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*PUBLIC STATEMENT BY ADVOCATE SUDHA BHARADWAJ*

Visiting Professor, National Law University Delhi and National Secretary,
Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties

I have been informed that Republic TV aired a programme on 4 July 2018, presented by anchor and MD Arnab Goswami as “Super Exclusive Breaking News”.

The programme, which is being repeatedly shown, contains a long list of ridiculous, scurrilous, false and completely unsubstantiated allegations against me. Goswami has claimed that I have written a letter (identifying myself as “Comrade Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj”) to a Maoist – one “Comrade Prakash” - stating that a “Kashmir like situation” has to be created. I am also accused of having received money from Maoists. I am also said to have confirmed that various advocates, some of whom I know as excellent human rights lawyers and others whom I do not know at all, had some sort of Maoist link.

I firmly and categorically deny that the letter referred to by Goswami – if at all such a document exists - has ever been written by me. I firmly refute all the allegations that the Republic TV has made against me, defaming me, causing me professional and personal injury. In its programme, the Republic TV has not revealed the source of such a letter. I find it curious that a document purporting to contain evidence of such serious crimes should first surface in the studio of Arnab Goswami.

I have been a dedicated trade unionist since the past 30 years, working in the organisation of the late legendary Shankar Guha Niyogi, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, in the working class shanties of Dalli Rajhara and Bhilai, and hundreds of workers are witness to the fact. As a part of my work as a trade unionist I became a lawyer in the year 2000 since when I have fought scores of cases of workers, farmers, adivasis and poor people in the fields of labour, land acquisition, forest rights and environmental rights. Since the year 2007 I am practising in the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur and was nominated by the High Court to be a member of the Chhattisgarh State Legal Services Authority. In the last year I have been teaching at the National Law University Delhi in the capacity of a Visiting Professor, where I offered a seminar course on tribal rights and land acquisition; and a part of the regular course on law and poverty. As a part of the programme of the Delhi Judicial Academy, I addressed the presiding officers of labour courts from Sri Lanka. My pro-people positions and work as a human rights lawyer are a matter of public record. I am perfectly aware that they stand in direct opposition to the views so loudly and frequently expressed by Arnab Goswami and Republic TV.

In my opinion the present malicious, motivated and fabricated attack on me is because I recently addressed a press conference in Delhi to condemn the arrest on 6 June of Advocate Surendra Gadling. The Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), an organisation of lawyers has also strongly taken up the issue of other lawyers such as Advocate Chandrashekhar of Bhim Army and Advocate Vachinathan arrested after the Sterlite firing. It is clear that in targeting such lawyers, the state is trying to silence those who stand for the democratic rights of citizens. The state strategy is to create a chilling effect and deny equitable access to the legal system. Also very recently the IAPL had organised a fact finding into the difficulties faced by lawyers in Kashmir.

As a human rights lawyer I have appeared in cases of habeas corpus and fake encounters of adivasis in the High Court of Chhattisgarh and also made representations to the National Human Rights Commission in the defence of many human rights defenders. Recently the NHRC had sought my assistance in investigating a case in Village Kondasawali ( Sukma, Chhattisgarh). In all these cases I have acted with the professional integrity and courage expected of a human rights lawyer. This indeed appears to be “my crime” which has earned me the super exclusive attentions of Arnab Goswami.

I have asked my lawyer to send a legal notice to Arnab Goswami and Republic TV for their false, malicious and defamatory allegations against me.

Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj
New Delhi, 4th July

It wouldn't be the first time news stories reporting unfavorably on BJP President Amit Shah vanished from news websites without explanation. At other times, news organizations have been under tremendous pressure to redact stories, transfer editors and otherwise silence inconvenient news from reaching the masses. Here are some notable stories that vanished from several sites without any official redaction or explanation offered:

Journalists and news organizations that faced pressure over journalistic work that shows Amit Shah's potentially illegal dealings:

Please free to suggest stories this list misses in the comments.

1

Economic Times had covered the expose of PayTM by Cobrapost in Operation 136, Part II. Subsequently the story was quietly deleted without any official retraction. AamJanata believes that stories silently vanished tell a story of their own, and therefore is republishing the story here.

