Around December 23, an image of a jeep surrounded by Sikh men in the ongoing farmers’ protest was shared on social media. The jeep has the logo of Mercedes Benz. Several social media users claimed that the car is Mercedes Benz G-class that costs over Rs 1.5 crores. They questioned the financial status of farmers protesting at Singhu border.
The image was shared by Twitter user @nishant_india who is followed by Prime Minster Narendra Modi. It was also posted by Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation chairman Kanchan Gupta, columnist Kartikeya Tanna, Twitter user @TrulyMonica and Sneha Singhvi (archived links 1, 2,3,4 and 5).
देश के गरीब किसान की सस्ती जीप pic.twitter.com/EXiKSVlAWb
— Nishant (@nishant_india) December 23, 2020
If only my father did not have to pay Income Tax all his life on what he earned from his salaried job. If only journalism was a tax-free trade and I did not have to pay Income Tax. If only @nandinizg did not have to part with massive sums of money as Income Tax in her tech job… pic.twitter.com/4JgsjoBDOz
— Kanchan Gupta (@KanchanGupta) December 23, 2020
Facebook page ‘I Support Narendra Modi’ that has over 15 million followers posted the screenshot of a tweet by @nishant_india. After gaining over 54,000 likes, the post was deleted.
The viral image has been shared with various captions. However, the Hindi caption written by Twitter user @nishant_india and Gagan Ajmani is the most widely used message on both Twitter and Facebook. It sarcastically says, “Nation’s poor farmer’s affordable jeep.” (Translated from देश के गरीब किसान की सस्ती जीप)
Modified car drives misinformation on social media
On December 22, Twitter user @iPardeepDhiman had posted the viral image. He shared the Instagram profile of the owner of the car Manpreet Singh with Alt News. Singh had posted the viral image on December 19.
We looked up the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways portal Vahan to find the RTO details of the car. The vehicle in question is SUV Gurkha by Force Motors. According to Force Gurkha website, the car’s version is 2.6/4×2 which has two models that cost between Rs 9.75 to Rs 10 lakhs.
In 2017, CNN News18 reported that Color Glo Kerala, a car modifier, revamped Force Gurkha to look like a Mercedes G Wagen. As per CNN, the cost of modification was Rs 8.5 lakhs at the time.
Alt News spoke with Manpreet Singh, a resident of Anandpur. He is an entrepreneur and his family members are farmers. “I have been visiting the morcha to demonstrate my solidarity with the farmers since December 5. People from all walks of life are present at the border to support the farmers. The car in the viral image is mine. It is a replica of the Mercedes-Benz G Wagon. I have nothing to hide. I’m a regular taxpayer. It’s quite disheartening to see how my car’s photo is being used to discredit the farmers’ protest. The online attacks based on the viral image have not impacted my spirit to support the farmers’ protests.”
Thus, an image of modified Force Motors’ Gurkha surrounded by Sikh men during farmers’ protest was used to portray that the protesters are ‘rich’ thus the movement is not legitimate. Several attempts have been made in the past as well to show that protestors at Singhu border are not poor. The narrative that only the poor are capable of protests is a common tactic used to discredit any citizen movement. Recently, right-wing website OpIndia published an elaborate piece on how one of the protesters is a model and filmmaker who has pictures with luxury cars and has also travelled abroad. The man is indeed a filmmaker who’s been camping at Singhu border in solidarity with farmers. In several interviews, he said that he’s also taking aerial footage of the agitation.