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Hindu hardliners close stores in protest against Kashmir tweets

The messages were posted last week by the Pakistani branches of firms. Source: Reuters.

AHMEDABAD: Hundreds of Hindu nationalist protesters marched in the Indian state of Gujarat on Saturday, prompting closure of stores owned by several multinational companies caught up in a furore over social media posts supporting Kashmir.

The messages were posted last week by the Pakistani branches of firms including Hyundai Motors, Kia Motors, fast-food chain Domino’s Pizza, and Yum Brand’s Pizza Hut and KFC, which also operate in India.

They were issued by the companies on February 5 to coincide with Pakistan’s Kashmir Solidarity Day, held annually to commemorate the sacrifices of Kashmiris struggling for self-determination, and caused anger among social media users in India.

“These companies cannot be doing business in India and at the same time supporting Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir,” Dinesh Navadiya, national treasurer of Hindu nationalist organisation Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), told Reuters 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, another Hindu nationalist group, also joined the protest – one of several held in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both the VHP and Bajrang Dal are linked to Modi’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

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

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

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.

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 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.

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