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Christophe Jaffrelot, Soros, HLF, and a nexus of anti-India groups: DisInfo Lab report exposes unprecedented foreign interference in 2024 Indian elections

The recently concluded national elections in India saw extensive foreign interference through an array of dubious organisations funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, suspicious individuals such as Christophe Jaffrelot and many others who published propaganda articles that could be construed as a direct attempt at meddling in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The recently concluded 2024 Lok Sabha elections in India saw unprecedented foreign interference aimed at regime change, a detailed new report by DisInfo Lab revealed, providing a lowdown on dubious entities and individuals who made strenuous efforts in their attempt to topple the incumbent Modi government.

From global manipulator George Soros and organisations linked to him to Western media press that runs sponsored pieces against the Modi government to Henry Luce Foundation that made donations to several anti-India groups and individuals, the DisInfo Lab uncovered disparate yet finely-tuned and highly coordinated attempt at interfering in the Indian elections and shaping public opinion to undermine the popular support enjoyed by the Modi government.

Approximately 968 million eligible voters out of India’s 1.4 billion population had the chance to exercise their democratic rights and choose their future government, according to data from the ECI website. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was seeking its third consecutive term, while the opposition INDI Alliance aimed to bring about change in the world’s largest democracy.

Regrettably, while millions of Indians were determining their future, a segment of the global media and academia was allegedly attempting to influence their decisions through a coordinated and well-funded campaign. This influence campaign extended beyond Western media, with many Indian intermediaries playing a key role and being highly adaptable. The Western media’s coverage of Indian elections, with relentless scrutiny of everything from institutions to climate issues (one outlet criticized the ECI for holding elections during a hot summer month), warrants detailed analysis. Much of this coverage seemed far from organic, with an extraordinary number of articles, Op-Eds, and research papers focusing on the Indian elections in the last six months.

Amid the vast number of articles published or “commissioned” on Indian elections—many by institutions with a particular interest in India—one striking pattern emerged. South Asians are familiar with the Western media’s lingering colonial bias and supremacist undertones. However, the commentary on this Indian election had a notably distinct tone. Although the usual suspects like the BBC, Washington Post, and New York Times have long been known for their biased coverage of India, this election saw a more coordinated effort with new entrants.

A detailed analysis of global reports on the Indian elections revealed an unusual pattern of media coverage aimed at shaping a specific narrative and influencing voter opinion. Surprisingly, much of this influence came from the French media, including the influential and widely-read newspaper, Le Monde.

The most notable pattern was that these Op-Eds, articles, and papers were either authored by or based on interviews with one French political scientist and researcher, Christophe Jaffrelot. He emerged as a central figure in this research. Further analysis revealed that Jaffrelot was also the main source for many articles from other Western and Indian media platforms, particularly those focusing on the Indian elections.

However, he was not the only participant. Examining events and activities outside India leading up to and during the elections revealed a key pattern that connected all these events, individuals, and narratives—common funding.

The investigation tracks a discernible pattern with interconnected fronts directly funded by the Henry Luce Foundation (HLF) and George Soros’s Open Society Foundation (OSF). The groups and individuals mentioned in this report are part of a larger network based in France and the USA, funded by US-based philanthropic entities, to influence the outcome of the Indian elections.

One of the shocking revelations made in the report is about the active involvement of the French media in influencing the Indian elections. Numerous articles have emerged from portals such as Le Soir, La Croix (International), Le Temps, Reporterre, and Radio France Internationale (RFI), aiming to shape a narrative and influence public opinion on the Indian elections. Leading this effort was France’s oldest, most influential, and widely circulated newspaper, Le Monde. Le Monde alone published numerous articles with biased narratives, covering fabricated themes such as the rise of ‘Islamophobia in India’ and the ‘undemocratic nature’ of its political environment, to the ‘stigmatization of Muslims’ and ‘growing authoritarianism’.

Christophe Jaffrelot

This perversion in the French media is driven by none other than Christophe Jaffrelot. A French political scientist and Indologist who specializes in South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan, Jaffrelot holds a PhD from Sciences Po University (1991) and, upon completing his doctorate, joined the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI) at Sciences Po as a social scientist. He currently serves as the Research Director at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS.

Additionally, Christophe has held positions as a Visiting Professor at Columbia University (September 2009-December 2009) and as a Global Scholar at Princeton University (July 2013-July 2016). He is currently the Avantha Chair and Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at the King’s India Institute and the Research Lead for the Global Institutes at King’s College London. In July 2020, he became the President of the French Political Science Association, and in November 2023, he was appointed Chair of the British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS).

Notably, for the numerous articles, Op-Eds, and interviews that shaped narratives and micro-narratives about the Indian elections, the primary source was French political scientist and Indologist Christophe Jaffrelot (CJ). His influence was significant, as he was frequently quoted not only by French media outlets but also by Indian platforms such as The Indian Express and The Wire, where he was recognised as a political commentator and expert on Indian elections.

