Video shows chief minister of central Indian state giving away tribal garlands, not gold chains

Copyright © AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

As leaders of the opposition Congress party convened in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, a video showing the state’s Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel greeting the party's leaders with garlands was viewed thousands of times in social media posts that falsely claim the garlands are made of gold. The garlands, made by the people of the local Baiga tribe, are in fact made of a type of grass.

The video, which has been viewed more than 5,400 times, was shared on Twitter here on February 25, 2023.

It appears to show Bhupesh Baghel, the chief minister of the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, greeting people by presenting them with a garland.

The Hindi-language tweet reads: “It looks like a lot of gold is being produced from potatoes in Chhattisgarh; that's why our chief minister is greeting the guests with gold chains. Traditionally, people are greeted with palms pressed together and by applying a tilak on the forehead."

The jibe about gold being "produced from potatoes" refers to a speech Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi gave in 2017.

Gandhi's speech was misleadingly edited to make it appear he was promising a machine that would convert potatoes into gold, when he was in fact criticising the ruling government's policies.

Local news website Scroll debunked the claim here.

A screenshot of the false tweet, captured on March 2, 2023

The claim circulated during the 85th plenary session of the Congress party held between February 24 and February 26 in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh.

According to local media, party leaders were expected to work out plans for general elections in 2024.

The same one-minute 30-second video was shared alongside similar claims on Facebook here, here, here and on Twitter here.

The video, however, does not show Congress leaders receiving gold garlands.

Baiga garlands

The English-language daily New Indian Express addressed the false claims in an article on February 28, pointing out that the garlands given out by Baghel were a local product crafted by the Baiga tribe in the Kawardha district and not made of gold.

Other Indian fact-checking organisations here, here and here also tackled the claim.

Baghel also addressed the false claims on his own Twitter account.

The chief minister shared a video that shows one of the Baiga tribe making the garlands while another tribe member -- Itwari Ram Machhiya Baiga, state head of the Baiga community -- explains the process.

Vinaysheel, a Congress media spokesperson, shared pictures of the garland that Baghel handed out with AFP.

Below is a comparison of the garland seen in the video used in the false tweet (left) and the image of the garland shared with AFP (right):

A screenshot comparison of the garland seen in the video used in the false tweet (left) and the image of the garland shared with AFP (right)

Naresh Biswas, a social activist who has worked with Baiga tribes in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh for more than two decades, told AFP the garlands are made by people from the Baiga tribe and are called "biran".

"People from the Baiga community make this special garland with a grass called mua," he said.

"Sometimes they use turmeric too to lend it a little golden hue. Baiga tribes wear this garland when they perform a traditional dance or at festivals."

A subsequent keyword search on Google led to more photos of "biran-mala" on the website of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) here and here.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the garlands seen in the video used in the false posts (left) and an image of the Baiga-made garland from the INTACH website (right):

A screenshot comparison between the garlands seen in the video used in the false post (left) and an image of the Baiga-made garland from the INTACH website (right)

Responding to an AFP enquiry, Manas Avijit from the trust's Intangible Cultural Heritage Division sent an excerpt from "Baiga of the Baiga Chak" a book by Anubhav Das that was published by INTACH.

The excerpt says that Baiga women will wear rings, bangles, armlets and "biran mala (made from the mua plant)".

It goes on to say: "The biran mala is also used by the Baiga to welcome guests. When people arrive at a village, they are welcomed in a traditional way -- with a biran mala, and the touching of palms as a sign of acceptance into their households."

A Google keyword search found a similar video of Congress leaders being greeted during their plenary session in Chhattisgarh, uploaded to the verified YouTube channel of the English-language Indian Express newspaper on February 24.

The video is titled "Chhattisgarh: CM Bhupesh Baghel Welcome Congress Leaders At Raipur Ahead Of Plenary Session" and its description makes no mention of Congress leaders being greeted with garlands made of gold.