A sting operation conducted by Cobrapost called attention to reports that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) may have approached Paytm to get user details of protestors in the Kashmir Valley.

As per the investigation titled 'Operation-136 II', Ajay Shekhar Sharma - who is incidentally senior VP and brother of Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma - is captured on camera claiming that someone from PMO had called to asked for data of users to identify stone-pelters.

The video, however, does not mention whether Paytm complied with the alleged requests or not.

"PayTM=PayToPM"

Following reports, Paytm has released a statement on Twitter rubbishing the claims made by Cobrapost.

"There is absolutely NO TRUTH in the sensational headlines of a video doing rounds on social media. Our users’ data is 100 percent secure and has never been shared with anyone except law enforcement agencies on request. Thank you for your continued support."

However, Congress president Rahul Gandhi calls it " proof that (we) were absolutely correct about demonetisation".

The sting operation

Cobrapost's reporter had posed as an employee for an NGO affiliated to the RSS and is heard telling another top Paytm official that he wanted to promote books like the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayan on the company platform.

The reporter openly says that the campaign is driven by a Hindutva agenda, to which the official responds by admitting to having promoted PM Narendra Modi’s book 'Exam Warriors' by highlighting it on Paytm's homepage.

In the video, Ajay is also heard making his political affiliation to RSS very clear right at the onset of the conversation. He also claims that Union Minister for Rural Development Narendra Singh Tomar and MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan know him by name and face.

Originally published at: Economic Times

This post is republished in public interest from the Cobrapost website, which appears to be having trouble.

Cobrapost exposes more than two dozen media houses, including some prima donnas of India’s holy Fourth Estate, where they all show their underbelly in its most visceral form.

New Delhi: In the second part of Operation 136, Cobrapost has exposed owners and high-ranking personnel of more than two dozen media houses, both mainstream and regional, the biggest ones and the smaller ones, the oldest ones and the newer ones. ‘Operation 136: Part II,’ in fact, shows Indian media’s underbelly in its most visceral form, where even the “big daddies” do not mind agreeing to undertake a campaign that has the potential to not only cause communal disharmony among citizens but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party. This they will do if they are paid the right price, and sometimes they have no compunctions to quote a price as high as Rs. 1000 crore, as did the Times Group owner Vineet Jain, while others showed a propensity to indulge in any kind of illegality bordering on criminality.

The media houses agreeing to run the campaign are Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, ABP News, Dainik Jagaran, Radio One, Red FM, Lokmat, ABN Andhra Jyothy, TV5, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, The New Indian Express, MVTV and Open magazine.

We have received an exparte stay order from the honourable Delhi High Court on the evening of 24th May, 2018, which debars us from including the Dainik Bhaskar Group in our investigation. The honourable High Court has passed the injunction in favour of Dainik Bhaskar without hearing our side of the case, and we shall consequently be challenging the court order in the interest of truth and justice.

Senior Investigative Journalist Pushp Sharma used the same cover and the same ruse! Wearing the garb of a seasoned Pracharak, Sharma adopted malleable identities which he used according to the situation at hand. He first used his association with an Ujjain-based ashram, claiming himself to have been schooled at Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, to have studied in IIT Delhi and IIM Bangalore, settled in Australia and to have been running his e-gaming company out of Scotland. Sometimes, he claimed to be the head of the Madhya Pradesh unit of Om Prakash Rajbhar’s outfit, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, charged with party affairs in Karnataka, Maharashtra and the Northeast. At times, the journalist used all his assumed identities in a single meeting. As the investigation evolved to take on a pan-India character, he assumed the identity of a representative of a fictitious religious organization, Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti, purportedly on a mission, a gupt vyavastha (secret arrangement), at the behest of the “Sangathan” to bolster the prospects of the party in power in coming elections.

The journalist approached these media houses with his hideous proposition. As he offered them a fortune in return, Cobrapost saw them all crumble under the weight of a “big business opportunity” that was knocking on their doors without asking. Almost all bent themselves backward to grab this opportunity. However, there were two notable exceptions, Bartaman Patrika and the Dainik Sambad, which refused to play ball. No amount of cajoling or inducements could bring them around.

