Hindu nationalists push conspiracy theories and misinformation ahead of elections

15 April 2024

By: Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan

India’s upcoming general elections are likely to hand the Hindu nationalist Bharata Janata Party (BJP) a third consecutive term in office. This Dispatch focuses on narratives targeting those perceived as domestic and international threats by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) actors ahead of the beginning of voting in April.

Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, is a political ideology which claims that India is a Hindu nation under threat from outside influences, particularly Islam and Christianity. Although its origins date back to the 1920s, Hindutva has gained much greater prominence globally since 2014, when the closely connected BJP came to power in India.

Experts expect that the BJP will win again at India’s general election, which begins in April and lasts through June. This Dispatch examines some of the key themes in current Hindutva discussions in the context of the seven-week voting process, looking at accounts on X (formerly Twitter). By focusing on ‘reclaiming’ temples from sites where mosques now stand or using the tag “What’s wrong with India?” to accuse opponents of hypocrisy, activists seek to create a ‘new’ India rooted in a ‘pure’ Hindu past.

“40,000 temples”: ‘Reclaiming’ a pre-Muslim past

On 22 January 2024, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the start of a new, “divine” India as he inaugurated the Ram Mandir temple in the northern city of Ayodhya. A 16th-century Mughal dynasty mosque previously stood on the site, which many Hindus believe was the birthplace of Rama, a manifestation of Vishnu— one of the major deities in Hindu mythology. In 1992, the mosque was destroyed in a coordinated effort by Hindu nationalist organisations; in the ensuing riots, 2,000 people were killed.

It also set the stage for the 2002 Godra riots in Gujarat, west India, where Modi was then chief minister. The deaths of Hindu pilgrims returning from a rally for an Ayodhya temple was declared an act of terror by Modi. The riots which unfolded after this led to more than a thousand deaths, the majority of which were Muslims.

For Hindu nationalists, the reclamation of Ayodhya is part of wider effort to undo the history of Mughal rule. The Muslim empire was a dominant power in India from the 16th to 18th centuries, a period viewed as a historic stain by Hindu nationalists. Modern-day Muslims are seen as heirs to a Mughal tradition of Islamic domination, oppression and emasculation.

Other historic mosques are now being contested, including one at Gyanvapi in Varanasi, another major Hindu spiritual site in northern India. In January 2024, the Archaeological Society of India said that this was the site of a Hindu temple. A district court ruled that Hindu worshippers could use a cellar of the mosque to pray at idols.

Thinly-veiled calls for the large-scale destruction of mosques are prominent online, often mentioning an alleged 40,000 temples converted to mosques under Mughal rule. In March 2024, Reclaim Temples, an account dedicated to restoring Hindu temples, told its 120,000 followers on X that there was now a “general consensus” that all of these sites “must be reclaimed”, calling for this to take place within 12 years. A tweet about the Gyanvapi mosque by a pro-Hindutva lawyer with more than 400,000 followers on X also called for the restoration of all temples converted to mosques in the name of “Civilisational Justice”.

The provenance of the 40,000 figure itself is unclear. One of the commonly cited sources, a 1990 book by historian Sita Ram Goel, only mentions around 2,000 verified cases. Other Hindutva accounts cite larger figures or conflate Christian acts of destruction with those of the Mughals.

In the Hindutva imagination, the reclamation of temples will not only heal a historic wound inflicted by colonial overlords— it is also the only way to prevent Muslims from subverting, controlling and ultimately destroying India.

In the Hindutva imagination, the reclaiming of temples will not only heal a historical wound inflicted by colonial overlords but also to prevent the perceived threat of Muslims from subverting, controlling and potentially destroying India. A tweet by Reclaim Temples from October 2023 received over 2,500 likes while warning of “creeping Islamisation”, describing the “solution [as] to first reclaim the temples, the land and the people”. The account has previously linked the reclamation of temples with ghar wapsi (“homecoming”), conversion campaigns to ‘return’ Muslims and Christians to a ‘natural’ state of Hinduism.

Fear of an Islamic fifth column is also evident in common tropes such as love jihad: the belief that Muslims are engaged in large-scale, coordinated efforts to convert Hindu women. A trailer for a 2023 Hindi movie, The Kerala Story, claimed that 32,000 girls from Kerala had been converted and joined Islamic State (IS). The Indian Supreme Court later asked the filmmakers to add a disclaimer that there was “no authentic data” behind the figure but the film was lauded by BJP politicians for allegedly uncovering a ‘hidden truth’. At a speech in May 2023, Modi himself warned of a “new type [of terrorism] which undermines society from within [and] makes no sound”— an apparent reference to a love jihad.

Soros conspiracy theories adopted to attack opponents

George Soros, a hedge fund manager and philanthropist, is one of the modern magnets for conspiracy theories. He has been accused of financing policies ranging from open borders and mass migration to the protests which followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020. These conspiracies often adopt an antisemitic frame centred on shadowy Jewish financial and political power, echoing similar claims around the Rothschilds and other Jewish families.

These international conspiracy theories have been opportunistically adopted by Hindu nationalists to paint movements such as the Sikh separatist Khalistani movement as a conspiracy against India. These narratives largely ignore the white supremacist and antisemitic history; BJP supporters have been among the most fervent defenders of Israel’s military response to Hamas attack on 7 October.

This tactic has continued in the run-up to the election, including with regards to the Citizenship Amendment Act. This controversial law provides a pathway to citizenship for minorities from neighbouring states but excludes Muslims. Claims that Soros was responsible for protests or that a ‘lobby’ of media companies he controls is spreading disinformation to undermine the law have received thousands of likes on X.

Figure 1. Pro-BJP accounts on X promoting conspiracy theories linking George Soros to opposition to the ruling party.

