According to the internet, Anil Upadhyay is an elected official from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Other posts claim he’s an opposition politician who happens to like Modi, while others say he’s a fierce critic of the government. He’s also said to have committed electoral fraud, tortured people and been cruel to animals. The France 24 Observers team wanted to find out who this mysterious politician with so many faces really is… and we were surprised by the result of our quest.
The most recent online appearance of the man said to be Anil Upadhyay was in a video posted on WhatsApp and Facebook in early January. The footage shows Anil Upadhyay, who is said to be an elected official from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party, criticising politicians from his own camp during a speech against a controversial reform of citizenship laws.
This video was posted along with a caption that reads: “BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Anil Upadhyay. What is Modi going to say about this speech?”
India has been thrown into chaos since the adoption of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019, with many taking to the streets to protest the bill that they see as discriminatory. The CAA would allow refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who are Hindu or Christian, for example, to acquire Indian nationality, but excludes Muslims.
But the man in this video isn’t Anil Upadhyay… because, turns out, Anil Upadhyay doesn’t exist. More on that later. But Indian fact-checking website BOOM ran this particular footage through a reverse image search (click here to find out how) and discovered that the video showed a politician named Faruk Ahmed, from a local party called the VBA, giving a speech on December 20 in Maharashtra state.
"In these videos, everyone is named Anil Upadhyay!"
This video is not the first purporting to show Anil Upadhyay, who is apparently an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). An MLA is a representative elected directly to the state legislature in one of India’s 29 states. India is the world’s largest democracy.
The journalists who work for BOOM are fairly used to seeing this imaginary politician pop up all over social media and have written dozens of articles about him. Journalist Nivedita Niranjankunmar first came across Anil Upadhyay in April 2019, in the height of the legislative elections:
We were looking into a viral video showing a group of people armed with batons beating up a young man in the middle of the street. Online, people were saying that the video showed a policitian from the BJP beating up a dalit who was seen driving a luxury car [Editor’s note: Also known as an “untouchables”, dalits are the people who fall lowest on India’s caste system and are considered inferior. They often work jobs considered by others to be impure.]
The caption read, “What will Prime Minister Modi say about these blows by BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly Anil Upadhyay ?”. Many people shared this video, including a member of parliament from the opposition [Editor’s note: MLAs, like Anil Upadhyay is supposed to be, represent Indians at the state level. MPs are part of the national government].
This video was shared along with the caption: “What will Prime Minister Modi say about these blows by BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly Anil Upadhyay?”
Thanks to a reverse image search, we were able to establish what this video actually shows. It was filmed back in 2017 and shows a father beating up his son-in-law after the son-in-law beat up his daughter. The incident was widely reported in the media at the time.
Local TV channel VTV Gujarati broadcast a report about the video back when it was filmed in 2017 and explained that it showed a violent family dispute.
Back then, we were happy to verify the video and we didn’t really pay attention to the name of the BJP politician that people had wrongly associated with the video. But we started seeing the name pop up more and more in fake videos that were circulating during the elections.
We saw quite a few different videos circulating online that highlighted poor behaviour from MLAs representing states all over India. Sometimes these politicians were from the BJP, other times they were from the main opposition party, the Congress Party… but all of them were named Anil Upadhyay!
Violence, fraud and singing Modi’s praises
In one video circulating online, Anil Upadhyay was said to be a member of the Congress Party attacking a police officer in the state of Uttar Pradesh. In reality, the video showed a BJP politician named Manish Kumar. Another video circulating online allegedly showed Anil Upadhyay accompanying a woman into a voting booth in Bengal state and tampering with her vote. In some versions, he was from the BJP. In other versions, he was from the Congress Party. In reality, the man in the video is named Hamizuddin and he isn’t a member of either party. He was already subject to a complaint for violation of the electoral code.
Back in April, a television channel said to have close links with the BJP party shared a video of a man praising Modi. The video named the man as “Anil Upadhyay, elected to the Legislative Assembly” who was said to be a member of the opposition Congress Party but who was singing Modi’s praises anyway.
This report, broadcast on national television channel Republic TV, claims to show "Anil Upadhyay, an elected member of the Legislative Assembly”
In reality, this video has been circulating online for a while-- but suddenly, people were sharing it with a caption that said the man was named Anil Upadhyay and that he was an elected official from Uttar Pradesh. But I found the man who actually appears in the video. His name is Mohan Chandra Pandey and he said he didn’t belong to any party, he was just a "big fan of Modi".
"Add in someone’s name and suddenly your fake video seems more credible!"
Even after the legislative elections in May, videos allegedly featuring Anil Upadhyay kept popping up. In September, people started sharing a gruesome video showing a man torturing, beating and sexually assaulting another man who was suspended from the ceiling. People said it was Anil Upadhyay again, even though, in reality, it was the owner of a transport company who horrifically abused one of his drivers as a punishment for allegedly misusing funds. In November, Anil Upadhyay was accused of killing a doe in a paddock when, in reality, the culprit was a Bangladeshi farmer.
Journalist Niranjankunmar tried to see if an Anil Upadhyay actually existed:
I scoured public lists of all of the members of all of the Legislative Assemblies in every state in India who belonged either to the BJP or the Congress Party. I didn’t find anyone named Anil Upadhyay. There are two mentions of someone named “Anil Upadhyay” in the Myneta database, which has information about the finances and criminal records of electoral candidates [Editor’s note: Myneta is run by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which fights against corruption]. However, neither of these men are members of the Legislative Assembly and neither were candidates in recent elections.
There is no mention of an elected official by that name in the Indian press. There are no politicians who’ve been active in recent years named Anil Upadhyay! People are probably using it because it helps a video go viral-- add in someone’s name, especially a politician’s name, and suddenly your fake video seems more credible!
Where did Anil Upadhyay come from?
The origins of this made-up politician remain foggy. However, the France 24 Observers were able to dig up a reference to him from a few years back-- the earliest mention we’ve seen yet. Back in August 2018, millions of people watched a video showing a man ranting about Hindus who took part in beef exports [Editor’s note: Cows are sacred animals to Hindus]. “What would Modi say about this statement made by Member of the Legislative Assembly Anil Upadhyay?” read the caption.
However, this video has been doctored. The France 24 Observers found the original video, which features the Congress Party logo and pictures of its leaders. In the version shared widely, those images have been replaced with photos of Narendra Modi and the BJP logo. The man in the video isn’t the mysterious Anil Upadhyay-- he’s actually an actor named Satyajit who features in movies made in Kannada [a language spoken in southern India] and regularly shares his political opinions in similar videos.
Article by Pierre Hamdi (@PierreHamdi)