Old photo of Indian cricketer falsely shared as proof of his support for opposition party

An old photo of cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been shared hundreds of times with a false claim it showed him gesturing in support of the opposition Congress party in the general election currently underway in India. The picture was in fact published in 2020 by his cricket team to celebrate they have reached six million followers on the social media platform X. 

"Message is clear. Go and vote for Congress," read the English-language caption of a false post published on X on April 19, 2024.

The picture showed Dhoni holding up his right palm and left index finger. 

Screengrab of the false post, April 20, 2024

The false claim surfaced on the same day as India began voting to elect the 543-member Lok Sabha -- the lower house of the country's legislature -- in a six-week general election (archived link). 

Analysts have expected the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to triumph against a fractious alliance of more than two dozen parties that have yet to name a candidate for prime minister.

The post falsely suggested Dhoni's gesture was meant to encourage voters to support the opposition Congress party, as its logo featured a palm.

Indian voters also often hold up a finger stained with indelible ink as a sign that they have cast their ballot. 

One user commented: "Very cryptic message to the sane voters. I like it." 

"Great our captain is with us that's enough to defeat divisive politics," another user said.

The photo has been shared with similar claims elsewhere on Facebook here, here and also on social media platform X.

But the claim was false. The picture was taken in 2020 and showed the cricketer celebrating that his team -- the Chennai Super Kings -- had reached six million followers on X.

Photo from 2020

A reverse image search found the Chennai Super Kings published the same picture on their account on X -- formerly known as Twitter -- on October 5, 2020 (archived link).

"Nandri filled Thala Dharisanam as our Twitter fam becomes 6 Million Strong!" the post read.

The team also published the same picture to their Instagram account on the same day (archived link).

Below is a screengrab comparison of the false post (left) and the picture published by the Chennai Super Kings on its X account (right):

Comparison of screengrabs of the false post (left) and the post shared by Chennai Super Kings (right).

A report published by local media outlet News 18 on October 5, 2020 also stated Dhoni posed for the picture after the team reached six million followers on X (archived link).

AFP could not find credible reports on whether Dhoni has openly said he supported the Congress party in the election.

Other misinformation on India's election has also been debunked here, here and here


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