How Indian Media Mainstreamed The ‘Land Jihad’ Propaganda

17 Mar 2023 14 min read  Share

A study of prime time debates, news programmes and social media posts around the term “land jihad”, shows that the mainstream media is broadcasting the propaganda of the far-right whose conspiracy theories they had earlier discarded as the fringe. With the media's active support, conspiracy theories are appropriated by Hindu extremists and BJP leaders in their specific regional context to build a campaign against Muslims.

BJP MLA T Raja addressed the “Hindu Jan Akrosh Morcha” in Mumbai, Maharashtra, calling for a law against “love jihad” and “land jihad”, on 29 January 2023/ T RAJA, TWITTER

New Delhi: Devbhoomi mein zameen jihad” (land jihad in the land of God) and “Bulldozer action ki bari” (time for bulldozer action) were tickers running in news programmes on 2 January 2023, covering the protests by the mostly Muslim residents of Haldwani against a demolition drive by the Uttarakhand government.

The anchor for Times Now Navbharat claimed that a “Jihadi gang” was protesting to stop the government from bulldozing 4,365 homes in the southeastern part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state. The voiceover in the show compared the Haldwani protests to the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi and claimed that women were protesting at the behest of “land jihadis”.

On 29 January 2023, at a  Hindutva rally, one of many organised in Mumbai by the far-right Sakal Hindu Samaj to protest “land jihad” and “love jihad”, thousands of supporters and leaders of the BJP attended this event. Open calls for mob violence against Muslims were made in the BJP-ruled Maharashtra.

Attendees held up placards saying: "BMC hosh me aao, land jihad pe rok lagao.” (Beware BMC, put an end to land jihad). In a video, people can be heard raising the slogan, “Illegal mosques and graveyards…these are signs of land jihad.” 

That day, in a news program on the Aaj Tak, the on-ground reporter presented this rally as "anger against religious conversion, cow slaughter and love jihad" while not addressing the anti-Muslim speeches made at the rally. 

The channel interviewed people marching in the rally, who said things like, "The issue of love jihad is not only limited to love. This is also a conversion. They marry by disguising themselves as Hindus. After marrying, they also convert them (women). Someone becomes Bablu, someone becomes someone else. They kill our people by disguising themselves as Hindus." 

The reporter, instead of questioning these claims, added, "because they don't show their real identities and identity proofs and live by changing their names", to which the protester replied, "yes".

In February 2020, even as the muttering of “love jihad” by the fringe had become full-blown propaganda after the BJP had come to power in 2014, their government at the Centre told Parliament that no such crime existed. 

On India TV, this rally was covered on 29 January 2023 with the title "flood of anger in Mumbai". The anchor said, "Hindus have flooded the roads of Mumbai. This flood of people has come with issues such as love jihad, land jihad, illegal religious conversion, and encroachment." The tickers in the show said, "land jihad…love jihad…nirnayak yuddh ka aaghaz" (land jihad…love jihad…start of a deciding war).

After The “Love Jihad” Propaganda, “Land Jihad”

After successfully disseminating propaganda about Muslims targeting Hindu women and trying to out-populate the Hindu majority, similar exertions are being made by the Hindu right to brainwash people into believing that “land jihad” exists, with the Indian mainstream media fanning the falsehood and anti-Muslim hate.

The propaganda is that Muslims are taking over lands owned by Hindus by harassing them, seizing their properties illegally, and squeezing them out of their neighbourhoods. 

A study of television debates, news programmes, newspaper reports, and social media posts shows that the mainstream media has adopted the propaganda of the Hindu right, whose theories they had earlier discarded as the fringe. With the help of the media, conspiracy theories are appropriated by Hindu extremists and BJP leaders in their specific regional context to build a campaign against Muslims.

The “land jihad” propaganda is used by authorities and the media to defend the demolition of homes without due process in BJP-run states. 


Larger Structural Violence Against Muslims 

Shahrukh Alam, a Supreme Court lawyer, who has spoken against the normalisation of polarising vocabulary by mainstream and online media, said even if, in most cases, it could be challenging to link news programmes or a graphic chart like this to direct violence, these programmes contribute to the anti-Muslim narrative. 

