Balpreet Singh: Indian Media Desperately Trying To Reframe Farmers Protest In Canada
Hindustan Times stories have largely been authored by Anirudh Bhattacharyya (‘A.B.’) who is based in Canada and has a lengthy record of reporting on alleged “Sikh extremism” in Canada
February 17, 2021 | 4 min. read
Earlier this month, the WSO released a report on India’s disinformation campaign against Canada’s Sikhs and noted an increase in activity since the farmers’ protest began. As of the past week, India’s disinformation machine has been in overdrive to counter the positive coverage of the farmers’ protest in Canada.
While many Indian media outlets will outright lie in their attempts at spreading disinformation, this is a tool that works better in India. Allegations that Canada-based activists paid Rihanna $2.5 million to Tweet in support of the farmer protest were completely absurd and had little hope of being covered by the Canadian media - nonetheless, they were uncritically parroted by several Indian outlets. The story was a useful tool to stoke anger and hatred towards those Canadian Sikhs who are vocal on this issue, resulting in trolling and harassment online.
A more sophisticated way of shifting narratives and perspectives for a foreign audience is to re-frame the current support for the farmers’ protest as divisive extremism that has the potential to incite violence here in Canada. This is a tried and tested Indian technique that alleges violent “Sikh extremism” lurks just below the surface here in Canada. The hope is that the Canadian media will find the story intriguing enough to cover it and cast a negative light on the Sikh community and the protests.
Recently, through a series of targeted articles, there has been a concerted effort to associate the farmers’ protest with violence and extremism and create a fear that Canada is becoming a battleground for violent imported conflicts from India. This angle has been plainly apparent in stories published in the Hindustan Times over the past couple of weeks. The stories have largely been authored by Anirudh Bhattacharyya (‘A.B.’) who is based in Canada and has a lengthy record of reporting on alleged “Sikh extremism” in Canada.
On February 4, A.B. reported that an “Indo-Canadian group” had called on Prime Minister Trudeau to denounce violence “perpetrated by elements among those protesting farm laws in New Delhi on Republic Day just as he did with rioters in Washington DC a few days earlier in January.”
Trying to create an equivalency between the events on Capitol Hill and the Red Fort is plainly false. But the narrative of “Indo-Canadians” being alarmed by violence was introduced.
Next, on February 5, A.B. reported in “Farmers' protest: India may seek help from Canada in Greta toolkit probe” that Indian authorities would be reaching out to their Canadian counterparts about a ‘toolkit’ that was tweeted by Greta Thunberg and was allegedly created by the Poetic Justice Foundation in Canada. A.B. writes that India will most likely request Canadian assistance if the toolkit is “linked to violence on Republic Day in New Delhi”.
The toolkit in question was of course guidance with respect to advocacy in support of the farmers’ protest, including messages to politicians, Tweets, and advice on how to plan rallies. There is no question of the toolkit promoting violence. The allegation of violence in India is directed by Sikh actors in Canada is, however, an interesting conspiracy theory that aims to catch attention.
The Hindustan Times further tried to inflame the manufactured crisis when A.B. reported on February 8 that “across Canada, members of the Indo-Canadian community are being targeted with intimidating calls” for “opposing the Khalistani involvement” in the farmers’ protest. A.B. reported that people are afraid and that intimidation is “part of a larger pattern”.
The article then references the 1985 Air India bombing and quotes an anonymous individual who claims “I feel this is worse than the 1980s”.
The article relies on very serious allegations of intimidation by anonymous sources but not a single charge let alone a conviction has been registered. While the Canadian media have covered the threats and intimidation faced by supporters of the farmers’ protest, the Hindustan Times tries desperately to create a competing narrative. The article frames support for the protest through a lens of extremism and violence and attempts to link the current activism to the 1985 Air India bombing.
Finally, on February 10, A.B. reported on a “tiranga rally” in Vancouver that was organized to counter the involvement of “pro-Khalistan” elements in Canada in the farmers’ protest.
A.B. falsely states, “Khalistan flags had been brandished during the course of the Republic Day protest, and among its organizers was Mo Dhaliwal, founder of Poetic Justice Foundation, which was also behind the toolkit for organizing criticism of the Indian government with regard to the farmers’ agitation.”
Referring to Nishan Sahibs as “Khalistan flags” is false, as is any suggestion that Mo Dhaliwal, a Canadian citizen, was an organizer of the Republic Day protest. There has been no evidence that Dhaliwal had anything to do with the Republic Day rally. But it makes for an intriguing story that may just appeal to a Canadian audience.
India has lost control of the narrative when it comes to the farmers’ protest. India’s human rights abuses and trend towards authoritarianism have been made plain to the world. It is clear that the Hindustan Times and A.B. are working extra hard at reclaiming lost ground by trying to reframe the farmers’ protest from the angle of extremism and violence that threatens Canada.
India would like nothing more than to reframe the farmer issue as a conflict between Hindus and Sikhs - this is a falsehood that must be quickly exposed.
To their credit, the Canadian media have been wary of stories coming from India and have not repeated these false narratives as they did during the 2018 Trudeau trip to India.
But efforts are ongoing.
A.B. knows what he is doing. In remarks reported in Maclean’s magazine, A.B. once said, “in this age of fake news, other versions of reality go viral”
Other versions of reality, indeed.
Balpreet Singh hails from Toronto, Canada, and is the spokesperson and legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.
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