On January 15, Amit Malviya, the official who runs the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell, shared a video on social media of a random group of persons claiming that the women of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh are being paid to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Malviya’s allegation was found baseless by a collaborative Alt News-Newslaundry investigation. But this did not discourage the BJP official.
Two days later, he tweeted a photograph of an elderly man having a meal at Shaheen Bagh. “Proof of Biryani being distributed at Shaheen Bagh!” he said, playing to the rumour that protestors at the site were being paid Rs 500 and being given free food. His tweet was decidedly odd. Was the BJP leader alluding that the act of eating at a protest site was an offence or morally suspect?
Malviya’s misleading tweets are not limited to Shaheen Bagh. Alt News has been monitoring his social media feeds for a while and has found that he repeatedly uses misinformation in an attempt to discredit individuals, communities, opposition parties, leaders and social movements. Since he is the official head of the BJP’s online propaganda machine, the misinformation promoted by Malviya has a dangerous ripple effect. His false claims are echoed by party members and supporters of the BJP, giving rise to large-scale misinformation campaigns.
Misinformation about CAA protestors
1. Protesters in Lucknow chanted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’
On December 28, Malviya tweeted a video of protestors opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act protest at Lucknow’s Clock Tower, claiming that they chanted “Pakistan Zindabad” or long live Pakistan.
Alt News found that the claim was false. The protesters did not shout pro-Pakistan slogans but instead changed, “Kashif saab zindabad.” They were referring to Kashif Ahmad, the Lucknow chief of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen party. Haji Shaukat Ali, the president of the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit, told Alt News that Kashif Ahmad had led a protest in the state capital on December 13.
2. AMU students chanted ‘Hinduon ki kabr khudegi’
A video of Aligarh Muslim University students protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act was circulated on social media with a claim that they had slogans against Hindus. On December 16, Malviya was among those who shared the clip.
The students were actually shouting slogans against Hindutva, Savarkar, BJP, Brahminism and casteism. “हिंदुत्व की कब्र खुदेगी, AMU की छाती पर, सावरकर की कब्र खुदेगी, AMU की छाती पर, ये बीजेपी की कब्र खुदेगी, AMU की छाती पर, ब्राह्मणवाद की कब्र खुदेगी, AMU की छाती पर, ये जातीवाद की कब्र,” they said. The grave of Hindutva will be dug on the chest of AMU, the grave of Savarkar will be dug on the chest of AMU, this BJP’s grave will be dug on the chest of AMU, Brahminism’s grave will be dug on the chest of AMU, Casteism’s grave will be dug -translated.
3. Journalist’s speech on CAA distorted
“The Islamists want CAA protests to be ‘inclusive’ only till the time you, the non Muslims, start accepting their religious identity, beliefs and supremacist slogans as gospel,” Amit Malviya said on January 26 as he shared the video of a speech by journalist Arfa Khanum of The Wire.
The speech, delivered by Khanum at Aligarh Muslim University, was clipped and misrepresented. Malviya claimed that the journalist was promoting the establishment of an Islamic society and urging protesters to maintain a pretence of support to non-Muslims until such a society is created. However, Khanum was stating the complete opposite: she urged protesters not to use religious slogans and to maintain the secular character of the movement.
Misinformation about Rahul Gandhi and the Congress
1. Attempts to portray Nehru as immoral
In November 2017, the BJP leader shared a collage of images of first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the company of several women. Most of the photographs were of Nehru’s with his sister or niece or of world figures such as Jacqueline Kennedy. Malviya later deleted his tweet but this hardly stopped others from sharing the collage.
2. Clipped video of Manmohan Singh
On November 27, 2018, Malviya tweeted a video of Manmohan Singh in which the former prime minister can be heard saying, “The governments of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were very good.” This clip seemed to suggest that Singh was expressing appreciation for the state governments run by the BJP.
As it turned out, Malviya had shared a mischievously clipped video of the former prime minister’s speech made the previous day. Singh’s exact words were, “My relationships with the government of Madhya Pradesh, the government of Chhattisgarh were very good. We never discriminated against BJP-ruled states.”
3. Rahul Gandhi signed Somnath temple register as a non-Hindu
In November 2017, Malviya claimed that Rahul Gandhi, who was Congress president at the time, had signed the register at Gujarat’s Somnath temple as a “non-Hindu”.
However, handwriting analysis shows that the entry in the register did not match with Gandhi’s publically available handwritten notes.
4. The potato-gold machine claim
The same month, Malviya tweeted a video of Rahul Gandhi saying, “ऐसी मशीन लगाऊंगा इस साइड से आलू घुसेगा उस साइड से सोना निकलेगा …” Will install such a machine that if a potato is inserted from one end, gold will come out from the other end.