“Such shows are a part of the larger structural violence that involves the creation of a systemic narrative that Muslims are marauders and predators of land, livelihoods and women,” said Alam.

Pravin Tagodia, who was the president of the international Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in August 2015, said that Hindus could one day become "extinct" in the country due to the "systematic growth of Muslims" and called this "population jihad".

The former chief election commissioner of India, SY Quraishi, while talking about his book 'The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India' at the India International Centre in Delhi on 28 March 2022, said, "Yes, Muslims have the lowest levels of family planning—only 45.3%. Their total fertility rate is 2.61, which is the highest. But the fact that Hindus are not far behind, with second lowest family planning at 54.4%, and second highest total fertility rate of 2.13, is completely missed." 

A 2014 study by Scroll said that with the current population trends, it would take 220 years for the population of Muslims in India to equal that of Hindus.

On the motive behind the “land jihad” narrative in the media, Ravish Kumar, the former editor of NDTV Hindi, said, “To establish the narrative of jihad, the media first used religious conversion, now they are using the land. The narrative of ‘land jihad’ is social and political thinking to uproot their claim on this land so that wherever they settle, they are seen as illegal occupants.” 

“There are several manifestations of this. Sometimes, they are asked to show papers, sometimes their homes are bulldozed,” said Kumar. 

A Slow Start 

The term “land jihad” appeared on anti-Muslim conspiracy on the website in 2015.

In Maharashtra, fringe organisations like the Hindu Rashtra Sena, whose members were accused in the lynching of the 28-year-old engineer Mohsin Shaikh in June 2014, used “land jihad” and love jihad” in their posts in 2015.  


With some exceptions like Rohit Sardana, late executive editor of Zee News at the time, reporters and anchors in June 2016 questioned claims of Muslims driving Hindus out of the Kairana district in UP, forcing former BJP MP Hukum Singh to backtrack on the “Hindu exodus” propaganda. 

In December 2017, when the Hindu right-wing outfits alleged that Muslims in Meerut were involved in “land jihad” because a Muslim family bought a property in a predominantly Hindu colony, the News Nation programme "Aaj ka mudda” (today’s issue) said it was an "issue of hate" along with the "love jihad" and "violence in the name of cow protection".

On 20 December 2017, in the prime time programme ‘Nation At 9’ on the News X channel, VHP leader Vinod Bansal said that though the term may be new for the anchors, “land jihad” exists. 

"You might be hearing the term ‘land jihad’ for the first time, but in reality, this is happening not only in India but across the world," said Bansal.

Responding to the allegations, the anchors requested Bansal not to make the narrative so polarising. 

'Land Jihad' Gains Traction 

The term gained currency after the BJP swept to power for a second consecutive term in 2019, and top leaders of the BJP, including the union home minister Amit Shah, used the term

"We have a number of resolutions, among which the biggest is that the BJP government will bring a law against love jihad and land jihad”, said Shah while campaigning for the Assam assembly election in March 2021.

BJP leaders such as former Assam BJP vice-president Swapnaneel Baruah and Uttarakhand MLA Ajendra Ajay have claimed that Muslims were driving out Hindus to capture their land. 

In 2018, when right-wing mobs alleging “land jihad” disrupted Friday prayers by Muslims in Gurugram, asking them to leave amid chants of 'Jai Shri Ram', and  Hindu extremist Yati Narsinghanand levelled the charge of "land jihad" against Muslim men in BJP-run Haryana, the media actively opposed (here and here) such acts of disruption. However, three years later, in October 2021, when protests against namaz resurfaced in Gurugram, sections of the media called it a capture of public spaces.

On 29 October 2021, the former editor-in-chief of Zee News, Sudhir Chaudhary, in his prime time show 'DNA' on Zee News, said without attributing any source or study, "In most states of India, namaz is offered in the open on Fridays and for this parks are closed, roads are closed, traffic is stopped, and on several occasions, namaz is offered even in trains, hospitals and residential areas which creates problems for people." 

