Nobody knew who Rajiv Malhotra was. But he found a sneaky way to enter our lives – he simply paid Twitter!

I have no idea who Rajiv Malhotra is. I?m not particularly inclined to know about him either. (Sorry for the Upworthy-style title and pardon the hyperbole about nobody knowing him – just trying more interesting variations of titles!)

But then, this happened on my Twitter timeline.


Eh? He paid Twitter to promote his opinion on the Doniger issue? Interesting, but why would he do that?

I did some Google check and find that his profile reads thus:

he founded the Infinity Foundation in 1995, dedicating himself to philanthropic and educational activities and “making grants in the area of Hinduism studies?

Oh ok, that adds up. He has something to share, as his opinion, on Hinduism and since Doniger?s book mauls much of what we know as Hinduism (her perspective, of course, whether we agree with it or not), Rajiv perhaps has a counterpoint to that? so that?s why he?s paying Twitter to promote his counter views?

And he tweeted this too, about his voice being muffled by Doniger?s children!


When I asked this question (on why one man is paying Twitter – or any media for that matter – to promote his opinion), some folks responded by saying that his views were not sought by mainstream media outlets in India? as if there was a systematic attempt to curtail his views on the Doniger imbroglio.


This, besides other sarcastic, probing and funny views, of course… like,


But then, this too happened!


That?s actually a Livemint article he is pushing. Why?

Ok, perhaps it is ?close to? Hinduism – it (his tweet that he promoted) is Rajiv?s opinion about how Harvard?s Benson institute is plagiarising Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?s transcendental meditation and something to do with genes. So, he feel strongly about topics on and close to Hinduism. He is possibly looking for circuitous ways to plug his books (there are three – Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism and Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity). Fair enough.

And this!


Err… whatever! Ok, will file this under the Hinduism bucket. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to believe that these are all ‘promoted’ tweets! I’d have never followed this man – ever – in my life (no, I don’t have any ideological differences with him; I just don’t have any interest in knowing about his views on assorted topics, leave alone Hinduism), but he has found a shortcut to enter my timeline and consciousness!

And then, this tweet too happened!


Hmmm? that?s not connected to Hinduism (barring the really obtuse connection about Kejriwal being a Hindu!) or anything he has written in his books (at least going by their titles) at all! Why on earth is he paying to promote his views on Arvind Kejriwal?

This is an interesting trend in the on-going (for a very long time) attempt to win in (much abused in PR circles) ?thought leadership?.

Conventional methods to be a ‘thought leader’ were limited with mainstream media options. Before social media, it was restricted to writing a guest article and getting it placed in a mainstream publication. And then when news television (the shrill, attention seeking variety) happened, people who wanted to be thought leaders got themselves placed as panelists and speakers in prime time discussions. In such cases where one needed to depend on another media (usually mainstream media), you need to know someone there or work with a public relations firm to get your views widely known through that media.

There are shortcuts too, even there – you can pay your way through it. Like Sahara India Parivaar does, using print ads to spread its views on SEBI and how it is victimised by SEBI. It?s a different thing that such views were only mocked by public (at least from what I noticed) because paying and advertising ones views, whatever it is, feels only like an advertisement and comes armed with limited credibility.

Social media offers a much cheaper alternative to advertising your views in print. I have written about the British Airways example and Lalit Modi?s attempts using paid advertising online to clear his name (or at least offer his perspective against N Srinivasan). In such cases, the person paying and advertising had a strong reason to do so.

In Rajiv?s case, it seems like a broad attempt to merely position himself as someone with a strong opinion on assorted topics – a thought leader, on multiple topics that are being spoken about currently. Does he expect to sell more copies of his books through this attempt? Does he expect to be called for more TV panels? I have no idea, but beyond blogging, writing guest pieces in mainstream print media and appearing in news channels, this is another new avenue for people to project themselves in a way they want.

For instance, if a new film reviewer (who reviews, say movies, in his own blog) wants to gain visibility, he could compete with existing reviewers on their own turf by cross-posting his views on Twitter, Facebook etc. To cut through the reach conundrum, he could now pay Twitter and Facebook to promote his views and take on more established reviewers! That this is considerably cheaper than mainstream advertising options is the clincher.

That puts ‘reach’ in the hands of a lot more individuals, whereas cost was the deciding factor in mainstream media options.

Note that I haven?t ventured into the quality of what is being promoted with money at all. It could be lies, factual inaccuracies and even slander, against another person/institution. The platforms would obviously be responsible for any fallout owing the quality of content, like a print or TV media outlet would be.

Given that Rajiv?s attempt – a seemingly motive-less paid promotion of a range of opinions – is a first and very novel, the views from many haven?t been charitable. For example…


I’m sure such views would have been aired even if he had taken a print ad in a mainstream publication… only, they would have not been aired on the same platform. On social media, given that everything is two-way, the same platform features both the paid promotion and the feedback from assorted people!

Thankfully, there’s no way on social media to stifle such counter-opinions to Rajiv’s clutter-breaking attempts at spreading his views.

A very good follow-up/related read, from The New York Times! – To Woo Twitter Followers, a Trail of Self-Promotional Tweets