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India farmers: Misleading claims about high-profile support

By Shruti Menon

BBC Reality Check

Published

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionFarmers in India have been protesting since late November

Protests by farmers in India over new pricing laws show no sign of abating.

The dispute has become highly politicised, with many thousands of farmers blocking access roads around the capital Delhi with their tractors and other machinery.

Both sides have sought to control the social media narrative, and we’ve taken a look at attempts to spread misinformation about well-known personalities takings sides in the dispute.

Did Obama say meeting Modi was ‘shameful’?

Our first example is a claim concerning former US President Barack Obama, who met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a number of occasions when he was in office.

Social media posts have appeared which show a picture of the two men together, with Mr Obama now apparently voicing his regret about meeting Mr Modi at the White House in 2014.

Some of these posts have hashtags showing support for the farmers’ protests.

The image is real enough and it is from an actual meeting between the two men that year.

However, the Twitter post is fake. The text is written in poor English with a spelling mistake, and President Obama’s Twitter profile appears to have been edited on to it.

And a check back through Mr Obama’s Twitter timeline shows that there’s no such tweet by him since the protests started last month.

Justin Trudeau in a ‘show of solidarity’?

The next one is about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s been involved in a controversy after he voiced concern about the Indian government’s response to the demonstrations.

This earned a public rebuke from the Indian government.

That issue aside, some people took to social media to circulate what is a misleading image of Mr Trudeau, claiming it showed him sitting with a group of Sikhs (many of India’s farmers are Sikhs) in a show of solidarity.

Canada has a significant Indian-origin population, including many Sikhs.

But this image is misleading, because it is at least five years old.

This was confirmed to the BBC by the prime minister’s office, who pointed out that Mr Trudeau now sports a beard, whereas the image shows him beardless.

It’s from a visit he made in November 2015 to a Sikh religious centre in Ottowa. There’s a local news report at the time about the visit.

Whatever Mr Trudeau’s views are on the current protests in India, this photo has been used out of its proper context.

A senior Indian minister hasn’t switched sides

It might come as a surprise to learn that Rajnath Singh, a senior government member and ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) stalwart, actually supports the farmers’ protests.

That’s what a video doing the rounds on social media claims to show.

In the video, Mr Singh, who is defence minister, can be heard saying: “Had I known about this protest earlier, I would have come here and extended my support the very same day”.

Some posts that link to this video claim the farmers’ agitation has exposed a “big split within the BJP”.

But a Google search reveals that this is an old video from 2013, when Mr Singh was in opposition and was supporting farmers against the then Congress-led government.

Mr Singh gave a speech at that time, backing their demands for a stable source of income, and it’s available on his official website.

It’s worth adding that Mr Singh, a former agricultural minister from a farming background, said in October that the current government “would not do anything against the farmers’ interests”.

Is Punjab’s top politician working against the farmers?

Our last example is about Congress party politician Amarinder Singh, who is the chief minister of Punjab state where many farmers come from, and Mukesh Ambani, one of India’s best-known business tycoons.

Social media posts with an image of the two men shaking hands claim – incorrectly – that they met just a day before the farmers began a nationwide shutdown to press their demands.

The text in one post asks: “On one hand, the Congress supports the agitating farmers and on the other meets industrialists such as Mr Ambani… what kind of politics is this?”

The implication is that Mr Singh – despite his party’s public support for the farmers – is working with private enterprise interests, who may stand to benefit from the changes to the farming laws.

But this image is three years old, from October 2017, when Mr Singh met Mr Ambani to discuss investment opportunities in Punjab.

And it’s also incorrect to claim – as the social media posts do – that Mr Singh has accepted a recent proposal from the government – rejected by the farmers – to dilute some provisions in the new farming laws.

Mr Singh has continued to support their demand for a complete repeal of the new laws.

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