While meeting the owners and senior-most personnel of these media houses, Sharma asked them to run a media campaign on his behalf. While offering them a big fortune in terms of ad spend, which ranged anything between few crore rupees and Rs. 500 crore, he spread wide before them these essential ingredients of his agenda:

In the initial phase, the first three months, promote Hindutva through customized religious programmes to create a congenial atmosphere.
Then, the campaign will be geared up to polarize the electorate on communal lines by promoting speeches of Hindutva hardliners, the likes of Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Mohan Bhagwat, among others.
As elections approach, the campaign will target opposition leaders, namely, Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, caricaturing them using less than dignified language like Pappu, Bua and Babua, respectively, for them, in order to show them in poor light before the electorate.
They will have to run this campaign on all platforms – print, electronic, radio or digital including, e-news portals, web sites and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Negotiating hard, in what you can say was a value-for-money deal, the journalist drove home all these points as they all spread a red carpet for him. The interactions that the senior journalist had with all these media houses during the course of Operation: Part II can be summed up as follows:

They agreed to promote Hindutva in the garb of spiritualism and religious discourse.
They agreed to publish content with potential to polarize the electorate along communal lines.
They concurred to besmirch or thrash political rivals of the party in power by posting or publishing defamatory content about them.
Many of them were ready to accept unaccounted cash, in other words, for the job to be assigned to them.
Some of them agreed to route cash through a third-party agency to turn it into white, even suggesting hawala routes such as Angadiyas.
Some of the owners or important functionaries admitted that they were either associated with the RSS or they were pro-Hindutva and would thus be happy to work on the campaign, forgetting the cardinal principle of journalism: neutrality.
Some of them agreed to plant stories in favour of the party in power in their publications, while others were ready to unleash their investigative teams to rake muck on opposition leaders.
Many of them agreed to develop and carry advertorials especially for this purpose.
Many of them agreed to develop content for this invidious campaign by employing their own creative team.
Almost all agreed to run this campaign on their platforms – print, electronic, FM radio or digital in its various avatars such as e-news portal, e-paper or social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Some of them even agreed to run down Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Manoj Sinha, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi, among others.
Some of them also agreed to run stories against leaders of BJP alliance partners, like Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha.
Some of them even agreed to paint agitating farmers as Maoists in their stories.
Many of them agreed to create and promote such content as would aim for the “character assassination” of leaders like Rahul Gandhi.
Many of them are ready to run the content in such manner as would not look like paid for.
Almost all FM radio stations agreed to allow their customer to monopolize their free air time.
Many FM radio stations also agreed to use RJ mentions to promote the agenda: Hindutva and character assassination of rivals.

Operation 136: Part II is unique in the sense that it not only has exposed all these media houses but has also brought to the fore the fact that in a technology-driven age an agenda can find a mobile app a very effective medium to reach out to millions of users. Our expose of Paytm does exactly that. It brings home the point that one does not need an elaborate arrangement of the conventional media such TV channels or newspapers. A simple mobile app can achieve what the conventional platforms cannot: it can deliver the message with a blink of an eye. In fact, our interaction with top Paytm honchos is quite revealing in many respects, for it not only shows the company’s affinity to both the BJP government and its ideological fountainhead RSS, but also shows that users’ data can be compromised.

As India has slipped two paces to 138 from its position of 136, as this investigation was underway, in World Press Freedom Index (https://rsf.org/en/ranking#), Operation 136 has found that most of the media houses are either owned by politicians themselves, particularly the regional ones, or patronized by politicians, and it is natural for them to become their masters’ voice. It was high time we coined a new phrase to define this journalism as crony journalism a la crony capitalism. For instance, ABN Andhra Jyothy, a prominent Telugu TV news channel is patronized by TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu. It is no surprise if we hear its Chief Marketing Manager E.V. Seshidhar say: “We have very good connects with TDP … We have do [sic] lot of what do you call we have main official what do you call for AP government Andhra Pradesh government, we have official event telecaster rights for Andhra Pradesh government.” While this connect goes beyond the TDP, to include the BJP and other outfits, Seshidhar even goes to say that their newspaper Andhra Jyothy holds so much sway that they could influence the outcome of the Karnataka elections.

