Rahul Gandhi dumbfounded in Dubai by little girl’s questions” reads the headline of a story on the ‘My Nation’ portal. The article claims that during Rahul Gandhi’s recent visit to Dubai, a 14-year old girl asked him two questions that stumped him. According to the article, the questions embarrassed the Congress President who “dismissed it with a smile” and the live telecast was cut by Congress. The write-up says that the first question she asked “was on how Rahul Gandhi, who speaks about how caste distinction is rampant, embraced Hinduism while applying ashes on his forehead in Gujarat and wore the kufis (traditional cap that Muslims wear) while visiting Kashmir.”, whereas the second question asked to the Congress president was, “Congress prides itself for having ruled India for several decades. The welfare and development that were not achieved then, will be done now?

The article by My Nation has no accompanying video to back its claim. Quite predictably, the article was soon found circulating on social media. Notable among those who shared it was additional RBI director, Gurumurthy who has a penchant for falling for hoaxes.

The fake news website Postcard News was also at the forefront sharing the news. The Postcard News article titled, “Deadly Dubai” made the same claim of the broadcast being stopped because Rahul Gandhi could not answer a 14-year old girl.

Three year old image

Alt News found that the claim originated from a Tamil website and was picked up by My Nation followed by Postcard News and Rightlog. A picture of a young girl was circulated in all the articles and in social media posts.

Using reverse image search, Alt News found that the picture of the girl was taken from a 3 year old Youtube video titled, “SAVE GIRL CHILD Powerful Speech by SIDDHI BAGWE”. According to the description, this video was shot at St. Joseph’s High School in Vikhroli, a suburb of Mumbai.

What is the truth?

The My Nation article stated that at a convention, Rahul Gandhi “addressed the crowd and was all set to take on questions from the public. A 14-year old lifted her hand….“. Alt News found that Rahul Gandhi addressed one public event at a stadium and two other events in which he spoke to university students in one and the workers at the Labour camp in another one. In the event at the stadium, he made a speech and took no questions while in his interaction with university students, he first took questions from the students and then addressed them briefly towards the end of the event. In his interaction at the labour camp, he addressed the audience and then heard grievances of the people attending the meeting.

His interaction with the Indian diaspora at the stadium was broadcast live and is also available on video. In this interaction, Rahul Gandhi doesn’t take any questions from the audience, and walks away at the end of his speech. The only evidence of interaction with the audience is when he refers to a woman from Andhra Pradesh, who might have been in the audience, and promises to give special status to Andhra Pradesh if Congress is voted to power.

The second interaction that Rahul Gandhi had was with university students at IMT Dubai University. During this interaction, Rahul Gandhi took questions from the students, and addressed the students briefly. The whole event was broadcasted live, without any interruption, and the questions from the 14-year-old girl as claimed in the My Nation article did not feature in this session.

The third interaction at the Labour camp did not feature any questions from any 14-year-old girl either.

All the events were covered extensively by the media, however, there was neither a video of the 14 year old girl asking questions nor any mention of it in any credible media publication. Even though in the absence of a supporting video, the claim would seem to be prima facie false, Alt News decided to investigate it further.

Alt News spoke to two journalists who covered Rahul Gandhi’s Dubai trip and were present at all his public interactions. Elvis Chummar, who heads Jai Hind Middle East was one such journalist. He told us that this is “100% fake news”. Raju Mathew from Manorama also denied that any such question was raised.

Later, ‘My Nation’ updated the story to add a new sentence – “During a private event where Rahul Gandhi interacted with children…”. The backup of the older version of the story can be found here. However there was no such event that included interaction with children in Rahul Gandhi’s itinerary. There were only three interactions – with workers in a labour camp, with University students and the public event at the cricket stadium.

The misleading claim continues to be viral on social media with many pro BJP handles sharing it with an identical narrative, with the editor of My Nation, Abhijit Majumder himself tweeting the claim. Others who tweeted this claim include Ashutosh Muglikar who’s a contributor to OpIndia and Gaurav Pradhan who we have shown has put out misinformation multiple times in the past.

We have seen in the past several instances of political propaganda when cropped or doctored videos are shared to push a false narrative. It is surprising that this time even in the absence of a supporting video, a large number of social media handles including a RBI director, are willing to believe and share a news that is outright fake.

Update (14/01/2019):

After the Alt News article was published, Abhijit Majumder, editor of My Nation, tweeted that their article had been updated with a statement from Arathi Krishna, who is the Secretary of Indian Overseas Congress, suggesting that the questions were asked and that Rahul Gandhi responded to them. However, Arathi Krishna, refuted this claim via a tweet from her Twitter account and stated that she had been misquoted and that no such questions were asked.

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