New Delhi: A war of words on Saturday broke out between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress over Rahul Gandhi’s rising popularity on Twitter after news agency ANI suggested ‘bots’, or web robots that can produce automated mass retweets, were behind it.

Information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani took to the microblogging website to suggest that the retweets were from fake accounts abroad. “Perhaps @OfficeOfRG planning to sweep polls in Russia, Indonesia & Kazakhstan ?? #RahulWaveInKazakh," she said in a tweet which tagged the media report.

Questioning whether automated bots were mass retweeting Gandhi’s tweets, the report said that on 15 October, ‘OfficeofRG’ retweeted US President Donald Trump’s tweet praising American-Pakistani relations with a caption ‘Modi ji quick, looks like President Trump needs another hug’. The tweet quickly reached 20,000 retweets and currently has touched 30,000, the report claimed, adding a close analysis of this tweet showed that these alleged ‘bots’ with a Russian, Kazakh or Indonesian characteristic were routinely retweeting the Congress vice president’s tweets.

An Internet bot is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. However, the veracity of report could not be independently ascertained.

Rajeev Shukla, Congress Rajya Sabha MP and Gandhi family loyalist, jumped to the party vice president’s defence, saying social media connects the whole world and retweets originating from Russia, Kazakhstan and Indonesia should not be considered out of place. “They (the BJP) are afraid of Rahul Gandhi and his popularity," he told TV channels.

Another Congress leader and former Union minister R.P.N. Singh said it is unimportant how many times a tweet has been retweeted. He said what is important is the issues Rahul Gandhi has been highlighting through his tweets.