Did Indian Right Wing propagate Khalistani narrative regarding Farmers’ Protest?

During this chilly winter season, while we all are sitting at home, thousands of farmers are gathered outside Delhi borders to protest the new Farmer Bills. They are raising their voices against several provisions of the bills, including allowing direct role to corporates, and fear of losing the MSP safety net.

But where did this chatter emerge from?

However, while the farmers were fighting for their rights, a new kind of narrative emerged on social media regarding the protests i.e. the protests have been infiltrated by Khalistanis. The claims vary from “Khalistani participating in farmers protest”; to “Khalistanis hijacking protests” to outright declaring the protests as Khalistanis.

This report investigates these claims and tries to identify people behind the narrative; while also examining whether the Right Wing trolls or the ‘AndhBhakts’ are responsible for enabling this narrative – willingly or unwillingly.

Executive Summary

  • The new farm laws introduced last year, has thrown the Indian farmers in a state of chaos. Fearing the repercussions that the new law may have over them, the farmers took to streets and marched towards the capital.
  • However, while the poor farmers were braving the bitter winter to seek justice, a new kind of narrative seeped in, claiming that Khalistanis have infiltrated the protest and anti-India elements are pulling the string.
  • Our analysis establishes that the Khalistani elements abroad and their Pakistani enablers saw the protests as an opportunity to push their agenda. However, while no one in India took them seriously, leave aside farmers, they found a ready audience in the Right-Wingers.
  • Initially, some RW minions started posting about the Khalistani connection to farmers’ protests, taking the Pakistani propaganda as ‘proof’. Very soon, some TV Channels and Journalists also started spreading the false news, further creating noise about the issue.
  • There was still not much discussion about the Khalistan in the context of protests, when the usual suspects such as SFJ, Dal Khalsa etc started adding more oil to fire. Not surprisingly, the ISPR sponsored social media, such as Veena Malik and JEI Youth Leader Abdul Waheed Afridi further pushed the agenda.
  • This time the Indian Right-Wingers (RWs) took swallowed the whole propaganda Hook, Line and Sinker. Unaware of the fact that their actions are actually going to fuel the wrong cause, they start spreading the charade that “Khalistanis have penetrated the farmers’ protests”. (It is also possible that the RW did it deliberately to malign the farmers’ protests)
  • A number of prominent RW handles, including IT Cell in-charges of various BJP Units and several blue ticks handles with thousands of followers started posting in a coordinated manner about the Khalistan and farmers’ protests in the same sentence, without giving any evidence.
  • Eventually, it was also lapped up by a segment of Indian media, which took the clue and started various debates on the issue, whether the Khalistanis have indeed penetrated the farmers’ protests. These debates intentionally or unintentionally reinforced the association of Khalistan with the protests.
  • By November the chatter became so much, it was now impossible to distinguish what was pushed by design and how many people were participating in the discussions organically.
  • In a nutshell, the Khalistani/Pakistani nexus, helped by the Indian RW managed to establish the fake narrative of Khalistani association with farmers protests. It is ironical that the IT cells of Pakistani ruling Party PTI and Indian ruling Party BJP were pursuing the same agenda on social media.

Stage I: Seeding the Conspiracy

It is no secret that there are some Khalistani elements abroad who are incessant with their propaganda and are claimed to be backed by the Pakistani establishment.

To read the report, Click here!The groups like Dal Khalsa (UK), Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), and Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) are some of the prominent groups. These groups keep biting into every opportunity to garner Sikh supporters for their agenda, despite no support in Indian Punjab or in the Sikh diaspora. Nonetheless, the Farmers’ Protest was yet another opportunity for them to escalate their game. Interestingly, whenever these Khalistani outfits start a campaign, they are supported by ISPR sponsored social media groups. This time again when Pannun started raking up the issue of Indian farmers, tweets started flooding from across the border. One of the major ISPR influencers Veena Malik (@iVeenaKhan) posted a fake photo about Khalistan.

