In an interview to a news channel on October 25, former Pakistan cricketer Danish Kaneria identified himself as a “sanatani” and said it was his duty to speak against atrocities on Hindus. He was replying to a question on alleged religious discrimination against him during his days in the Pakistan team – a claim first made in 2019 by his former teammate Shoaib Akhtar.

In the interview, Kaneria went on to criticise Pakistani cricketers for offering namaaz on the field, hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, defended chants of “Jai Shree Ram” by Indian supporters at a match against Pakistan and made a pitch for “Akhand Bharat” – a Hindutva concept that envisages annexing neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh into India.

Kaneria’s career ended in ignominy after he was given a lifetime ban by the England and Wales Cricket Board for fixing matches in county cricket. However, social media has allowed him another chance at fame.

With 1.38 lakh followers on Twitter and 4.24 lakh subscribers on YouTube, his popularity on social media is part of a trend of Pakistani social media personalities looking to make inroads into the huge Indian audience by posting content that show India and even the Modi government in good light. The sheer size of the Indian viewership and a robust Hindutva social media network ensures that such content gets amplified.

Social media – Kaneria’s second shot to fame

Kaneria’s interviews to multiple Indian media outlets in the last week of October were the result of him receiving massive support from Hindutva supporters on social media after Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia called out the former cricketer on X.

The war of words started when journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani criticised the fact that some Indian cricket fans had shouted “Jai Shree Ram” slogans to target a Pakistani cricketer at a World Cup match. Kaneria responded to Sherwani’s tweet, asking her to come to Pakistan if she felt ashamed to be an Indian. Bhatia then wrote on X that while he did not agree with Sherwani’s criticism, he would stand “with a fellow Indian over the common faith” he shared with Kaneria.

Bhatia was soon trending on Twitter as several Hindutva supporters criticised his stand.

Photo: Gaurav Bhatia/Twitter

The support that Kaneria received typifies his second shot to fame through social media after his cricket career ended.

Kaneria, a leg spinner, played the last of his 61 test matches for Pakistan in 2010. His bid to make a comeback to the side practically ended in 2012 after the English and Wales Cricket Board banned him in a match fixing case. The English cricket authorities alleged that Kaneria, during his stint at county team Essex in 2009, acted as a “recruiter” to introduce a teammate to an “infamous Indian match fixer”.

Kaneria admitted to the charges in an interview to Al Jazeera in 2018.

He was back in the headlines in 2019, when Akhtar claimed that some players in the Pakistan team discriminated against Kaneria and refused to eat with him. Next day, Kaneria posted a three-minute video on his YouTube channel, corroborating the claims. The video has over 1.8 million views on YouTube. A couple of days later, Kaneria posted a longer video – which has 1.4 million views – countering those who had raked up the match fixing charges against him after he spoke of religious discrimination. The two videos remain the most watched of Kaneria’s posts on YouTube.

Since then, he has posted over 1,000 videos – mostly match analyses, bowling tutorials and vlogs about his personal life. Remarkably, the most popular of his videos, besides the two mentioned above, are about Hindu festivals and him taking down his former teammate Abdul Razzaq’s criticism of Indian cricketer Jasprit Bumrah. This marks an overarching trend where his videos related to India and his religious faith clock more viewership than those purely on cricket.

A recent example is how his analysis video of a Pakistan match in the ongoing World Cup got less than half views than that of an India fixture. His video after India defeated Pakistan in the World Cup has more than 4.67 lakh views, nearly twice that of his tutorial of the googly delivery.

Photo: Danish Kaneria/YouTube

Kaneria has utilised his popularity in India well – his YouTube channel has a separate playlist titled “Festivals, Mandirs and Vlogs” and he begins his videos by saying “Namaskar, Salaam, Jai Shree Ram”, receiving adulation from Indians viewers for this gesture.