Throughout his show, communal tickers were running such as "ibadat ka naam, sadak kyon jaam (why are roads blocked in the name of prayer), aisi kya majboori ki sadak par namaz zaroori (what is the helplessness that offering namaz on roads is necessary?), islam ke sahi arth se bhatke musalman? (Have Muslims strayed from the true meaning of Islam?)."

Several viral videos of Muslims offering namaz in public invited police action. 

After one such video of men offering Namaz in Lucknow's Lulu Mall went viral, Uttar Pradesh police arrested seven people in connection with the case. In contrast, in October 2022, railway police ordered a probe when a video of men offering namaz in the train corridor went viral.

Polarising Vocabulary By Media 


In January 2021, Article 14 reported that right-wing groups and TV channels had accused Muslims in Hindu-majority Jammu of tampering with the region’s demography by taking over state-owned lands using a 20-year-old land law, Jammu and Kashmir State Land (Vesting of Ownership to Occupants) Act, 2001 commonly known as the Roshni Act. The majority of allottees were found to be Hindu. 

However, Chaudhary, the former editor-in-chief of Zee News, in his programme 'DNA' on 11 March 2020, before the allottees were found to be Hindu, claimed that successive Jammu and Kashmir governments had used the Roshni Act to "settle" over 25,000 people in Jammu and 90% of  the "illegal occupants" who benefited from the Act were Muslims.

With the “Land Jihad” ticker running during the one-hour show, Chaudhary called the implementation of the law a "state-sponsored attempt at Islamising and radicalising the Jammu region.”

Chaudhary presented a chart of various kinds of “jihads” being waged in India and explained that there are two types of jihad— “hard jihad” and “soft jihad.” 

As per the chart, a modified version of a viral Facebook post from November 2014, “hard jihad”, included “population jihad”, “love jihad”, “land jihad”, “education jihad,”  “victim jihad”, and “direct jihad”. “Soft jihad” included “economic jihad”, “history Jihad”, “media jihad”, “movies and songs Jihad”, and “secular jihad”. 


“I think it's one of the earliest programs on mainstream TV, which fully contributed to disseminating conspiracies about Muslims,” said Alam, the Supreme Court lawyer. 


News18 UP Uttarakhand ran a programme on 10 June 2022  with the title “Big expose– Land Jihad in Devbhoomi” about alleged "infiltration", "land jihad", and an "effort to change the demography of Uttarakhand". 

Another anchor who has repeatedly spoken against Muslims is Suresh Chavhanke, chairman and editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News based in Noida.

After the terror attack in two mosques in Christ Church, New Zealand, in March 2019, where 49 Muslims were killed by a far-right Australian nationalist called Brendon Tarrant, Chavhanke asked if “land jihad” and “love jihad” had reached such alarming levels that people were forced to take up arms. 

Chavhanke was reprimanded by the Supreme Court for his programme on “UPSC jihad” in  September 2020, where he said that Muslims were covertly working to take over the Indian bureaucracy.

“In the Sudarshan UPSC Jihad case, we argued that the channel is part of a constant, vicious cycle that targets Muslims,” said Alam, who represented three Muslims from the UPSC coaching program at Jamia Millia Islamia University. 

“Are these channels broadcasting these speeches to spread awareness? What is their slant? Are they asking leading questions? What captions do they use?  Every aspect should be considered legally,” she said.

Rudabeh Shahid, a senior fellow at the South Asia Center of the international think tank Atlantic Council and a senior consultant at the European Institute for International Law and International Relations, said the “land jihad” conspiracy theory was driving the hate and fear against “illegal immigrants”.

“Earlier, this propaganda was spread in the border areas of Assam and Bengal, but now it is also being spread in other parts of India and against Indian Muslims as well,” said Shahid.

BJP MLAs Driving Propaganda 

In December 2021, Hindu extremist monks linked to the Haridwar Dharam Sansad, an anti-Muslim gathering in December 2021, and BJP MLA Ajendra Ajay in Uttarakhand wrote a letter to the state chief minister, alleging “land jihad” by “members of a certain community”.