Christophe Jaffrelot and his protégé Gilles Verniers, through the Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD) at Ashoka University, actively promoted the narrative that ‘lower castes’ were underrepresented in politics, citing the profile of MPs in the 2014 Lok Sabha.

However, the expert pair quickly shifted their stance when the 2019 Lok Sabha saw an increase in representation from lower castes.

Deeper scrutiny into CJ’s ‘academic work’ revealed that mentions of #castecensus reached an all-time high after his caste-based tropes in many Op-Eds authored by him. Jaffrelot authored a paper advocating for the necessity of a caste census in September 2021. Since then, it has been picked up by various ‘intellectuals’, western media houses, far-left Indian rags, and even opposition politicians in the country.

Yet, what was even more surprising was that the discussion on #CasteCensus didn’t appear entirely spontaneous, as evidenced by the posting patterns. There wasn’t a clear catalyst for the discourse, mirroring observations in news media from India to France. It seemed as if an ‘invisible hand’ was at play, DisInfo Lab report concluded.

Henry Luce Foundation and its funding to dubious anti-India organisations

Corresponding with the rise of the caste narrative and his unexpected popularity, Christophe Jaffrelot experienced a parallel development: he received substantial funding from the US-based ‘philanthropic’ organisation Henry Luce Foundation (HLF) during a similar timeframe.

The grant was channelled through the US arm of Sciences Po. Sciences Po operates its foundation in the US, known as the Sciences Po American Foundation, located in New York. This centre serves as the hub for Christophe Jaffrelot’s academic connections in the US. In January 2021, the US Sciences Po Foundation, in collaboration with two other American universities, Princeton University and Columbia University, initiated a research project titled ‘Muslims in a Time of Hindu Majoritarianism’, slated to run for three years (2021-2024). The Sciences Po American Foundation received a sum of USD 385,000 for the project in March 2020. However, the public announcement regarding this funding was made in 2021.

HLF funded organisations that later churned out propaganda reports on India

Since 2020-21, the HLF has awarded six significant grants to organizations for projects related to India, spanning the next three years. It’s crucial to emphasise the timeframe of “the next three years” since Lok Sabha elections were scheduled to take place in India in 2024. These organizations receiving funds from the Henry Luce Foundation (HLF) have raised concerns due to their previous activities, reports, physical events, and the creation of micro-narratives that depict a biased narrative against India. Some of these actions have already been brought to light by Disinfolab in previous reports.

In January 2021, the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs (BCRPWA), located at Georgetown University, received a grant of USD 346,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation. Over three years later and just six months before the general elections, in October 2023, the Berkeley Center for Religion (BCRPWA) and the Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion and Diplomacy (TPNRD) jointly published a report titled ‘THE HINDU RIGHT AND INDIA’S RELIGIOUS DIPLOMACY’.

The report discusses India’s investment in religious diplomacy with a Hindu-centric approach, and it concludes that India’s reputation has diminished in the eyes of Western governments and think tanks. Additionally, the report mentions the Country of Particular Concern (CPC) designation applied to India by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Another organization that has received funding from the Henry Luce Foundation is the Washington DC-based think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). HLF provided funding to CEIP for projects related to India twice, in 2018 and 2020. In 2020, HLF granted USD 120,000 to CEIP for the project titled “Communalizing Citizenship in India”. Subsequently, two years later, on June 2, 2022, CEIP published a collection of essays on ‘Authoritarian Repression’, ‘Hindu Nationalism’, ‘the emerging Hindu vote’, etc.

Before the 2019 General elections, CEIP had received similar funding from the HLF. In November 2018, CEIP was granted a sum of USD 40,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation for a project named ‘Religious Populism and the Future of Indian Democracy’. Subsequently, on April 4, 2019, CEIP released a report titled ‘The BJP in Power: Indian Democracy and Religious Nationalism’.

Yet another dubious anti-India organisation that was a beneficiary of HLF’s grants was Human Rights Watch (HRW). In March 2020, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was granted USD 300,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation (HLF) to support research and documentation of religious intolerance and violence in three Asian countries. Although HLF and HRW did not specify the countries, the grant-making link URL revealed the names: Myanmar, Indonesia, and India.

The Political Conflict, Gender, and People’s Rights Initiative (PCRes) based at the Center for Race and Gender at the University of California Berkeley is among the primary recipients of funding from the Henry Luce Foundation. Before its rebranding in 2016, PCRes operated under the name Armed Conflict Resolution and People’s Rights Project (ACRes), established in 2012 at the Center for Social Sector Leadership, which is affiliated with the Haas School of Business (2012-2015).

