A video of an Indian flag raised prior to rioting by Donald Trump supporters at Capitol Hill sparked controversy in India after several mainstream media channels claimed that the man who waved the flag is a supporter of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
“I will show you how Shashi Tharoor fell in his own trap,” India TV chairman Rajat Sharma told his viewers in a January 8 broadcast. Sharma was referring to Tharoor’s tweet saying, “There are some Indians with the same mentality as that Trumpist mob, who enjoy using the flag as a weapon rather than a badge of pride…”.
— India TV (@indiatvnews) January 8, 2021
While the BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not find a mention in Tharoor’s statement, Sharma ironically said, “The person whose act was used to condemn Narendra Modi is a supporter of Shashi Tharoor. The man who raised the tricolour during the attack on the American Parliament is Vincent Xavier Palathingal…He is full of praises for Shashi Tharoor. He is seen having lunch with Shashi Tharoor in this picture from April 11, 2015. Our team dug out the entire biodata of Vincent…”
Several other mainstream news channels claimed that that the man who raised the Indian flag isn’t a ‘bhakt’ but a supporter of the Congress MP. “The Left-Liberal cabal in India had linked Xavier to ‘Hindu-Bhakt’ groups with Tharoor saying there are some Indians with the same mentality as that Trumpist mob,” wrote Times Now.
The Times of India published a fact-check report with uncanny choice of words, “One of the men who waved Indian flag at the Capitol Hill siege by pro-Trump mob on Wednesday, has been passed off as ‘bhakt’ (a pejorative term used by anti-Hindus to describe Hindus and those who support Prime Minister Narendra Modi) by a section of social media users.” The term “anti-Hindus” has now been removed.
The ‘fact-check’ ironically referred to a tweet by @BefittingFacts as an “alert Twitter user”. This handle regularly shares misinformation and has been featured in several Alt News stories.
Here is the one trump supporter who was carrying Indian Flag at pro trump protest in Capitol. pic.twitter.com/GMY20wA7Og
— Via Getty (@BefittingFacts) January 7, 2021
Journalist Ashish Singh and Vikas Saraswat too tweeted about the purported association of Xavier and Tharoor. NDTV published a story listing tweets questioning Tharoor however the organisation did not attempt to investigate details apart from those widespread on social media.
Pro-BJP propaganda website OpIndia was also quick to jump on the bandwagon.
Unfortunately for liberals, the person carrying the Indian Flag was neither a ‘Hindu Supremacist’ nor a supporter of Narendra Modi. He was Vincent Xavier and he is a huge fan of senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. Welphttps://t.co/H4XnRds1kO
— OpIndia.com (@OpIndia_com) January 9, 2021
Pre-mature, misleading reports
Media organisations that reported on Vincent Xavier’s purported ‘support’ to Shashi Tharoor based their inference on his social media posts. While the man has criticised several policies of PM Modi, he was also found appreciating the Prime Minister at times.
Vincent Xavier is a member of the Republican Party in Virginia. In an interview to India Today, he said, “I have no real close relationship for that matter with any politician in India. I have been living in this country [US] for 28 years. I have always been interested in American community activities. So whenever political leaders come, I have done many events for them in my house. I had celebrated an event with Shashi Tharoor, did an interview with him. That’s the photo you’re seeing. I don’t know if he even remembers me.”
“I am not really a Congress politician or whatever. I am a supporter of whoever [is] a good leader in India. I own a very market-oriented capitalist philosophy so I am not really a big fan of whatever the socialists do. So associating me with Shashi Tharoor as a close guy by Varun Gandhi is unfortunate. As far as I am concerned, when it comes to the policies of the government, I like the policies of the BJP government because they are more business-friendly. Even though I have disagreed with some of their ideals. So I am politically speaking, ideologically speaking, more connected with the BJP than Congress. I have no close association with Shashi Tharoor,” he further said. This part of his speech can be watched around 4:30 minutes in the broadcast below.
BJP’s Varun Gandhi has accused Congress’s Shashi Tharoor of having links with @VincentPXavier, the man who raised the Indian flag at the US #CapitolHill riots. Xavier speaks to India Today’s @nabilajamal_ on the intention behind the act. Listen in. #ITVideo pic.twitter.com/Q1KW20iswV
— IndiaToday (@IndiaToday) January 8, 2021
Apart from Shashi Tharoor, Xavier also has a picture with BJP MPs Poonam Mahajan and Meenakshi Lekhi.
In a September 2018 Facebook post, Xavier described how he was connected to the RSS in his childhood.
Wow… It was “Mudras” at the exit door of arrivals in the morning and now “Soorya Namaskar” at the entry to the…
Was Vincent Xavier the only person holding the Indian flag?
While the focus of most stories was Vincent Xavier, there were other people in the group raising the Indian flag. Among them was Virat Hindustan Sangam (VHS) member Krishna Gudipati who is associated with the Republican Party. This was first revealed by Twitter user @drunkjournalist. He is the man in the red jacket in the video below which was shared by Xavier and later taken down.
Gudipati was spotted in several pictures with Xavier at Capitol Hill. These pictures too were shared by Xavier and later deleted.
He was seen spotted in the same red jacket in a 2018 interview to ANI. His now-deleted LinkedIn profile picture matches his facial features in another interview given to ANI in 2017 about the ‘Howdy Modi’ event.
— Ahmar Mustikhan (@mustikhan) June 25, 2017
He was seen in a picture uploaded by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2018.
Mainstream media outlets, therefore, attempted to brand the group raising the Indian flag during rioting by pro-Trump supporters at Capitol Hill as Congress supporters. However, both Vincent Xavier and Krishna Gudipati are pro-Trump and politically inclined towards the BJP.