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Major Brands Face Backlash in India Over Kashmir Tweets

Demonstrators shout slogans in front of a Hyundai showroom during a protest against a tweet from the account of Hyundai Pakistan partner that expressed solidarity for the people of Kashmir, in Ahmedabad, India, Feb. 9, 2022.
Demonstrators shout slogans in front of a Hyundai showroom during a protest against a tweet from the account of Hyundai Pakistan partner that expressed solidarity for the people of Kashmir, in Ahmedabad, India, Feb. 9, 2022.

Major multinational companies including Hyundai, KFC and Domino's are scrambling to contain a furious backlash in India after their Pakistani subsidiaries tweeted in support of Kashmiri aspirations for independence from New Delhi.

The outrage is being felt as far away as Seoul, where the foreign ministry spokesperson was obliged Tuesday to express his regrets to his Indian counterpart. In New Delhi, South Korea's ambassador was summoned Monday to the foreign ministry where "the strong displeasure of the Government … was conveyed to him."

Within the Indian parliament and government, even abject apologies from the offending companies are being dismissed as insufficiently sincere.

The ruckus began on Sunday, when the Pakistani outlets tweeted their support for Kashmir's mainly Muslim population to mark what is celebrated in that country as "Kashmir Solidarity Day." The status of Kashmir has been disputed between India and Pakistan since partition in 1948 and has been the cause of three wars between them.

"Let us remember the sacrifices of our Kashmiri brothers and stand in solidarity as they continue their battle for freedom," said a post by Hyundai Pakistan's Twitter handle @hyundaiPakistanOfficial.

The post sparked an immediate furor in India, where social media users began calling for a boycott of Hyundai products. The demands for an apology were quickly picked up by the government and members of parliament.

The company's Indian subsidiary was quick to dissociate itself from the tweet, issuing a statement saying that that as matter of policy, Hyundai Motors Company does not comment on political or religious issues in any specific region.

"It clearly against Hyundai Motor's policy that the independently-owned distributor in Pakistan made unauthorized Kashmir-related social media posts from their own accounts," it said. "We deeply regret any offense caused to the people of India by this unofficial social media activity."

The parent company also weighed in, saying, "Once the situation was brought to our attention, we made the distributor acutely aware of the inappropriateness of the action. We have since taken measures to ensure the distributor, which misused the Hyundai brand identity, has removed the social media posts and we have put in place processes to prevent a future recurrence."

The company statement added: "Our subsidiary, Hyundai Motor India, is not associated with the distributor in Pakistan, and we strongly reject the distributor's unauthorized non-business related social media activity."

Indian subsidiaries of U.S.-based KFC and Domino's similarly apologized for social media posts that had appeared on the verified accounts of their Pakistani counterparts.

"We deeply apologize for a post that was published on some KFC social media channels outside the country," said a tweet from the fried chicken dynasty. "We honour and respect India, and remain steadfast in our commitment to serving all Indians with pride."

Pizza maker Domino's is also reeling, with the hashtag #boycottdominos trending on Twitter in response to a similar tweet sent by Domino's Pakistani account.

In a statement posted Wednesday, the business said, "This is the country we have called our home for the last 25 years, and we stand here to safeguard its legacy forever. We regret and apologize for the unsolicited social media handles outside the country."

Maruti Suzuki, a subsidiary of the Japanese automaker, is also caught up in the ruckus.

"We do not align with any political or religious inclination in any part of the world. Such communications from our dealers or business associates on these topics represents neither our company position nor authorized by us," it said in a tweet.

Despite the apologies, the Indian government and many of its lawmakers are not assuaged.

"Hyundai Global must have thought that they could get away with a vague half-hearted statement by its Indian subsidiary," said Vijay Chauthaiwale, a senior official with India's Foreign Affairs Department. "New India would not tolerate any such nonsense."

Priyanka Chaturvedi, deputy leader of a right-wing party in the Indian parliament, urged Hyundai to avoid "wishy-washy words" and say "we are unequivocally sorry. Rest is all unnecessary."