On the other hand, Lakshmipathy Adimoolam, the owner of the 70-year-old prominent Tamil daily published from Chennai, wears his family allegiance to the Sangh Brotherhood on his sleeve. We are, therefore, least surprised to hear him say that he has imported especially designed software which could help in the promotion of Brand Modi: “You have newsletters … sent to … brochures, leaflets sent to party workers … say there is Modiji’s picture is there, just move your camera over here … it gives audio of Modiji.”

It was not that Cobrapost has exposed only those high ranking-personnel whose business is to negotiate a deal and bring business to the organization they are working for. In the course of this investigation, Cobrapost found some senior journalists, who have now donned the mantle of owners or CEOs, genuflecting before their big-ticket client and happily agreeing to work for his agenda. One such senior journalist was Purushottam Vaishnav who is working for Zee Media as its CEO Regional News Channels. Agreeing to run down political rivals by unleashing their SIT on them, Purushottam said: “Content mein jo aapki taraf se input aayega wo absorb ho jayega … humare taraf se jo content generate hoga investigative journalism humlog karte hain karwa denge jitna hum logon ne kya hai utna kisi ne nahi kiya hoga wo humlog karenge (Whatever input you will send in the form of content that will be absorbed … the content we will generate … we have been doing investigative journalism, we will do it for you. [Compared to Zee] None of the channels has done so many … we will do that).”

In fact, our investigation establishes the fact that the RSS, and as a corollary, Hindutva, has made deep inroads into not only the newsrooms but also the boardrooms of Indian media houses where even owners either blatantly admit their allegiance to the party in power and its parent organization or are eager to have an association with them. For instance, Big FM Sr. Business Partner Amit Choudhary admits to the relationship between the company that owns Big FM and the party in power in no uncertain terms: “Waise bhi Reliance BJP ka supporter hee hai (Anyway, Reliance is always a supporter of the BJP).” Then we have Basab Ghosh, Regional Sales Head of Open magazine, which is owned by the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, who also confesses to their allegiance to the RSS: “Acharyaji shayad aap bhi busy rehte hain aap shayad Open dekhte nahi hain regular. Main aapko ek baat bataata hoon. Open jitna support karte hain sangathan ka shayad hee koi karta hoga. (Acharyaji, perhaps you are a busy man and maybe you don’t read Open regularly. Let me tell you one thing. Nobody supports the Sangathan [RSS] as much as does Open).”

While the journalist had a tough time in convincing Ajay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm that he was there to fulfill the assignment received directly from the Sangathan under a “gupt vyavastha” or secret arrangement, the senior vice president of the mobile-app utility payment company candidly admitted his association with the top brass of both the RSS and the BJP. Taking his prospective client as someone belonging to the Sangh Brotherhood, he made a very shocking revelation. Referring to the stone pelting in Kashmir last year, Ajay Shekhar said: “Jab JK mein band huye the na pathar … toh humari personally PMO se phone aya tha kaha gaya tha ki data de do ho sakta hai ki Paytm user hon (When the stone-pelting stopped there in J&K, I personally got a phone call from the PMO. They told us to give them data saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users.)” Paytm users may now be wondering if the company has violated its policy of privacy and data safety!

Another interesting fact that has emerged during the course of ‘Operation 136: Part II’ is that although they might be swearing by their allegiance to the RSS or the BJP, they don’t give a damn to Modi’s public stance against black money for which the Prime Minister did not back away from subjecting the entire citizenry to untold miseries by enforcing demonetization in November 2016. Punching holes in what has been gloried as “surgical strike” against black money, we found Vineet Jain, Managing Director of the Times Group, and his aide Executive President Sanjeev Shah, naming some big corporate houses which could help make black money squeaky clean and even suggesting to employ the services of ‘Angadias’—a Gujarati name for hawaladars or hawala operators of illicit money—to get the job done. While Vineet Jain says, “Aur bhi businessmen honge jo humein cheque denge aap unhe cash de do (There are other businessmen who would give us cheque against the cash you may give them), his aide Shah informs us: “Who will take that from him in Delhi suppose if Goenka says I want it in Ahmedabad so that I Angadia will have contact in Ahmedabad where they will exchange in number on a note or whatever.” Hope our Prime Minister and other arms of his government are listening!

