Politics

18 Times BJP Spokesperson Sambit Patra Shared Propaganda-Fuelled Misinformation

Patra has over four million followers on Twitter – a platform he routinely (mis)uses to share false news.

Sambit Patra is the most visible spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He is best known for his appearances as a party representative on television debates and snide remarks against the opposition. But another skill that should feature on his resume, if he were to ever prepare one, is his proclivity to misinform.

Patra has over four million followers on Twitter – a platform he routinely (mis)uses to share false news. He has also often been found promoting misinformation on national television. This article is a compilation of some of these instances however it is not an exhaustive list which would be much longer. The compilation is a list of the varied misinformation he had shared in the past few years – the favourite targets being the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Misinformation against Congress

1. False claim that Rajasthan government halted buses transporting students to UP for Rs 19 lakh fuel dues

The governments of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan had entered into a bilateral agreement to transport students stuck in Kota to UP. A month after they safely returned home amid the lockdown, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra tweeted a photograph of a cheque claiming that the Rajasthan government had allowed the buses from leaving the state only after the UP government made a midnight payment of Rs 19 lakhs in fuel dues.

But this wasn’t true because the cheque that Patra had presented was dated May 5. The last bus ferrying thousands of students had left Rajasthan on April 19. Quite evidently, the buses could not have been halted for lack of payment in April because the dues were transferred more than two weeks later in May.

Alt News’s detailed report on the misinformation can be read here.

2. Clipped video shared to mock Rahul Gandhi

Patra had tweeted a video where Rahul Gandhi could be heard saying, “The red zone is actually the green zone and the green zone is actually the red zone” referring to the zones set up by the central government based on the intensity of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The video shared by Sambit Patra was 6 seconds clipped from an hour-long press briefing by Rahul Gandhi on coronavirus outbreak in India. The Congress leader stressed the need for strong local leaders and tackling the virus from the ground level. “These zones – red, orange and green – have been created on a national level. They should be created on a state level. Chief Ministers [of Congress-ruled states] are telling us that the zone which is red in the national level is actually green and the zone which is green is actually red.” This can be heard at 20:00 minutes onward.

The words “national level” were clipped from the speech to take out the context of decentralisation and portray that Gandhi was making a silly statement.

3. “Potato-gold machine” — another misrepresentation of Rahul Gandhi’s speech 

In the previous tweet, Sambit Patra made a reference to “potato and gold” while mocking Gandhi for the “red is green, green is red” statement. As it turned out, Patra’s reference was also based on misinformation — one which had been debunked multiple times before Patra put out the tweet.

In 2017, a video of Rahul Gandhi saying, “Will install such a machine that if a potato is inserted from one end, gold will come out from the other end,” was shared by BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya. But the statement was a part of a clipped video of a much longer speech where Gandhi was actually taking a dig at PM Modi during an address in Gujarat’s Patan on November 12, 2017.

“A few months ago there was a flood here and he [PM 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,” Gandhi had said.

It may be noted that Gandhi’s claim amounted to political rhetoric since there is no record of PM Modi ever making any such statement.

4. Fake quote attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru 

During a television debate in 2018, Patra claimed that the first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said, “I am Englishman by education, Muslim by culture and Hindu merely by accident of birth.”

He had made a reference to this quote in a Republic Bharat debate as well.

However, these words first made their appearance in an article titled ‘The Angry Aristocrat’, written by N B Khare in 1959, a Hindu Mahasabha leader and staunch critic of Jawaharlal Nehru. The article was part of a volume ‘A Study of Nehru’ with commentaries by numerous political personalities. There is no literature ascribing the quote to Nehru, including in his autobiography.

Our detailed fact-check can be read here.

5. Video clipped to target Ashok Gehlot

“If electricity is removed from the water and the water goes to the farm, such water will have no energy and will be useless in the farm.” A video of Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot making this statement was tweeted by Sambit Patra in 2018.

The video was a part of a much longer address where Gehlot was referring to Jan Sangh, the forerunner of the BJP. According to Gehlot, when he was young he had witnessed how Jan Sangh cadres were spreading misinformation about the Bhakra Dam which was inaugurated by former PM Nehru, spreading rumours that once electricity is removed from water, the water will become useless.

6. Fake news about Sonia Gandhi’s wealth

During a News18 debate last year, Sambit Patra claimed that Sonia Gandhi is the 4th richest woman in the world.

Alt News had found out that the claim was based on a shoddy website named ‘World’s Luxury Guide’ which doesn’t exist anymore. Our detailed report can be read here or watched below.

7. Old video of Congress MLA clipped to suggest he said ‘Pakistan Zindabad’

Patra tweeted a video of Congress politician Naseem Khan wanting to know the “truth” behind the claim that Khan chanted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogans.