Photo: Danish Kaneria/YouTube

On X, his reaction to Sherwani’s tweet was not an exception. In the past, pro-government website OpIndia has covered him for trolling X user Nimo Yadav and lawyer Prashant Bhushan – voices critical of the Modi dispensation. OpIndia Editor Nupur Sharma is also one of Kaneria’s followers on X.

He described the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya as a matter of “great satisfaction” and has referred to his critics as “radical Islamists” whose homes should be razed by the Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh. The Adityanath tweet has been reposted over 3,500 times.

Kaneria regularly receives more traction on his posts on X that are pro-Hindutva. For example, on October 24, a tweet wishing his followers on the Hindu festival of Dussehra was retweeted more than 6,000 times. Another tweet posted just two hours ago, where he quoted Pakistan cricket legend Wasim Akram, was retweeted by only 391 users.

Kaneria has even evinced interest in moving to India. When asked by Aaj Tak journalist Sudhir Chaudhary if he wanted Indian citizenship, Kaneria said: “If I get a chance, why not?”.

He also urged Modi and the Board of Cricket Control in India to help in lifting his ban even though India has no role to play in the matter.

A larger trend

Kaneria’s case is unique because of his religion and the allegations of discrimination against him. However, it dovetails with a larger trend of Pakistani content creators pandering to the Indian audience.

“Not just Pakistanis, you will even see a lot of White people and Koreans making videos of them reacting to quintessentially Indian things like eating a Hajmola,” said YouTuber Meghnad S. “It’s the size of the Indian market that they are trying to access.”

However, when Pakistanis make such content it assumes a political significance too. “There are so many videos of Pakistanis reacting to the movie Gadar 2Gadar is an anti-Pakistan film if there was ever one,” he told Scroll. “This resonates with Indians who attach nationalism to their identity as they feel validated.”

An example is the YouTube channel Reactions by Suleman, on which a Pakistani couple regularly posts reaction videos related to India. The channel has more than 5.7 lakh subscribers and the video on Gadar 2 has over 1.2 million views. The most popular videos on the channel include a two-part series titled “Why is India great”.

Photo: Reactions by Suleman/YouTube

Pakistani journalist Arzoo Kazmi, who has over four lakh subscribers on YouTube and more than 1.3 lakh followers on Twitter. On her YouTube channel, Kazmi regularly invites Indian guests for talk shows that portray India and the Modi government in good light. For instance, a show on how Modi was in a “win-win situation” in India’s diplomatic crisis with Canada has a viewership of 1.8 lakh, significantly more than most of her other videos.

The most popular videos on her channel feature Indian guests and matters related to India.

Photo: Arzoo Kazmi/YouTube

Journalist Aaliya Shah who has more than 1.4 lakh subscribers on YouTube also tries and tap the Indian audience. Some of her recent videos are on Congress leader Shashi Tharoor saying Modi is hugely popular, foreign minister S Jaishankar’s comment on Canada and India “shaping the global policy” by hosting the G20 summit.

The most popular videos on her channel include those on the Chandrayaan landing, the Gyanvapi temple dispute and Modi being a popular leader.

Photo: Aaliya Shah/YouTube

“This type of content gets picked up by the BJP ecosystem and due to the massive social media network that it has, the content gets amplified,” Meghnad told Scroll. “It’s sort of a give and take understanding.”

One of Kazmi’s talk shows features Hindutva supporter Rishi Bagree who spoke on India-Pakistan relations. Bagree has been flagged by fact checkers on several occasions for spreading misinformation on social media. On the show, Bagree describes Kazmi’s videos as “good and interesting” and says that some of her videos that he had shared went viral.

Bagree has more than 3.7 lakh followers on Twitter, including Home Minister Amit Shah, the office of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and BJP social media cell chief Amit Malviya.

Journalist Manisha Pande, from media watchdog Newslaundry, told Scroll that it was common for Pakistani YouTubers to make videos of people who are critical of their government by drawing a comparison to India.

“But for someone like Bagree to feature on a Pakistani YouTube channel or these channels having entire playlists dedicated to matters entirely related to India is a bit surprising,” she said. “There could be a monetary angle involved here as well.”