ANI, Srivastava Group named in massive EU disinformation campaign to promote Modi government’s interests

09 December 2020

The EU DisinfoLab, an NGO based in Brussels, has published a report detailing one of the largest ever disinformation campaigns in Europe, organised by Indian stakeholders, to further the interests of the Indian government and the prime minister Narendra Modi. Among the prime players of this disinformation campaign are Asian News International, India’s largest video news agency, and the Srivastava group—a shadowy business conglomerate that came into the spotlight in India after it organised a visit to Kashmir for far-right members of the European Parliament, in late 2019. The report, titled “Indian Chronicles,” is based on a year-long investigation by the NGO, which was built upon and published exclusively by news organisations such as Les Jours in France. Les Jours quoted a misinformation expert who described this campaign as “a network … whose scope and impact are comparable to the operation of Russian interference during the campaign in the United States in 2016.”

The DisinfoLab report described how fake media websites and NGOs run by the Srivastava group lobbied members of the European parliament, or MEPs, to write op-eds taking pro-India stances, often against Pakistan or China, which were then published on the group’s dummy news websites. ANI then quoted these as credible reports from European media, from where Indian media and news channels reproduced and disseminated them, unchecked. The Les Jours report suggested that the entire operation could be linked to Indian intelligence services.

According to DisinfoLab, the network has been frequently used to manufacture calls of solidarity from European leaders for the Modi government’s actions. One example that the report cited concerned surgical strikes by the Indian Army in Pakistan, ahead of the 2019 general elections. EP Today, a dummy website run by the Srivastava group, published an op-ed by Ryszard Czarnecki, a member of the European parliament. Czarnecki wrote in support of the strikes. ANI then reproduced this opinion, but with a crucial twist—it claimed this to be the EU’s official statement, announcing its support of Modi. This disinformation was then reported by other Indian outlets, such as the Economic Times, reaching millions of Indians. 

The DisinfoLab report also found that for 15 years, organisations connected to the Srivastava group had been making representations at the Council for Human Rights, at the United Nations, primarily undermining Pakistan. According to the report, organisations connected to the Srivastava group even “resurrected” dead people and dead NGOs—that is, used their names and identities—to create an air of credibility around themselves. 

The latest DisinfoLab report builds upon a 2019 report that had exposed EP Today’s workings. In October 2019, the European External Action Service’s East Strat Com, effectively the EU’s task force to tackle disinformation, revealed that the EP Today website had been republishing a large amount of news directly from Russia Today and Voice of America. When DisinfoLab investigated the organisation, it found “a large number of articles and op-eds related to minorities in Pakistan as well as other India related matters.” The investigation also linked EP Today to a “large network of think tanks, NGOs, and companies from the Srivastava Group.” The IP address of EP Today was registered by an NGOs linked to the Srivastava group. Their findings, which included at least 265 fake news sites that operated in around sixty countries, all linked to Indian interests, were published in a December 2019 report. Following this publication, the EP Today website disappeared,  as did a range of other news organisation named in the report.

Keywords: ANI Narendre Modi Kashmir fake news European Union