To understand the odd “Thank You, Narendra Modi” billboards that have recently popped up across Toronto, the pro-Hindu Nationalists behind it, and the accompanying state-sponsored propaganda and media coverage coming from India, we have to go back to earlier this year.

The Serum Institute of India, a private entity and the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, had on January 23 submitted an application to Health Canada, requesting authorization for its COVID vaccine to be used in the country.  Serum is one of the many manufacturers of the particular vaccine which has been researched and developed by Oxford University, jointly with the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

Separately, when Pfizer’s COVID vaccine plant ran into production issues, Canada turned out to be one of the impacted customers. With the February vaccine supply from Pfizer cut to half of what was promised, Trudeau came under pressure to secure an alternative line.

While Health Canada had not yet approved The AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute, Trudeau, in the bid to secure the soon-to-be approved vaccine, made a phone call to Modi on February 10. Though the vaccine was not being manufactured in a state-owned facility, the Indian government had to be placated so that they would make an exception in the export control policy.

This was enough for India’s nationalist media to revel in the imagery of the phone call, dreaming of a desperate Trudeau going cap in hand begging Modi for help.

Fast forward to now, when Canada has received the Serum shipment of the 500,000 vaccine doses, another charade has surfaced up.

Nine billboards in the Greater Toronto Area were privately rented on Wednesday and Modi’s images were displayed on them along with ‘thank you’ messages for providing vaccines to Canada.  Four more billboards are supposedly coming up in Brampton on Monday.

No mainstream Canadian media house has yet picked up this rather insignificant story, but as expected, it has spread like wildfire in India.

The story was first featured by Asian News International (ANI).  ANI, which has close ties with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and has been found to be at the centre of a vast pro-India disinformation web, regularly publishes pro-Indian propaganda pieces.

Pro-Modi news outlets, in a transparently orchestrated media campaign, are labeling it as a “Canada Thanks India” moment and reinforcing the narrative of Canada’s subservience to mighty India. They are deliberately masking the fact that this campaign has been sponsored by a Hindutva organization named Hindu Forum Canada (HFC), based out of Mississauga, Ontario.

Indian media houses want their audiences to believe that either the Trudeau government or the common people of Canada have organically come together to put up these billboards in support and appreciation of Modi. However, in reality, the organization behind this campaign is overtly political and is ideologically aligned with the Sangh Parivar, the umbrella under which the BJP, RSS, VHP, and others operate.

HFC has publicly supported the Modi government on both of its most controversial bills, the anti-Muslim CAA-NRC legislation, and the anti-farmer laws. In fact, the HFC is infamous in the South Asian community for its comments and campaigns against Muslim Canadians in general.

When Mississauga city council unanimously voted in April 2020 to allow Mosques to temporarily broadcast a nightly call to prayer for the period of Ramadan amid the COVID-19 pandemic, HFC wrote a disturbing letter opposing the move, calling the decision “anti-national”, a term almost unheard of in Canada but used generously in India to label anti-Modi voices and demonize minority groups. The letter openly attacked Canadian politicians, insinuating them to be panderers and calling their support to Islamic traditions as an “infected thinking”.

In contrast to their demands in the letter above, in its own outreach letter targeted towards Canadian politicians, policymakers, and media, HFC seeks recognition of the ‘Hindu vote’ block and their very religion-specific demands.

HFC had also been actively involved in supporting and promoting Tulsi Gabbard in her now failed Democratic Presidential candidate race. Tulsi’s favorable view of Hindu nationalism, Modi, and his anti-minority policies in Kashmir is widely known and her links with RSS have been established in multiple instances.

The President of HFC, Rao Yendamuri, has been a Modi associate from even before the BJP formed the central government in 2014. He has also become well known to Canadian law authorities for criminal activity.

Yendamuri was found guilty and convicted in September 2017 on counts of immigration fraud and forgery. His criminal offenses surrounded applications that he submitted to IRCC on behalf of religious workers to obtain temporary resident visas, temporary resident extensions, and restorations.

So, what do a Canadian-based Hindutva organization, a convicted fraudster, state-sponsored disinformation, and pro-Modi billboards across Toronto have in common? A lot.

This Article is Written by Jaspreet Oberoi, He was born and raised in Patiala, Punjab, and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is a columnist focused on socio-political issues concerning India and Canada. 

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