The truth was indeed pointed out to Patra. In fact, the truth was already out there before the BJP spokesperson amplified the false claim. Here’s the English translation of what Khan actually said, “I want to ask Modiji, today in Delhi on the shore of the Yamuna, Sri Sri Ravishankar said ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in the presence of Rajnath Singh. Was a case of sedition slapped on him or not? If Modiji and Rajnath [Singh] have guts, then let them slap a case of sedition.”

Patra is yet to take down his tweet.

8. Misquoted Shashi Tharoor

Continuing his trend of misquoting politicians, Patra had demanded on-air that Congress president Rahul Gandhi expels Shashi Tharoor from the party. His demand was based on a statement he attributed to Tharoor — “Narendra Modi is a scorpion on a Shiva Linga.”

If one carefully listens to the video where Tharoor is making the statement, it is clear that the remark wasn’t his but the Congress MP was quoting an unidentified RSS leader who gave a bite to The Caravan’s Vinod Jose.

9. Old video of SP leader Mavia Ali shared as Congress leader Naseemuddin Siddiqui

During widespread protests opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Sambit Patra tweeted a video along with a text saying, “Congress leader Naseemuddin Siddiqui is saying we are first Muslims then Indians…We will not accept a constitution that clashes with Islam… we are not loyal to the country…dogs are loyal. Where are the siblings Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi.”

The video posted by Patra dated back to August 2017. It featured Samajwadi Party leader Mavia Ali who had kicked up a storm while reacting to Uttar Pradesh government’s controversial circular asking madrasas across the state to celebrate Independence Day and record a video of the event.

The complete fact-check report can be read here.

Attacks on opposition

10. Falsely claimed AAP leader Amanatullah Khan wants to create ‘Sharia’

“Allah has decided that oppressors will cease to exist..will make Sharia…it will start from somewhere.” This message was tweeted by Patra, ascribing the statement to AAP leader Amanatullah Khan.

On carefully listening to the speech, we found that Amanatullah Khan was saying ‘Zaria’ (medium) and not Sharia.

11. Introduced a political angle to Murshidabad triple murder case

On October 8, 2019, a family of three – Bandhu Prakash Pal, his pregnant wife and 8-year-old child – was hacked to death in West Bengal’s Murshidabad. A construction worker, Utpal Behara, was booked for the crime. Behara had reportedly entered the victims’ house armed with a knife. The police had stated “financial dispute” as the motive behind the murders. However, Patra introduced a political motive the crime, referring to the victim as an RSS worker and targetting West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

The West Bengal police had clarified that the attack was not politically-motivated.

Subsequently, media reports came pouring in that the family denied RSS links. India Today also reported that Pal’s brother-in-law, Diptiman Sarkar, said that an RSS member offered him financial help however he rejected the man’s assistance and told him that his brother-in-law was never associated with any political party.

Read the detailed fact-check report here.

12. Former VP Hamid Ansari targetted with misinformation

In his last interview as outgoing vice president in 2017, Hamid Ansari had stated that there is a sense of unease among Muslims in the country. What followed was a hate campaign against Ansari of which Patra was a part. He shared a graphic with news reports on the former VP’s absence from Yoga Day parade and failure to salute the tricolour during Republic Day.

As protocol dictates, the vice president is not supposed to salute when the president attends an event as the principal dignitary. This is why Ansari did not salute when former president Pranab Mukherjee was the principal dignitary at Republic Day parade. Furthermore, the article on Yoga Day shared by Patra pertained to a 2015 controversy ignited by BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav. Ansari had not attended Yoga Day celebrations as he wasn’t invited. Huffington Post reported that union minister Shripad Naik cited protocol which states that the vice president cannot be invited to an event where the prime minister is the chief guest. Madhav had to later apologise for his tweet.

Attacks on journalists and activists

13. Clipped video shared to claim Harsh Mander instigated violence in Jamia speech

Sambit Patra had shared a part of social activist Harsh Mander’s speech in Jamia Millia Islamia and wrote, “He is the real rioter who is instigating people to come out in the streets and carry out violence.”

In the video, Mander could be heard saying, “This fight will not be won in the Supreme Court. We have been observing the Supreme Court since some time now in the cases of NRC, Ayodhya and Kashmir. Supreme Court has failed to uphold humanism, equality and secularism. We will keep trying in the Supreme Court, it is our Supreme Court, but the decision will neither happen in the Parliament nor in the Supreme Court. What will be the future of this country – you all are the youth – what sort of country do you want to leave for your kids – where will this decision happen? One, it will happen on the streets, we have come out on the streets…” – before the clip was stopped mid-way.