Of all interviews that the journalist had with the owners and personnel of all these media houses in the course of this investigation, Manda Mhatre’s stands out in its revelations. While criticizing her own party, and claiming that it was the RSS leadership which ensured she got a ticket to fight election after she switched loyalties from NCP to the BJP, what the BJP legislator from Belapur, Pune, told Cobrapost is quite revealing: “Mere ko Sangh wale bol rahe the ki Muslim masjid todo ye karo. Main boli sorry main ye nahi kar sakti. Masjid sthal sab kachre ke maafiq dekhte hain. Itna log ko hum haay nahi le sakte hain kyonki aadhe log apne se jud gaye hain (The Sangh people were telling me time and again to destroy the masjids of Muslims. I told them ‘Sorry I can’t do that.’ They all look at a masjid something like trash. I cannot afford to earn so much ill-will of all those people [by resorting to such hate] because many Muslims have joined the BJP).”

We know it well that such open confessions of their allegiance to the ideology of the RSS could be brushed aside as personal opinions, but given the position they hold in their respective organizations what they say cannot be taken lightly. The reason is that it is rather the business interests that have an overarching influence on the editorial policy of a media organization, and Operation 136 has once again shown it in ample measure. The first part of Operation 136 had exposed India TV, Dainik Jagaran, Hindi Khabar, SAB TV, DNA (Daily News and Analysis), Amar Ujala, UNI, 9X Tashan, Samachar Plus, HNN Live 24×7, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat, ScoopWhoop, Rediff.com, IndiaWatch, Aj and Sadhna Prime News.

All these on-camera confessions make it clear that the malaise of paid news has set in deep as it is no longer confined to a few individuals who would show no scruples while publishing paid content, camouflaging it as news stories or reports. Over the years, paid news has become institutionalized, as this investigation establishes, for no one in authority in news business would receive an agenda, which is overtly communal and defamatory, with enthusiasm, let alone committing to undertake it, particularly when there are clear-cut guidelines to follow and laws to abide by.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) has well laid-down provisions, for instance, to deal with various unlawful acts that these media houses agreed to commit. Section 153(A) makes any attempt to “promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups” punishable with imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine or both. Section 295(A) of the IPC also provides for the same punishment to be meted out when an individual deliberately, and with malicious intent, hurts the religious feelings of a community. Then, Chapter IXA of the IPC deals comprehensively with offences related to elections. Section 171 of the IPC makes interference with the free exercise of electoral right, in any form, punishable with an imprisonment of one year or fine or both. These provisions of the IPC, thus, ensure that the offence of polarizing a group on the basis of religion, caste or community is punished. The provisions of Chapter IXA of the IPC with regard to free exercise of electoral rights are overarching in their ambit as they are also relevant paid news to influence voters to gain electoral benefits.

In addition, the provisions of Cable Television Networks (Regulation Act) 1995, along with Cables Rules, and Representation of People’s Act, along with Conduct of Election Rules, make paid news and communal polarization for electoral gains an offence. Both the Cable Act and the Cable Rules prohibit transmission or re-transmission of programmes that do not conform to the advertisement code. While Rule 6 of the Cable Rules prohibits programmes of communal nature or that promote anti-national attitudes, Rule 7 also lays down the advertisement code prohibits publication of advertisements of political or religious nature. Rule 7(10) of the Cable Rules further states that “all advertisements should be clearly distinguishable programmes, viz., use of lower part of screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme”. Then, Section 125 of the RPA makes communal polarization an offence punishable with imprisonment for three years or fine or both, while various provisions of Section 123 declare an act aimed at polarization and the practice of paid news as “corrupt practices” making election of a candidate null and void.

Apart from these and other legal provisions, there are “Norms and Guidelines on Paid News” of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority and “Norms of Journalistic Conduct, 2010” of the Press Council of India, which all media establishments are expected to adhere to. But do they really care for such scrupulous adherence? Our investigation says no.

We would like to make it clear that Operation 136 should in no way be taken as an effort to undermine Indian media or question its sanctity as an institution. Our investigation does not intend to cast any aspersions or pass judgment, either, on the journalists who are working in these media platforms. They have done good journalism in the past and will do so in future. However, if the management indulges in paid news, in all its gray shades, it creates a very difficult atmosphere for the journalists to ply their trade in. This story aims to underline our earnestness to address the malaise that has been dogging Indian media for the past three decades or so and look within to make course correction, so that the faith of India’s citizenry in this vibrant pillar of democracy is not dented.

