India: Hindu groups force shut KFC, KIA stores over Kashmir tweet

Feb 14, 2022 | Kashmir Coverage (General News)

Stores owned by several multinational companies have been forced to shut down by hardline Hindu groups in the Indian state of Gujarat after their Pakistan-based subsidiaries posted messages on social media in support of Kashmir.

The companies posted messages on social media on February 5 to coincide with Pakistan’s Kashmir Solidarity Day, held annually to commemorate the sacrifices of Kashmiris struggling for self-determination, causing anger among social media users in India.

Dozens of stores and showrooms belonging to Pizza Hut, KFC and South Korean car giants – Hyundai and KIA – were shut in the western Indian state by members of Hindu supremacist groups – the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) – linked to Prime Minister Modi’s governing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

“These companies cannot be doing business in India and at the same time supporting Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir,” Dinesh Navadiya, national treasurer of VHP, told the Reuters news agency during a protest in the city of Surat.

Shouting slogans such as “Kashmir is Ours” and wearing saffron scarves, more than 100 members of Bajrang Dal also joined the protest – one of several held in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Modi. 

The furore has highlighted the risks faced by companies operating in both the rivals India and Pakistan, which control parts of Kashmir but both claim the Himalayan territory in full.

The BJP for decades campaigned against the limited autonomy granted to Indian-administered Kashmir by India’s constitution. In August 2019, Prime Minister Modi scrapped Article 370 of India’s constitution that was the basis of Kashmir special status. New Delhi was supposed to control the region’s foreign affairs, defence and communications under the 1947 deal called Instrument of Accession. But over time, India diluted the Muslim-majority region’s autonomy.

Rights groups have accused the Modi government of trampling on civil liberties and arresting journalists and rights campaigners, as laws are passed that Kashmiris have said will go against the interest of the local population.

‘Strong displeasure of the government’

India has said Pakistan supports an armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule in India-administered Kashmir that broke out in the 1990s. Pakistan has denied the charge and said it only provides diplomatic and moral support for the Kashmiri people. 

“We protested peacefully against these companies for the tweets by their Pakistani affiliates in support of Kashmir,” said Hitendrasinh Rajput, spokesperson for the VHP’s state unit in Gujarat’s largest city of Ahmedabad.

“We want to make it clear to these companies and others that Kashmir is an inseparable part of India,” Rajput said.

Companies including Hyundai, Kia, Domino’s Pizza, Yum Brand’s Pizza Hut and KFC, Japan’s Suzuki Motor, Honda Motor and Isuzu Motor issued apologies as criticism of the posts grew.

South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Company said it deeply regrets any offence caused to Indians by an “unauthorised” tweet from the account of its Pakistan partner that expressed solidarity for the people of Kashmir.

“We deeply regret any offence caused to the people of India by this unofficial social media activity. We have put in place processes to prevent a future recurrence,” Hyundai said.

The company is India’s second-largest car seller after Maruti Suzuki, selling close to half a million vehicles in the country in the last fiscal year and exporting more than a million units, making it India’s largest car exporter.

Similarly, KFC India tweeted an apology for the post and said, “We honour and respect India, and remain steadfast in our commitment to serving all Indians with pride.”

The social media posts triggered a diplomatic dispute, leading India to summon South Korea’s envoy over the matter last week. India conveyed the “strong displeasure of the government on the unacceptable social media post by Hyundai Pakistan”, ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was quoted by the local Hindustan Times as saying.

South Korea’s foreign minister also called his Indian counterpart. The pair discussed the “Hyundai matter”, India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in a Twitter post.

Al Jazeera and News Agencies | Al Jazeera