However, Mander’s speech was clipped. Here’s the context of what he said — “What will be the future of this country – you all are the youth – what sort of country do you want to leave for your kids – where will this decision happen? One, it will happen on the streets, we have come out on the streets, but even beyond the streets, there’s another place where this decision will take place. Which is the place in which this fight will eventually be decided? That is in our hearts, in my heart, in your heart, we have to give a response – if they want to fill our hearts with hate, if we respond with hate, hatred will become deeper.”

14. Arfa Khanum’s speech on CAA shared with distorted interpretation 

Patra tweeted a video of journalist Arfa Khanum and claimed that she disclosed the strategy to develop an Islamic Caliphate. “Hindus will be required only till the time an Islamic society is not created,” he claimed she said.

The part of her speech that was clipped starts from 17:15 minutes in the video below. In fact, this portion, even when heard independently, does not translate to Khanum promoting the establishment of an ‘Islamic Caliphate/ society’. “This protest is also taking us to a society where everybody will be included. So we aren’t compromising our ideology, I want to reiterate this. We are not compromising out ideology but changing our strategy,” she stated. Here, the word ‘strategy’ implied adhering to a form of protest where religious slogans are shunned and a secular movement is embraced.

15. Termed Aatish Taseer a citizen of Pakistan

Journalist Aatish Taseer had written the cover story for TIME magazine ‘India’s divider-in-chief’ last year which was a sharp critique of prime minister Modi. Following this, Sambit Patra claimed in a press conference that Taseer is a Pakistani citizen.

Taseer is a British national. He was born in the UK, grew up in India and is currently based out of New York, US. He is the son of Indian journalist Tavleen Singh and Pakistani politician Salman Taseer.

Our detailed fact-check on the controversy surrounding Taseer’s nationality can be read here.

Attacks on the Muslim community

16. Video from Bijnor shared with false, anti-Muslim claim

The coronavirus outbreak in India isn’t merely a health crisis but a humanitarian crisis which has left the poor vulnerable without food and money. Amid all of this, the outbreak amplified the animosity against Muslims after Nizamuddin Markaz was identified as a hotspot. There have been attacks on Muslim vendors and calls to boycott sellers from the community. Sambit Patra shared a video of a Muslim vendor with the claim that he sprinkled his urine on the produce he had brought for sale.

The man did not sprinkle urine on the fruits in his cart. The FIR filed against him mentioned that he had washed his hands after urination using a water bottle kept on his cart. Later, he used the same bottle to sprinkle water on his fruits.

Our detailed report on the incident was published on April 24, 2020. A month later, Patra’s erroneous tweet still adorns his timeline.

17. Old video falsely shared as posters of Hindu deities burnt during CAA protests

In January this year, the BJP spokesperson quote-tweeted a tweet which had shared a video of people burning posters of Hindu deities. Patra claimed that these were anti-CAA protesters.

The tweet Patra had quote-tweeted was taken down however Patra’s tweet remains. Alt News traced back the video to at least August 2018. People could be heard speaking in Kannada in the background and chanting “Zindabad, Zindabad! Ambedkar Zindabad!” slogans.

18. Old provocative speech by Muslim cleric shared amid anti-CAA protests

During CAA protests, Patra shared a provocative video of a Muslim cleric and wrote. “Dangerous very Dangerous..Wake Up before it’s too late!!”

The objectionable speech was given by Mufti Raees Ahmed, the district president of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hindi, after Tabrez Ansari’s lynching in 2019. According to a Times of India report, a case was registered with the Kotwali police under IPC sections dealing with hate speech and promoting enmity between religious groups.

Alt News’s fact-check report on the case can be read here.

Sambit Patra has also been at the receiving end of misinformation. Alt News had debunked false claims on social media suggesting that he was removed from the post of BJP spokesperson. A fake quote on farmers’ protest was circulating in Patra’s name which was debunked in this article. As a prominent public personality, Patra is expected to become a target of rumours. However, as a representative of the ruling party, why is he aping rumour-mongers?

Does the BJP echo its spokesperson’s views promoted through misinformation especially when expressed on live television? Does the ruling party condone his attacks on the opposition, journalists, intellectuals and the Muslim community through misinformation? Is this why Patra does not take down misinformation even after the truth is pointed out? Alt News has written articles on each of his tweets documented in this report. None of them has been deleted by the BJP spokesperson including the ones that were put out more than three years ago. We tried contacting Patra on the phone, WhatsApp and email for comment. However, we are yet to receive a response. Patra had responded to us for a 2018 story when rumours of rape allegations on him were floating online and Alt News was writing an article to debunk them. Whether he intends to address the issue of misinformation put out through his verified Twitter handle can only be clarified by him alone. But as of now, his failure to take down erroneous tweets does not paint a hopeful picture.

This article was originally published on Alt News.