This was a clipped video of a much longer speech where Rahul Gandhi was actually taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an address in Gujarat’s Patan on November 12, 2017. The complete video was uploaded on the Congress president’s YouTube channel where at 17:50 minutes he can be heard saying, “कुछ महीने पहले यहाँ बाढ़ आयी ५०० करोड़ रुपये दूंगा, (पीएम मोदी ने) एक भी रूपया नहीं दिया. आलू के किसानो को कहा ऐसी मशीन लगाऊंगा इस साइड से आलू घुसेगा उस साइड से सोना निकलेगा…मेरे शब्द नहीं है नरेंद्र मोदीजी के शब्द है.” A few months ago there was a flood here and he (Modi) said he will give Rs 500 crore but not even a rupee was given. He told potato farmers, will install such a machine that if a potato is inserted from one end, gold will come out from the other end…these are not my words but Narendra Modiji’s words.”
5. Rahul Gandhi visited Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s Dera Sacha Sauda
In August 2017, Malviya claimed, “Rahul Gandhi visited Dera Sacha Sauda as recently as Jan 2017 to seek support.. Congress rules Punjab. What quid pro quo did they promise?”
He later deleted the tweet.
The screenshot of the article that Malviya posted is originally an Indian Express article dated January 29, 2017. “With just a week to go for the Punjab Assembly elections, AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi Saturday visited Dera Sach Khand Ballan in Jalandhar, the biggest and the most influential among the Dalit Ravidassia community,” the article said.
Gandhi did not visit Dera Sacha Sauda but Dera Sach Khand Ballan, whose head is Sant Niranjan Dass and not the controversial Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is now in jail after having being convicted for rape and murder.
Alt News’s complete fact-check can be read here.
Misinformation during election campaigns
1. Misinformation ahead of 2019 Delhi elections
On January 31, Malviya tweeted a video of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal ahead of the Delhi state elections. He claimed that a man had been lynched at a Kejriwal roadshow. The incident occured in the run-up to May’s general elections.
Malviya did not provide the full picture. Other clips from the video show that Kejriwal was slapped by a man who was then thrashed by the chief minister’s supporters. Contrary to social media claims, the man was not lynched. He was, however, brutally beaten.
2. Misinformation ahead of polling in West Bengal
Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Malviya tweeted an alleged first-person account of a student of Kolkata’s Vidyasagar College about the violence that erupted in the campus during a rally by BJP chief Amit Shah. The purported student blamed the Trinamool Congress for vandalising a bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar on campus.
Co-incidentally, the same message was shared by many other people in the first person. The fact that several people were circulating an identical message was noticed by Twitter users. One of them sarcastically wrote, “Today, entire Facebook is ‘I am a Vidyasagar student.’”
Alt News published an investigative report after analysing visuals of the violence and speaking with faculty members and students of the college. We found that the allegations made in the post shared by Malviya were misleading.
3. Misinformation after 2018 Telangana polls
In the aftermath of the Telangana assembly elections in 2018, in which the BJP suffered a setback, Malviya tweeted that the party, despite having a 7% vote share in Telangana managed to win just one seat, whereas the Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen with a vote share of merely 2.7% bagged seven seats.
While the numbers cited by Malviya were correct, the claim was misleading. This is because while the AIMIM had a vote share of 2.7%, the party had contested on merely eight seats, of which it won seven. On the other hand, BJP had contested 118 out of 119 seats in the state assembly. The AIMIM thus has a far superior strike rate of 87.5% (seven out of eight) in comparison to the BJP’s dismal strike rate of 0.85& (one out of 118). The complete details are available on the Election Commission website
Misinformation in support of Modi
1. Modi is the first ‘head of the state’ to visit Kumbh
On January 24, 2019, Narendra Modi took a dip in the Gangea in the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh . Soon after, Malviya tweeted that Modi was the “first head of state to visit Kumbh in all these years”.
Malviya’s claim was incorrect on two accounts. First, the prime minister is not the head of the state: the president of India is. By this yardstick, the first head of the state to visit Kumbh was India’s first President Rajendra Prasad.
Modi wasn’t even the first prime minister to visit the Kumbh. The country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Kumbh in 1954.
Alt News’s complete fact-check can be read here.
2. Using Nobel winner endorse demonetisation
The BJP IT cell head claimed that Richard Thaler, the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics, had expressed his support for Modi’s demonetisation decision.
But when Thaler when he was told that a Rs 2,000 note had been introduced in place of the discontinued Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, he tweeted, “Really? Damn.”
Malviya’s tweet did not include this bit.
Thaler’s statement on demonetisation read: “The concept was good as a move to a cashless society to impede corruption but the rollout was deeply flawed and the introduction of the Rs 2000 note makes the motivation for the entire exercise puzzling.”
Misinformation about individuals
1. Edited clip of Yogendra Yadav
In a TV debate in April, Malviya had accused political analyst Yogendra Yadav of playing caste politics. In response, Yadav challenged Malviya saying he would withdraw from public life if Malviya was able to produce any evidence to back his claim. Malviya posted a video of Yogendra Yadav where Yadav is seen and heard speaking to a crowd in Muslim-dominated Mewat about his Muslim identity.
“I usually don’t carry TV debates to social media but making an exception to expose Yogendra Yadav’s Janus face,” tweeted Malviya, attaching a short video clip. The clip ended with the question, “When are you withdrawing from public life?”
In trying to damage Yogendra Yadav for using his Muslim identity for votes, Malviya used an edited clip which was not even a part of an election rally.
This article first appeared on Alt News.