BJP Punjab recently used a photograph of a ‘happy farmer’ on an advertisement for farm laws. But the person whose image was picked up wasn’t happy about the feature.

Harpreet Singh or more commonly known by his social media name ‘Harp Farmer’ put out a post writing that the BJP “shamelessly” used his photograph while he is at Singhu border protesting in solidarity with farmers.

The centre’s three farm laws passed through a voice vote in the parliament have sparked massive protests in the national capital. As damage control, the ruling party is attempting to portray that lakhs of farmers are being misled by the opposition and the legislation is beneficial for the community. Earlier this month, a report by Newslaundry revealed that the Narendra Modi government handed contacts of farmers who have purportedly benefited from the farm laws to several mainstream journalists.

Now the party chose a poster boy for the farm laws who is protesting against the legislation. But this isn’t a new strategy. After Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special status, the BJP lifted a picture of a tourist from a personal blog to show a ‘happy’ Kashmiri woman. The woman was merely a tourist who dressed up in traditional Kashmiri attire to take a photograph.

Harpreet Singh’s image has now been replaced with a caricature of a ‘happy’ farmer.

यह तस्वीर सांकेतिक है, सिर्फ़ सरकार द्वारा MSP पर खरीदी गई फसलों का लेखा जोखा दर्शाती है।
इस खरीफ सीजन MSP पर जारी है…

Posted by BJP Punjab on Tuesday, 22 December 2020

OpIndia’s failed attempt to defend the BJP

Singh’s objection to the BJP’s misrepresentation of his picture did not sit well with right-wing website OpIndia. The outlet published a disgruntled piece attempting to argue that Singh should not have ‘taken offence’ because there are chances that the photograph in question is stock imagery. “So in case the BJP used the stock image, if the same is sold by Harp Farmer, then, well, he is quite likely getting compensated for usage of his image,” wrote OpIndia (in a grammatically uncomfortable sentence with a generous number of commas).

The rest of OpIndia’s story is just pictures of Singh lifted from his social media accounts. The featured image of the article is Singh seated on a model of the throne from the popular British series ‘Game of Thrones’. The article has also included pictures of him posing at different locations. “OpIndia cannot independently verify whether these are his own images with own vehicles or modelling assignment,” is an actual sentence from the article.

It seems that the point OpIndia was trying to make is that Singh is falsely posing as a farmer. The outlet has been using this as a tactic to discredit the protestors by questioning if they are indeed farmers. In an earlier report, OpIndia falsely termed farmer leader VM Singh a member of the Congress party.

“Harp Farmer on wanderlust” is one of the captions used by the outlet for a photograph of Singh posing in front of a car.

The article, however, has an anti-climatic finish where OpIndia (unknowingly) explains Singh’s travel photographs. “In his own words, 36-year-old Harp Farmer is an actor, director, producer and a photographer who also has his own music label and production company.”

Singh’s Twitter bio is along similar lines, “Born Farmer, Lost in Film Fair.” In an interview to BBC, he identified as a freelance filmmaker who directs and also acts in Punjabi movies. “I’ve been here [Singhu border] for the past two weeks. I have done photography here. I took some footage for my friends who wanted to see how the movement is going and how large it is. Most people are shooting [videos] from the ground, I’ve taken aerial footage,” he said.

OpIndia’s story is based on the argument that Singh should not take offence because he ‘could be’ getting paid for the picture. But Singh explains that the photograph isn’t a stock image. At 1:15 minutes in the BBC interview, he says, “This photo is 6-7 years old. A friend had taken it for abstract art…The picture was good so I uploaded it on my social media handle. They [BJP] picked it up from there. They wanted to show a ‘happy’ farmer. First, they wanted to portray Punjab farmers as Khalistanis and terrorists which has failed. So now their propaganda is to show [farmers] happy.”

“I have an objection because they chose my picture without permission. I did not even know,” he added.

When asked by the reporter if the photograph has been used by others in the past, Singh said, “It has been used by other companies also. A few days ago, a pump company from Punjab used the image. My friend informed me. During elections, Captain [Amarinder Singh]…Congress party used the image on their social media…I don’t know how everyone finds and likes this particular image.”

It becomes evident from Singh’s statement that the photograph was not lifted from a stock image website but his social media account. And it seems that the BJP too realised that the picture was misrepresented since it has now been replaced. Singh also tweeted that he does not sell his photographs as stock imagery.

About the Author

Pooja Chaudhuri is a senior editor at Alt News.