Tweets claiming that Soros is working with the opposition Congress party received more than 37,000 likes in 2024. Narratives include claims that Soros wishes India to return to a “colonial mindset”, that he is directly controlling former Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi and that he seeks to damage the economy by criticising businessman Gautam Adani, a Modi ally who is also the owner of a sprawling business empire and one of India’s richest men.

Promoting these conspiracy theories impacts legitimate criticism of the BJP, its politics and those linked to it. While Soros himself is unlikely to be directly affected, there is a risk of chilling open discussion in India ahead of the election. They also play into a broader idea that any criticism of Modi, the BJP and businesses which support it, is “anti-national” and designed to undermine India. Some of those tarred as such, including journalists, have had their Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards revoked, effectively prohibiting them from entering India.

“What’s wrong with India?”: Counter-trolling on X

Hindu nationalist accounts have also sought to portray criticism of India as simultaneously hypocritical and part of a global conspiracy to undermine the country. Evidence of this comes from a campaign using the words ‘What’s wrong with India?’ which began on X on 11 March 2024, a week after a highly successful tweet by a white nationalist, cryptocurrency promoter linked India to bestiality. The tweet in question received 295,000 likes, significantly higher than normal engagement for the account.

Similar language was used following the alleged gang-rape of a Spanish tourist and the assault of her husband in India. A meme montage, showing the victim travelling safely through Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan contrasting her bruised face in India, was shared by self-identified Muslim accounts.

From 11 March, smaller pro-BJP accounts adopted the tagline. In contrast with the original context, the images attached to these posts featured acts including violence, misogyny and public defecation from other countries, suggesting hypocrisy from those criticising India.

The first major focus of these posts was Islam, with most posts focused on misogyny and sexual violence against women in Muslim countries and the West. A tweet featuring “Muslim child groomers in UK” received almost 10,000 likes, while a tweet about Turkish soldiers raping an Afghan woman gained 15,000. At least one post hinted at conspiratorial thinking, suggesting that India was being attacked because it had resisted conversion to Islam. This post received 29,000 likes and was among the highest engagement for any post in the campaign.

Figure 2, 3 and 4. Posts from the campaign criticising Islam. The final post pushes a conspiracy theory that the campaign is targeting India because it has not become a Muslim-majority country.

Figure 2, 3 and 4. Posts from the campaign criticising Islam. The final post pushes a conspiracy theory that the campaign is targeting India because it has not become a Muslim-majority country.

Figure 2, 3 and 4. Posts from the campaign criticising Islam. The final post pushes a conspiracy theory that the campaign is targeting India because it has not become a Muslim-majority country.

The other major target for this campaign was the US. Many of the comments focused on drug usage, homelessness (especially on public transport), police brutality and gun-related fatalities. At least two posts featured shock videos of an apparent shooting.

Several accounts also extolled the virtues of India, among them the official account for MyGovIndia, a portal for citizens to engage with the government. Its pinned tweet from 12 March featured the words “What’s wrong with India?” and a list of the country’s accomplishments. It received 48,000 likes, substantially higher than its normal level of engagement and the biggest single tweet in the campaign. A similar post from the Israeli Embassy in India, featuring diplomats praising India’s food and tourist hotspots, received 22,000 likes. It is unclear whether the high level of engagement reflects government or pro-BJP groups explicitly directing the campaign.

Figure 5. The pinned post from MyGovIndia, an official government account, as part of the campaign.

The “What’s wrong with India?” campaign is notable for several reasons. Firstly, it shows the ability for pro-BJP accounts to effectively control and subvert critical narratives on platforms such as X. Further evidence of this comes from the successful co-option of the racial slur “pajeet”, a pejorative term for Indians common in reactionary spaces such as Chan image boards. Searches for the term during the campaign primarily surfaced messages from self-identified Indian accounts critical of the US or Islam.

Figure 6 and 7. Posts by Indian accounts using the pajeet slur ironically.

Figure 6 and 7. Posts by Indian accounts using the pajeet slur ironically.

The campaign also points to a sense of paranoia inherent to the Hindu nationalist project. Several posts referencing the tag claimed that workers at X or its owner Elon Musk were responsible for anti-Indian and anti-Hindu sentiment on the platform, with some speculation that this was linked to Tesla, Musk’s electric vehicle company, doing business in China. In most cases, users blamed an “algorithm” for the negative sentiment and suggested it had been timed to change public opinion ahead of elections. Tweets and memes which mentioned this uniformly agreed that Musk/X had been ‘defeated’ by Hindutva posting.

Figure 8. Posts by X accounts promoting conspiracy theories that Elon Musk was behind a campaign to humiliate India.


Figure 9. Posts by X accounts promoting conspiracy theories that Elon Musk was behind a campaign to humiliate India.

Finally, as with conspiracy theories about George Soros, the campaign has a potentially detrimental effect on discussions around India’s politics by reducing all criticism to an effort to undermine the republic. Refusing to deal with any criticism of India or treating it as a conspiracy denies major social issues including gender-based violence; it also allows Hindutva accounts to reinforce harmful stereotypes of Muslims which play into ideas such as love jihad.


Hindutva ideology is not static; it develops in reaction to global affairs and in reaction to India’s growing geopolitical significance. A combination of long-held beliefs that Western powers look down on Indians and that Muslims are planning to destroy the country have been heightened by events including 7 October and European criticism of India buying Russian oil.

With the BJP likely to continue to hold power, the narrative that India is on the verge of a breakthrough into a new, divine form is deeply concerning. Allegations that Indian agents were involved in international assassination plots hint at an increasingly muscular foreign policy, a domestic policy which repudiates a pluralist past, and a belief that India’s growing geopolitical significance outweighs criticism from even apparent allies.