HLF funded to Angana Chatterji’s PCRes; Chatterji was infamous for attending events on Kashimiri separatism by convicted ISI agent Ghulam Nabi Fai

One of the original co-chairs of the Armed Conflict Resolution and People’s Rights Project (ACR-PRP) is Angana P Chatterji. Additionally, she served as the co-founder and convener (2008-2012) of the People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice. Notably, she was among three Indians, along with Gautam Navalakha and Ved Bhasin, who attended events on Kashmir separatism organized by Ghulam Nabi Fai, a convicted ISI agent, at Capitol Hill.

Interestingly, in April 2021, The Political Conflict, Gender, and People’s Rights Initiative at the Center for Race and Gender (PCRes-CRG) was awarded a grant of USD 370,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation. The grant was provided “to investigate the divisions between citizenship, religion in the public sphere, and the concept of belonging in modern-day South Asia.” It is hardly a surprise that Christophe Jaffrelot is one of the Distinguished Scholars (non-resident) at PCRes.

Web of grants made by HLF (Source: DisInfo Lab)

Since October 2023, PCRes-CRG has hosted numerous events and webinars covering topics such as violence in Nuh (Haryana), Islamophobia, violence in Manipur (featuring Niang Hangzo, Co-Founder of NAMTA: North American Manipur Tribal Association), caste issues, Hindu nationalism, and the Indian elections of 2024.

In fact, amid the Indian elections, on April 26, 2024, PCRes hosted an online event titled “India Elections 2024: Hindu Nationalism, Ayodhya, and Dispossession” as part of the CRG Forum series. The event was co-sponsored by the Institute for South Asia Studies, the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, and the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University.

Audrey Truschke, a professor at Rutgers University Newark, participated in the Indian Elections 2024 event organized by PCRes-CRG. Additionally, she is a member of the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective (SASAC), established in July 2021, and has also been awarded grants from the Henry Luce Foundation, details of which will be discussed in the following chapter.

The newest addition to PCRes is Raqib Hameed Naik, based in the US and the founder of the now-banned Hindutva Watch portal in India. Hindutva Watch was prohibited in India in January 2024 for breaching the Information Technology Act of 2000. Raqib Hameed Naik has played a prominent role in shaping narratives related to Islamophobia and caste issues, as indicated by his articles published in Al Jazeera.

Soros, Ricken Patel, and ‘Friends of Democracy’

In March 2023, a new domain called Friends of Democracy (www.friends-of-democracy.net) was registered and went live in the following months. Based in New York, Friends of Democracy claims to oppose the ruling party in India to “save” Indian democracy, describing the country as one where democracy is precariously hanging by a “thread” due to the influence of big tech and Hindu “extremism.” Intriguingly, there is also a platform called Friends of Democracy PAC, co-founded by Jonathan Soros, the son of George Soros. It is too big a coincidence for the names to be identical.

The chair of Friends of Democracy is Ricken Patel, who, according to further details on the website, was the founding CEO of Avaaz, one of the world’s leading democratic movements. On September 5, 2023, Friends of Democracy (FoD) published a blog titled, “India spent $61.2 billion on Russian fossil fuels since the start of the Ukraine war.” The article was administered by Respublica.

Ricken Patel, the chair of Friends of Democracy, is a Canadian-British activist and the founding President and CEO of Respublica, a British independent public policy think tank, founded in 2009, by English political philosopher, and Anglican theologian, Phillip Bond. Patel, in essence, is the go-to man for George Soros, the DisInfo Lab report says, adding that Respublica, Avaaz, and Access Now are all funded by Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF).

NAMATI, CPR and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF)

Patel and OSF brings us to NAMATI, another dubious organisation engaged in anti-India activities. Founded in 2011, NAMATI is a non-profit legal advocacy organization based in the United States. George Soros, a significant donor to the organization through OSF, sits on its advisory board. Essentially, Namati serves as a legal empowerment partner for OSF.

NAMATI has also received funding from the Henry Luce Foundation, in addition to support from various other organizations such as the US Department of State, Luminate group, American Jewish World Service, and UK Aid, among others. On March 10, 2022, the Henry Luce Foundation contributed $300,000 to Namati for the purpose of “supporting grassroots policy development activities related to democracy, ethics, and public trust.”

In December 2022, the Income Tax Department issued a 33-page show cause notice to CPR, alleging that the think tank had engaged in activities that were “not in accordance with the objects and conditions subject to which it was registered.” The notice required CPR to provide an explanation for receiving donations from NAMATI, a Washington DC-based organization, and for purportedly using the funds for litigation and filing cases.

Identifying irregularities, the Government of India revoked the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registration of CPR on February 27, 2023, suspending it for 180 days due to violations discovered during the proceedings conducted by the IT Department.

The degree to which these attempts at building narratives aimed at undermining the current government of India, promoted by dubious individuals, interconnected web of suspicious organisations and malicious ‘activist-scholars’, influence Indian voters can only be speculated. However, it’s undeniable that these narratives do influence a section of population and seeks to exploit India’s many societal fault lines.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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