That it was not an innocent effort is proved by the fact that the said post was already debunked as Fake by several Fact Check platforms, such as The Quint and The Logical Indian.

Despite being fake, the post got further push with 490 retweeted & 46 quoted retweets (at the time of publishing), mostly by Pakistanis handles. It says a lot that most of the handles were also supporters of Imran Khan and his political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The network attached below shows the details of the Twitter handles retweeting her:

You can view the interactive graph shown in the animation at https://disinfolab.github.io/veena_malik_rt_network_new.html

(The size of the circles is in order of their number of followers) Link of the Graph:

Below are some accounts of the PTI supporters supporting Veena Malik’s fake claim:

Stage II: Taking the Bait

People like Pannun and Malik knew that their message is not going to the target audience, and yet they continued doing so with a hope that someone would take the bait. And someone did take the bait – Indian Right-Wing handles.

While it is well-nigh impossible to establish whether it was an unintentional knee-jerk reaction by the RW or whether they saw an opportunity to malign the farmers protests, which is against the ruling BJP’ policy, the narrative of terming the Farmers protest as Khalistani agenda thus begun.

The RW handles were first to use Khalistan in context of Farmers’ Protests.

The initial reactions came from minor right-wingers who started sounding ‘alarm bells’ that “Khalistanis are penetrating Farmers protests”. They became hyperactive on the social media platforms and started posting abruptly, linking farmers’ protests with Khalistan, buying into Khalistani and Pakistani propaganda.

After analyzing the accounts who initially started tweeting about the issue, it was found that they are right wing supporters. A sample analysis is shown below:


The Word Cloud of their posts and Sentiment Analysis gives an insight into the act and the motive behind these IT handles’ posts. The WC shows the frequency of words used in their tweets, highlighting the two prominent words – Khalistan and Farmers Protests. Likewise, the Sentiment Analysis further confirms that all these posts portrayed the farmers’ protests negatively by connecting them with Khalistan issue.

Word Cloud (Left) & Sentiment Analysis (right)

As noted above, this was the first time that Indian handles started mentioning Khalistan and Farmers protests in one sentence, and while they were still in small numbers, they proved to be the catalyst.

Within a week, the talk of farmers protests started becoming mainstream (or was being made so by vested RWs to discredit farmers’ protests). On 25th Sept a ‘Journalist’ with News X Channel Pradeep Yadav falsely claimed that a group of protesting farmers were chanting ‘Khalistan Zindabad’, whereas they were actually chanting ‘Kisan Ekta Zindabad’.

Stage III: Reaping the Harvest

As soon as the false narrative of connecting Khalistani with farmers protest started spreading, Khalistani groups abroad such lapped up this false claim to show that there was some support of Khalistani agenda in India.

It was also too tempting an opportunity for certain segments of Pakistani social media to let go, and they dropped further provocations to lure Right Wingers further deep into their propaganda. To reap the harvest, a fresh round of propaganda was started by Pakistani handles to reinforce the narrative that the Khalistani elements were part of farmers’ protests.

Veena Malik yet again became active, ‘supporting the farmers’ with two video messages back to back.

Joining the false wagon, another Pakistani influencer, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) youth head Abdul Waheed Afridi also instigated the idea of Khalistan in the context of farmer’s’ protests.

And if one needed any further proof of coordinated campaign, the very next day SFJ incorporated her video on their YouTube channel – the first non-Sikh individual to get featured on SFJ’s portal.

It is important to note that till now, despite all their campaign, other than a handful of Indian RW handles, and no one had talked about Khalistan issue in the context of farmers’ protests.

But soon, this was going to change.

Stage IV: Swallowing the Propaganda – Hook, Line, and Sinker

The engagement of Pakistani handles was enough to boil the saffron blood of Bhakts. By November, several prominent RW handles jumped into foray, calling the farmers protests as Khalistani, though not a single one bothered to provide an iota of evidence. Some of the prominent handles included:

  • Zeenat Rana, State Executive Member of BJP Chandigarh IT Cell.
  • Harshad Prajapati, in-charge of the IT & Social Media of BJP, Mehsana.
  • Swapnil Kamal Rani Varun, former Cabinet Minister in UP (account is operated by family.

