New Delhi: South Korea's Hyundai Motor faced calls on Monday for a boycott of its cars from Indians incensed over a tweet from the account of its Pakistan partner that expressed solidarity for the people of Kashmir.
The row erupted on Sunday, a day after Pakistan marked the annual Kashmir Solidarity Day and the posts on behalf of Hyundai's partner Nishat Group appeared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram commemorating the sacrifices of Kashmiris struggling for self-determination.
Hundreds of social media users in India, which considers the whole of Kashmir as an integral part of the country, backed calls for a boycott, saying Hyundai must apologise for being insensitive to India's position on the decades-old dispute.
Dozens of Indians posted their intention to cancel orders for Hyundai cars in order to punish the company while urging support for homegrown brands like Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra.
Responding to the furore, Hyundai's India unit said that it has a "zero tolerance policy towards insensitive communication and we strongly condemn any such view".
"The unsolicited social media post linking Hyundai Motor India is offending our unparalleled commitment and service to this great country," @HyundaiIndia said, adding that it stands firmly behind its "strong ethos of respecting nationalism".
Reuters requested comment from Hyundai's headquarters in Seoul and from Nishat Group, Pakistan's largest business conglomerate, but did not receive any immediate response.
Hyundai is India's second-largest car seller after Maruti Suzuki selling close to half a million vehicles in the country last fiscal year and exporting over a million units, making it India's largest car exporter.
Ashwani Mahajan, an official at the economic wing of the powerful Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) group with close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government said Hyundai should clarify its position on Kashmir.
"While not criticising @HyundaiPakistan Indian arm of @Hyundai_Global is not even saying that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Speaks tons about their commitment to India. Doesn't this call for #BoycottHyundai?", he said.
Indian Twitter user Ashutosh Soni said he has cancelled his booking for Hyundai's Verna sedan which was due to be delivered this month and purchased a car from rival Honda Motor.
"#BoycottHyundai, that's it!", Soni tweeted from his handle @CA_AshutoshSoni on Sunday, along with a photograph of himself taking delivery of a new Honda car.
"Let's make them bankrupt. India is one of the biggest market for cars," filmmaker and social activist, Ashoke Pandit said on Twitter with a screenshot of a fall in Hyundai's share price on Monday.
While Hyundai's share fell 1.25% on Monday, weakening more than Seoul's benchmark index, the main factors behind the drop were concerns over record numbers of COVID-19 cases in South Korea, and ongoing worries that a global chip shortage could hit production and sales.
The trouble over the social media post highlights the risks global companies face amid rising nationalism in the region.
Hyundai Motor said it deeply regrets the offence caused to Indians due to an "unauthorized" tweet from the account of its Pakistan partner that expressed solidarity for the people of the disputed territory of Kashmir.
"As a business policy, Hyundai Motor Company does not comment on political or religious issues in any specific region. We deeply regret any offense caused to the people of India by this unofficial social media activity," Hyundai said in a Twitter post on Tuesday.
India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over Kashmir and Modi's government has pursued an aggressive policy to combat a militant separatist insurgency that it accuses Pakistan of stoking. Islamabad denies the charge but says it provides moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people.
Twitter users in India have made similar calls in the past, seeking to boycott Chinese goods after a border clash between the two Asian giants which disrupted automobile supply chains and other industries. Amazon.com Inc has also faced social media backlash in India after its overseas website was found selling goods with faces of Hindu gods and other sacred symbols.