The volunteer says Narendra Modi’s campaign posted criticism on social media about public figures who did not support him. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reutersv

SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — A social media campaign against some of India’s most prominent public figures, politicians and journalists was spearheaded by the country’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a new book claims.

A former volunteer of the party alleges that the 2014 prime ministerial campaign of Narendra Modi used social media volunteers to push critical messages about public figures perceived to be opponents of the party.

Whether they were intended by the BJP or not, the book claims social media campaigns would often spill over into religious and sexual criticisms of the target, especially in the instance the target was a woman. This according to Sadhavi Khosla, the 37-year-old former party volunteer.

The “hit list” included political opponents, such as the Congress party vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, and screenshots provided by Khosla also show that the Bollywood star Aamir Khan, was among those singled out. Khosla said the party’s social media unit that directed her and hundreds of others is still in operation today.

The former head of the party’s social media unit, Arvind Gupta, told the Indian Express that Khosla’s claims were unsubstantiated and that she was a supporter of the opposition Congress party.

He said the BJP had published social media guidelines on its website and never “encouraged trolling.”

Khosla’s story is told in a new book by journalist Swati Chaturvedi, published in India on Tuesday, I Am a Troll, which investigates the ties between abusive social media accounts and the BJP. She claims, in the book, that starting late in 2013, and for nearly two years after, she was one of hundreds of BJP supporters receiving direct instructions on messages to push online from senior members of the party’s social media unit.

She received the orders through WhatsApp but also met senior members of the digital unit, she claims.

Khosla claims she grew uncomfortable when ordered to tweet criticisms of prominent Indian journalists, such as Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt, which sometimes featured “slanderous claims.”

“It was a never-ending drip-feed of hate and bigotry against the minorities, the Gandhi family, journalists on the hit list, liberals, anyone perceived as anti-Modi,” she said in the book.

The targets of the social media unit would end up being swarmed by critical messages that occasionally veered into criminal threats, Khosla said.

“I simply could not follow [the] directions anymore when I saw rape threats made against female journalists like Barkha Dutt,” she said. “Every day some new person was a target and they would attack like a swarm of bees with vile sexual innuendoes, slander, rape and death threats. It made me feel suffocated as a woman.”

Khosla left the unit after she was asked to spread a petition calling for SnapDeal, a shopping website, to cut its ties with the Bollywood actor Aamir Khan.