Ajay, in 2018, led a campaign against the movie ‘Kedarnath’ alleging that it promotes ‘love jihad’, which led the Uttarakhand government to ban the film in the state.

In a program on “land jihad” in News 18 Uttarakhand on 10 June 2022, BJP MLA Dilip Singh Rawat said, "There is a big conspiracy going on in Uttarakhand right now, and that is encroachment at various places in the name of Mazar. People belonging to a ‘specific community’ are involved in such acts. I appeal to the government to take strict action against such people, or else if Hindus are awakened, then the consequences won't be good."

In August 2022, an alleged crime in Gujarat's Kheda district was labelled as a case of 'land jihad’ by the news channels. 


News Nation ran a program on 8 August 2022 with the title "Bane farzi kisaan land jihad waale bhaijaan (Muslims became fake farmers to do land jihad) with a representational image of a man with a skull cap. 

Gujarat's Revenue Minister Rajendra Trivedi told the media, "A big conspiracy has been launched in the form of land jihad. I want to assure on behalf of the government that we won't let this conspiracy become successful.” 

Radio Rwanda 

Reacting to the extent of the “land jihad” propaganda, Prashant Tandon, a journalist and senior editor, compared the Indian media to “Radio Rwanda” and called its intent “genocidal”. 

In March 1992, the public broadcaster began to broadcast hate against Tutsis after which hundreds of thousands of them were  killed by Hutus in the African country. Three “media leaders” were convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in August 2003 of genocide and incitement to genocide, among others crimes. 

While sentencing them, Judge Navanethem Pillay said, “You were fully aware of the power of words, and you used the radio – the medium of communication with the widest public reach – to disseminate hatred and violence….Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians.” 

“The parallel of Indian media can be found in Radio Rwanda. It is the first step of genocide that a community is demonised, called parasites and jihadis,” said Tandon. “The intent of this media is genocidal.”

On 28 February 2023, a self-regulatory body News Broadcasting And Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA), found that seven programs aired by News18, Times Now, and Zee News violated the code of ethics and broadcasting standards ordered the channels to remove these programs from their social media. NBDSA also penalised News18 with a total fine of Rs 95,000 for three of its "Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge" programs, finding that its anchor Aman Chopra gave a communal thrust in his shows.

NBDSA had also found mainstream news channels violating the code of ethics and broadcasting standards earlier. 

On 16 June 2021, it imposed a fine of Rs. 1 lakh on News18 Kannada, a fine of Rs. 50,000 on another Kannada news channel, Suvarna News, for violating "guideline no. nine relating to racial and religious harmony", and issued censure to English news channel, Times Now, for their coverage of Tablighi Jamaat congregation in March 2020

In another order dated 21 October 2022, NBDSA fined News18 India Rs 50,000 for a debate conducted by anchor Aman Chopra on 6 April 2022 on the hijab ban in Karnataka's educational institutions. NBDSA found that the channel gave panellists a platform to express "extreme views'' which could adversely affect communal harmony.

Tandon said the NBDSA was ineffective because there was no legal framework for it to take any criminal action, but laws regulating the media were also problematic because they could be misused by the government. 

Role Of The Hindi Media 

Kumar, the former editor of NDTV Hindi, said the motive of these media campaigns associating everything with "jihad" is to alienate Muslims. 

“A new form of social untouchability is being created against Muslims. More than hate, they want to create disgust for Muslims,” said Kumar.

Kumar spoke of the role of the Hindi-language media in demonising Muslims.

"Hindi media has played the role of bringing hate-driven narratives into the mainstream,” said Kumar. “This whole ecosystem has become so big that only those with high reasoning capacity can think that this is wrong. Most people will fall for this.” 

Get exclusive access to new databases, expert analyses, weekly newsletters, book excerpts and new ideas on democracy, law and society in India. Subscribe to Article 14.

(Kaushik Raj is a freelance journalist and poet based in Delhi. Alishan Jafri is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.)