On October 7, hours after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a multi-pronged attack on Israeli cities, the official handle of the Bharatiya Janata Party on X tweeted a video drawing a parallel with terrorist attacks in India during Congress’ rule at the Centre between 2004 and 2014. “Never forgive, never forget,” the caption for the video read.
Experts, however, were quick to punch holes in the comparison. Journalist Nirupama Subramanian described the tweet as “absurd misinformation” pointing out that several terrorist attacks and escalations at the Pakistan and China borders have occurred during the BJP-led governments of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi.
Gaza to India
The BJP’s tweet, however, was only the headline act of what has emerged as a trend over the last few days. Several leaders of the ruling party and Hindutva supporters have used the escalation in Gaza as an opportunity to run messaging directed at domestic politics.
A cursory look at hashtags like #IslamIsTheProblem, #StandWithIsrael, #IsraelUnderAttack, #IndiaWithIsrael and #HamasTerrorists, which have trended on X since the Hamas attack, shows that the BJP’s IT Cell and its supporters are using the Israel-Palestine conflict to push ideas around communal conflict within India.
The scale of this Hindutva push is so significant that a number of international commentators have remarked on how Indian accounts are putting out the most extreme anti-Palestinian messaging on the internet.
Flood of disinformation
Fact checkers flagged that several videos circulating on Indian social media were old ones that had been tweeted to push Hindutva messaging.
For example, X user “Mr Sinha” who has more than 1.23 lakh followers, including Modi and Union minister Smriti Irani, tweeted a video of the beheading of a child, with hashtags insinuating that it was a Hamas militant killing an Israeli. However, a fact checker called out the post saying that the video was from 2016 when “US-backed rebels” killed a child in Syria.
Another video of aerial strikes being widely shared as Israel’s retaliatory attack against Hamas was found to be visuals from an anniversary celebration event of a club in Algeria, fact checker Mohammed Zubair tweeted on Monday.
BJP leaders have also held rallies in support of Israel, chanting slogans like “Ladaai aar-paar hai, Israel hamara yaar hai [The battle lines are drawn clear, Israel is our friend]”
Hindutva and Israel
This line of messaging from the BJP is expected with the Lok Sabha elections only a few months away, Observer Research Foundation fellow Kabir Taneja, told Scroll. “These things will happen more often now as national security is a marketable policy for the BJP ahead of elections,” he added.
He also said that beyond the official stance of India, the BJP is always expected to back the Israeli cause as it aligns with its Hindutva ideology. “In general, conservative ideas have always sided with Israel,” Taneja said. “They would always say that the compromise in the Gaza conflict should be in favour of Israel.
In turn, Opposition leaders have criticised the Modi government for voicing unequivocal support to Israel, saying that it was not consistent with India’s policy on the matter. When asked about this, Taneja did not agree with the criticism.
“Some people are pointing to Modi’s use of the phrase ‘terrorist attack’ in his tweet...[but] even the Congress did so,” Taneja said. “India has been consistent on its policy of a two-state solution but that statement has to come from the foreign ministry, not the prime minister.”
Till now, the only statement from the foreign ministry under S Jaishankar has been in the form of a repost of Modi’s tweet. This void has, meanwhile, been filled by Hindutva voices on social media.
X user, Aprurva Singh, whose bio says that she is a member of the social media team of BJP’s youth wing, posted a photo of her on October 7 with a placard that read “Bharat stands with Israel”. Some social media users pulled her up for not saying anything on the civil war in Manipur, echoing the Opposition’s criticism of the prime minister. In response, she posted a video on Sunday, whose caption claimed: “India’s official statement says that it supports Israel, so we are with India and against terrorism.”
In the video, Singh says, “I want to tell the supporters of the Samajwadi Party and Congress that you might support terrorism, I don’t. Secondly, I will stand with the country which Prime Minister Modi supports...”
Singh’s has nearly 3.96 lakh followers on X including Modi, Irani, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the office of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.