In some cases, we found the exact same tweet posted on the same day by different accounts. This suggests a coordinated campaign on their part as well. The motive was clear that to demean the farmers and downplay their protests, causing them pain and anguish.

Below, are the details of some of the profile: –

Pattern of retweets by the right-wing

Based on our detailed analysis the below table lists several accounts with more than 10,000 followers who tweeted/shared (retweeted) and amplified these tweets calling farmers Khalistanis. There was a total of 625 accounts who shared these tweets. (List)

HandleLocationFollowers
@diptisingh7812UK45106
@AjayPandey_New Delhi, India31585
@kamalranivarunUttar Pradesh, India29362
@OmBishnoiiJodhpur, India25304
@bhanusi24275819Uttar Pradesh, India19244
@sandy5422096मुजफ्फरपुर, बिहार19051
@Suryavansi8888अखण्डभारत15399
@indiaAnkitaआर्यावर्त15286
@SiddharthjainITVidisha, India14982
@navin82upaIndia13849
@Shrish_1987बरनाटीकर, गौरीगंज, अमेठी13365
@ombrand2Sikar, Rajasthan, India12212
@rajkapoorbjymIndia10257

The interactive graph below shows the accounts who shared (retweeted) the tweets calling the farmers Khalistani. The circles/nodes in blue shows verified accounts. The size of the circles is according to the number of followers. (If you hover your mouse over any circle, you can see the account details like number of followers, following, when the account was created, etc.

You can view the interactive graph shown in the animation above at https://disinfolab.github.io/farmers_new.html

By now the RW, either in its stupidity or with malign intention, had managed to bring Khalistan into the mainstream conversation. It was evident from the sheer number of debates that started taking place on the topic of farmers’ protests and Khalistan.

By November, a segment of ‘responsible media’ jumped in and started a series of debates, intended to further confuse the narrative about farmers’ protests and Khalistan, again without any proofs whatsoever.

Some of the news debates and programs on the farmers protests:

  1. Zee News: Taal Thok Ke: Farmers Protest में Khalistani ‘घुसपैठ’? | TTK | Farmer protest against new farm laws
  2. Zee: Farmers Protest: किसान आंदोलन में’ खालिस्तान’ कीएंट्रीकैसे?
  3. Zee DNA: Farmers Protest को Political Parties, Khalistanis ने किया’ हाई-जैक’ | #AandolanMeinKhalistan
  4. Zee DNA: कृषि कानून पर दुष्प्रचार Vs सच्चाई| Sudhir Chaudhary | Farmer Protest | Farm Law | Khalistan
  5. Zee: AK 47 से आंदोलन’ हाइजैक’? | Farmers Protest Update | Khalistan | Shocking!
  6. India Today: Farm Law Protests | Khalistan Shadow On Farmers’ Stir?
  7. Aaj Tak: Farmers Protest में Pakistan को दिखा धर्म, Khalistan Plan हुआबेनकाब!

Flow Chart of the Events

Epilogue:

These are various layers to this story and this is exactly how disinformation in the real world operates:

  • There are Khalistanis and Pakistanis, trying to exploit the farmers’ protests in India to suit their own agenda.
  • Then we have Right Wingers who without any evidence called the protesting farmers Khalistani. While the motive of the former is clear, whether the RW got played or was playing with a sinister agenda remains unclear.
  • The media similarly had played an equally problematic role. Some media outlets were too early to call protesting farmers Khalistani (without verifying properly) and eventually by using intriguing headlines just to manoeuvre TRP.
  • But most of all, it was the RW which either deliberately or foolishly pushed the narrative of Khalistan with farmers protests. While it was only natural for Khalistani and Pakistani handles to promote such narrative, the so-called ‘bhakts’ would take such bait is not only shocking but worrisome.

It is best of irony that most of the Pak handle promoting this narrative were PTI IT Cell, while the Indian handles involved were from BJP IT Cell.