayega … wo unke kehne se kare hain humne (Oh, we are really very good friends. I mean if you pick up any issue of Panchjanya, you will find Paytm ads there through and through … we have done all those things upon his word).” But he again insists he will speak to his friends in RSS and particularly Kelkar before undertaking the assignment. Why the RSS should approach them adopting such a circuitous route, he wonders aloud, when they could have got it done by directly communicating with him. Dropping again some more names of the RSS and BJP ministers, he wonders: “Main thoda confidence … confidence kya meri samajh nahi aa raha ki humse kyon nahi kah rahe wo (I am talking of confidence … confidence. I am unable to understand why they are not asking us directly to do this).” Losing his patience over his insistence on “no confidence”, the journalist cuts him short him by telling him to upload the videos of his Guruji on their app. “Nahi nahi wo sab hum kar denge agar RSS kahega kyonki RSS toh humare blood mein hai (No, no. We will do all that provided the RSS asks us to do. RSS is in our blood),” assures Ajay Shekhar at long last but with a rider. He goes on to explain why: “Main poochhoonga karana hai toh fir unko bata kar karenge hum bhi to apne number banayein seedhi see baat hai jab itna kar chuke hain toh karna kya hai (I will do it after telling them. After all we also would like to make our numbers with them. It is as simple as that. When we have done all those things for them, then why not this).” What Ajay Sharma, who says he is close to RSS from childhood, is telling us makes business sense.

You scratch our back, as they say, I will scratch yours!

In a rush to prove how close they are both to the government and to the RSS, Ajay Shekhar makes the ultimate disclosure: “Jab JK mein band huye the na pathar … toh humari personally PMO se phone aya tha kaha gaya tha ki data de do ho sakta hai ki Paytm user hon (When the stone-pelting stopped there in J&K, I personally got a phone call from the PMO. They told us to give them data saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users. Do you understand)?” Hope, Paytm users are listening to what Ajay Shekhar is confessing on camera!

This is in utter violation of their stated privacy policy: “We will not sell, share or rent your personal information to any 3rd party or use your email address/mobile number for unsolicited emails and/or SMS. Any emails and/or SMS sent by Paytm will only be in connection with the provision of agreed services & products and this Privacy Policy.” While sharing the data with the government, Paytm also violated its security policy which states: “Paytm has stringent security measures in place to protect the loss, misuse, and alteration of the information under our control. Whenever you change or access your account information, we offer the use of a secure server. Once your information is in our possession we adhere to strict security guidelines, protecting it against unauthorized access.”

Coming back to dropping names of the top BJP and RSS leadership, Ajay Shekhar makes another revelation. Referring, apparently, to Kailash Vijayavargiya, BJP National General Secretary, Ajay Shekhar says: “Dekho ye jo Kailashji hain ye mere bahut acche dost hain bahut acche dost hain. Matlab inhone humare bahut kaam kiye hain. Mera ek dost Bengal mein IPS hai, inke liye bahut kaam kar raha hai wo iss time. Ye Shivrajji hain inse toh matlab ye jaante hain Ajay Shekhar (You see, there is Kailashji who is a very good friend. I mean he has done us a lot of favours. I have an IPS friend in Bengal. He is also doing a lot of work for them at this time. Then there is Shivraj ji, with him … you know, all these leaders know Ajay Shekhar personally).”

Seeing his insistence on undertaking the agenda only when the RSS people ask him to do so, the journalist finally tells him that Mohan Bhagwat visiting his Guruji at his ashram is not something that you can brush aside as a non-significant event. This leads to Ajay Shekhar commit to the agenda but again with a rider: “Nahi chhoti nahi hai main maan raha hoon lekin jab main Mohan Bhagwat ji ke saath saare kaam kar raha hoon aur Mohan Bhagwatji kahe bhaiya tum ye kar rahe ho toh unko bata toh doon ki aapke liye kar raha hoon (No, this is not something insignificant, I agree. But when I am doing all kinds of things for Mohan Bhagwatji and when Mohan Bhagwatji asks me you are doing this [your campaign], then I will tell him that I am doing this for you).”

Such revelations of their close association with the top RSS brass and the BJP governments at the center and in other states make one wonder if Paytm’s meteoric rise has something to do with the Saffron brigade’s ascension to power at the centre and its decision to go for demonetization. Barely within a year of the BJP forming government at the Centre, the company entered into an agreement with the Indian Railways in April 2015 making Paytm wallet acceptable for ticketing-related transactions, and in December the same year, IRTC announced its catering services could be availed of using Paytm app. This was the year when Paytm and its holding company saw an uplift in its fortunes with investors like Jack Ma of the Chinese e-commerce major Alibaba investing in Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s venture. When Ma visited India in March that year, he also met Prime Minister Modi. Four months down the line, the BJP government began its push for digital India. The push came to a shove when the government went whole lock, stock and barrel for demonetization in November a year later. However, two months before the much-touted “surgical strike” began, Paytm had become ubiquitous in its presence across, occupying full pages in newspapers and prime time television free commercial time, in what was no less a blitzkrieg. The company had the gumptions to even depict Modi as its brand ambassador in one of its ads to the utter shock of the nation, which was later on conveniently withdrawn. No wonder if Vijay Shekhar in one of its ads applauded Modi for his bold decision. But, as the company made its fortune out of demonetization which pushed the citizenry to untold miseries, its ads became rare and rarer with the passage of time.

The confessions of the top honchos of Paytm make us wonder if one should read between the lines!

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