Several media outlets recently reported that the deputy leader of the Nobel Prize committee, Asle Toje, who is in India at present, had called Prime Minister Modi the ‘biggest contender for the Nobel Peace Prize’ and the ‘most reliable face of peace’ in the world. Some went on to say that he was likely to win the prize.

In a now-deleted tweet, The Times of India wrote, “‘#PMModi big contender for Nobel Peace Prize,’ says Nobel committee deputy leader #AsleToje'”. (Archive)

Economic Times made the same claim in multiple tweets, all of which have been deleted since. In one of the tweets, ET stated that Asle Toje had praised Narendra Modi by saying that Modi “is the most reliable face of peace in the world”. (Archives here and here)

In their reportage, a Times Now anchor quoted Toje as saying that PM Modi “is the biggest contender for the Nobel Peace Prize” ahead of the 2024 elections and that he was the most reliable face of peace in the world. They further quoted him as saying that PM Modi was the most trusted leader for stopping war and “only he can establish peace”.

Other media outlets like Mint, Oneindia Hindi, Mid Day, CNBC-TV 18, Dailyhunt, Zee Punjab, ABP Majha TV, Loksatta Live, Asianet Suvarna News, News7 Tamil, OTV and NTV Telugu also tweeted the same claim.

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Right Wing propaganda outlet OpIndia and RSS-run Panchjanya also tweeted the same claim. OpIndia reported the news in English and Hindi.

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Editor-in-chief of Times Now Rahul Shivshankar went a mile extra and claimed that Toje called himself a ‘big Modi fan’ and apparently said that Modi was the ‘most credible face of peace in the world today’. He also deleted the tweet later. (Archive)

Twitter Handle @MeghUpdates, a Twitter Blue subscriber who shares misinformation frequently, made the same claim and garnered over 30,000 likes and close to 6,000 retweets.

BJP leader Ram Madhav tweeted (and later deleted) a Times Now article titled ‘PM Modi biggest contender for Nobel Peace Prize, says Dy Leader Asle Toje’. (Archive)

Pradipsinh Jadeja of BJP Gujarat tweeted the same claim and said that it was a proud moment for India. State Secretary of BJP Chandigarh, Tajinder Singh Sran, and former president of BJP Delhi, Adesh Gupta, made the same claim as well.

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Fact Check

On March 16, journalist Rana Ayyub tweeted a clip of an interview of Asle Toje with ANI wherein he says that a statement falsely attributed to him is being shared in the media. He can be heard saying that a ‘fake news’ tweet was sent out about him and urged users to not discuss it or ‘give it energy or oxygen’. He then categorically denied saying anything resembling what was said in the tweet. “A fake news tweet was sent out and I think we should all treat it as fake news. It’s fake,” were his exact words.

However, one should note that it is not clear what exactly Toje was denying since the question that was asked to him was not in the video and ANI did not publish the video on their Twitter timeline either. We reached out to a source at a news channel that has access to ANI feed, who shared a screenshot of the context in which the clip of Toje’s interview was being circulated. According to the subsequent text, Toje was commenting on the claims of PM Narendra Modi being the biggest contender for Nobel Peace Prize.

On March 14, senior editor (political affairs) for ABP News Abhishek Upadhyay tweeted four screengrabs of an ABP interview with Asle Toje. In his tweet, he asked, “क्या नोबेल पीस प्राइज के मज़बूत दावेदार हो चुके हैं मोदी?” (Translation: Has Modi become a strong contender for the Nobel Peace Prize?). This is the earliest mention of Modi being a possible contender for the Nobel Peace Prize that Alt News could find. It is possible that this tweet was picked up by other news outlets and misinterpreted to be a direct quote by Toje. (Archive)

Toje’s interview with ABP is available on its official YouTube channel. However, we couldn’t find a single occasion in the full interview where Toje made the point that Modi was a strong contender for the Nobel Peace Prize, despite constant prodding by the reporter.

At 3:45 of the interview, the interviewer asks Toje if PM Modi is capable of stopping the Russia-Ukraine war by leadership. Toje replies, “Well, you’re asking whether he is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. I have the same answer for everybody: I hope that every leader of every nation will be inspired to do the work that is necessary to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I hope that for Modi. Obviously, I am following his efforts; we all are. I really hope that his initiatives will come to fruition”.

At 5:06, the reporter again asks, “As you are the deputy leader of the Nobel committee which is looking for a potential candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, I am asking you if Prime Minister Modi can bring an end to the Russia-Ukraine war”. Toje replies, “It will not be my place to put a challenge for the Prime Minister of India. I want every leader in the world to work for peace and powerful leaders like Modi have much more chance and ability to do so. I am happy to see that he is devoting his time not only further the cause of India and to grow the strength to grow the Indian economy, but he also spends time on issues that are not so close to home but which are of interest to the global community and peace in the world.”

We viewed the YouTube live stream of the ADM & Peace roundtable held on March 14, where Toje was invited as a guest. During his speech, he spoke highly about India’s stance in global politics. “Coming here to India is a learning experience for me. I come to India to learn, to learn about the peace traditions of this country and to learn about the energy that predetermines a country on the rise. India is on the move. India is a country that is becoming increasingly important in world politics and is a country that now must decide what sort of great power does it want to be. Does it want to be a superpower to will India look into its history, into its own doctrines and draw from the lessons of your religion, of your culture, and give a great gift to the world….This is my hope”.

However, he made no mention of Modi as a potential contender for the Nobel Peace Prize, during his speech or during the Q&A session.

Nobel Committee’s 50 years secrecy rule

According to the rules of Nomination and Selection of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates as listed on the official website, the names of the nominees and other information about the nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years later.

A section titled ‘50 year secrecy rule‘ states that the Committee does not itself announce the names of nominees, neither to the media nor to the candidates themselves. In so far as certain names crop up in the advance speculations as to who will be awarded any given year’s prize, this is either sheer guesswork or information put out by the person or persons behind the nomination. Information in the Nobel Committee’s nomination database is not made public until after fifty years.

In a video tweeted by the official handle of the Nobel Prize in 2022, Toje explained the nomination and selection process. While commenting on the difficulty of keeping the awards a secret, Toje states that it is necessary to have a strong degree of confidence among committee members which is based on being able to keep secrets. Toje continually stresses the need for secrecy during the selection process. He says, “In order to maintain the secrecy and the confidence within the committee, we tend to be quite restrictive about informing what goes on inside the chamber”.

He further informed the viewers that the Nobel Laureates only get an hour’s notice informing them about their win, before the official announcements.

Hence, it is amply clear that being a member of the Nobel committee, Toje cannot publicly name the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize, nor can he speculate on their chances at winning.

To sum up, the deputy leader of the Nobel Prize Committee Asle Toje did not say that Prime Minister Modi was a top contender for the Nobel Peace Prize. Toje was grossly misquoted by media outlets, most of which later backtracked and deleted their tweets. However, this was not before the false piece of news went viral.

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About the Author

Student of Economics at Presidency University. Interested in misinformation.