A story that says the Italian born opposition Indian National Congress (INC) leader Sonia Gandhi is richer than Queen Elizabeth has been resurfacing on the internet since 2012. The story gets shared especially during the time of elections
The Italian born Sonia Gandhi (maiden name: Maino) married Rajiv Gandhi, the son of congress leader and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1968. Subsequently, she moved to India and started living there. While she kept away from public sphere, a few years after the assassination of her husband, she joined politics due to popular demand from Indian National Congress leadership. She was instrumental in forming the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that came into power in 2004. UPA got re-elected in 2009 as well. She has been subject to harsh scrutiny due to her foreign birth.
Her entry into politics, followed by that of her children Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are often shown as examples of dynastic politics by their political opposition. Rajiv Gandhi, himself was the grandson of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru. As a deliberate contrast, Modi has continuously highlighted his comparatively humble and non-elite background.
The targeting of the Gandhi family worsens during elections every year. A popular narrative that surfaces is that she is richer than Queen Elizabeth. India was heading for general elections in 2014 May and this rumour first surfaced in 2013 November 29.
Popular English newspaper, Times of India published an article with this claim that was shared in social media as well.
However, currently the story has been removed from the news website as marked as inaccurate information. The Facebook post is still present online.
The reports widely claimed this was based on a Huffington Post article as shown in the Inshorts brief below. Inshorts is an app that provides brief summary of major news items to readers who are too busy to read long / full articles.
The original article was titled ‘The richest world leaders are even richer than you thought’ in the Huffington Post under the World Post section. The methodology adopted was juxtaposing each country’s GDP per capita with a leader’s personal net worth . The article stated that the aim of this exercise was to show the difference between haves and have nots. The article listed leaders like Vladimir Putin, Bhumibol Adulyadej, Sultan of Brunei, etc. The article however, did not disclose the source of the data. It just mentioned that ‘based on available data’.
Under Queen Elizabeth, it was reported that her fortune was $450 million, GDP per capita of England was $38,000. The original report claimed that India’s GDP per capita is $1,500, while Sonia Gandhi is worth $2 billion. However, the portion mentioning Gandhi is not present now, but it contains a note.
This narrative was widely shared. However, unlike HuffPost, corrections have not been made to some of the news items with the inaccurate information present online even now as it is.
This report was refuted by the Indian National Congress and many fact checking sites called it false. First post reported that “as per the National Election Watch website of the Association for Democratic Rights, Sonia Gandhi has assets worth Rs 1.38 crore. She neither owns a car nor a house in India and has 2.5 kg of gold and 88 kg of silver.”
A 2013 report by India Today investigated the Huff Post report further titled ‘How Sonia Gandhi’s $2 billion wealth was calculated: An inside story’, mentioned that HuffPost World’s calculation of Gandhi’s wealth comes from the website CelebrityNetWorth.com. CelebrityNetWorth.com has been called an unreliable website with attention grabbing headlines by many celebrities. Comedian Ricky Gervais openly joked that he has plans to take over Libya about the exaggerated reporting of his wealth by the website in 2011.
The website, however, has a disclaimer.
As per the India Today report, the website claimed her wealth as $2 billion in 2013. However, currently it shows her wealth as $3 billion as follows:
Sonia Gandhi’s nomination papers shows much lesser wealth
Despite being refuted, this narrative kept surfacing periodically in social media. However, mainstream newspapers no longer carried this narrative after 2013.
Anit Ghosh is a proud Indian followed by Narendra Modi
Susmita is another proud Indian with 21.9K followers mostly sharing right wing propaganda.
The narrative intensifies during election seasons ( election year and preceding year). India went to the general election in 2019.
Narendra Sharma is a BJP worker followed by Narendra Modi.
Alt News reported that the claim went viral on Twitter in 2019.
Alt News investigated the claims on which the celebritynetworth.com story was based.
(source: Alt News)
The Business Insider story is given below
Worlds-luxury-guide.com domain is currently inactive. It continues to have a Twitter presence though with 12.4K followers.
Alt News investigation continues as follows
The website ‘World’s Luxury Guide’ has been taken down since over a year. Accessing an archived version of the ‘list of richest leaders’ created by the website revealed that it also placed Sonia Gandhi at the 4th place. ‘World’s Luxury Guide’ had provided opensecret.org, forbes.com, bloomberg.com, wikipedia.org and guardian.co.uk as its sources.
Forbes had published an article in 2011 titled – ‘India’s 100 Richest’ – which does not include Gandhi’s name. In 2012, The Guardian had published a report on the world’s richest leaders, however, it too did not include Gandhi. On Bloomberg, Alt News back-searched till 2010 but found nothing of relevance. The remaining attribution provided by Business Insider – OpenSecret – has never written any report on the former Congress President.
Thus, none of the sources enlisted by ‘World’s Luxury Guide’ had the data to back up the claim of Sonia Gandhi being the world’s 4th richest politician. Moreover, the name of the website itself should indicate that it is not a source that could be trusted.
In addition to Alt News, fact checking website Factly also refuted these claims.”Further there are no credible reports saying Sonia Gandhi is richer than the queen of England. In fact she did not feature in any list of richest persons reported by reputed agencies (here & here).”
While the unsubstantiated claims that showed her richer than Queen Elizabeth is no longer viral, unsubstantiated estimations of her net worth are still circulating in social media
Ravinder claims to be hard core nationalist who considers himself above journalists or defence analysts as he is a common Indian.
Some hyper nationalist Indians even accused INC of forcing Huff Post to remove the original article.
This narrative is not substantiated and based on fabricated sources by luxury guides. The narrative is aligned with disinformation.
The motivation of the original luxury guide article could be click bait. Business Insider chose to pick it up without verifying the facts which in turn was picked up by India centric news outlets. While some have corrected their version, Business Insider and Luxury Guide have both maintained it. The Times of India article itself was removed only in 2019 and the screenshots continued to be used even after the article was removed. Later, a coordinated social media narrative was led by the accounts sympathetic to BJP and Narendra Modi.
This narrative is frequently used to counter the corruption allegations against BJP and to establish that INC and the Nehru-Gandhi family are corrupt.
Platforms: Mainstream Newspapers, Online media, Twitter, Facebook ( potentially WhatsApp even though we can’t access chats), and YouTube
Scale : It is part of an ongoing campaign
These claims first appeared in 2013 in the months leading up to the 2014 election. Corruption was one of the main campaign themes with BJP accusing the INC led government and its leaders of massive corruption. The unsubstantiated claim of Sonia Gandhi’s networth among others strengthened the propaganda of BJP and firmly painted INC as a highly corrupt party. BJP won the General Elections and came into power with Narendar Modi as Prime Minister
Clear misinformation that forms part of a larger influence operation.