During my time away, a story that fascinated me — in a train-wreck kind of way, and as a cautionary tale of the danger of the media disseminating half-baked news — relates to the murder of one Paresh Mesta. The India Today channel and its consulting editor Shiv Aroor played a lead role in propagating the story; social media backlash then prompted Aroor to write an extended defense of his actions. Here it is, and it is worth reading in full as an exemplar of everything that is wrong with the media in general, and TV news in particular.

The first four paras are an extended ‘woe is me’ pity-party aiming to paint himself as the victim, and an attempt to stake out the high moral ground. Skip lightly over those, and consider the real story, which begins with paragraph five and the tweet that started it all:

This, says Aroor, was deemed a “story” worth following up because it was tweeted by an elected representative. And so, he says, the IT reporter in the area filed a follow up “quoting sources”. Here is the report he cites; read it carefullyand see if you can find a single source being quoted. Also note, vide this report, how quickly a Union minister latched on to the incident and gave it a political coloration.

But most importantly, note this: In the follow-up report that Aroor presents as exhibit A in defense of his brand of journalism, the reporter has not spoken to anyone from police/law enforcement to find out what actually did happen. What follows is a startling abdication of every single journalistic norm (Emphasis mine):

Deciding that this would be our top story at 5pm, we invited both the police and BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje to join us on our show. Given logistical constraints on the ground, the option was provided to pre-record with both or either. While Shobha Karandlaje took our questions, the police did not join us on the show.

A tweet promoting the show carried the gruesome allegations of the BJP MP and sources on the ground – a tweet that I personally composed. Unlike my earlier tweet, this one didn’t carry quotes indicating that it was an allegation.

Starting at the top: On what basis did Aroor decide this was the lead story? At this point, 24 hours after the body was discovered, all he had was the intemperate allegation of a politician with a long history of fomenting communal trouble. Note that as soon as the body was discovered, Karandlaje began to talk of ‘jihadi forces’ and of the ‘targeted killing of Hindu activists’. Note also that even as she was busy using the killing of a young boy to further her party’s political ends, she latched onto another incident to light further fires:

In actual fact, however, the girl in question was attempting to escape the attentions of a stalker, Ganesh Eashwar Naik.

This, then, is the person on whose unsupported word Aroor based an editorial decision on. Note, further, that his focus is on “getting police on the show” — not first checking with the police to find out what the story really is. And he compounds his criminal error when he, in his own words, “personally composed” a tweet carrying the allegations — without quotes, or other indications to suggest they were merely allegations. In other words Aroor, who starts off with a verbose defense of his journalistic integrity, took an allegation and converted it into a personal attestation.

Much is then made of how Aroor in a subsequent broadcast asked Karandlaje if she had any specific proof to back up her allegations. Which begs the question: Isn’t that what you ask first, before you decide if the allegation deserves air time? Giving a fact-free allegation considerable air time, giving it your imprimatur by airing it as fact sans the telltale quote marks, and then asking if there is any proof is so far removed from basic journalism that it constitutes a sackable offense were it a tyro; when the “consulting editor” of a major channel does this, it is way beyond the pale. And then there is this:

Later that evening, the police, which had sparked its own controversy by declaring that the death was a “samanya saavu”, released a Q&A report with a forensics doctor, a document that appeared to fully contradict the BJP’s explosive charges. I happened to be among the first to tweet this out:

Wait, what?! How did the police “spark its own controversy”? The meaning of the police statement is clear — or would be, if you weren’t determined to see it through a predetermined lens: the police is saying, merely, that this is not a communal incident. Apparently Aroor believes he fully fulfilled his responsibility as a senior journalist by suggesting — some 48 hours after he decided to run a full fledged story based on an unconscionable tweet — that the BJP should now explain the basis of its charges:

And then, this:

The following day, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah tweeted that the death of Paresh Mesta was “unfortunate” – a curious choice of word. Just as the BJP was certain this was a gruesome murder, was he certain this wasn’t murder at all? Could a murder ever be “unfortunate”? Was he simply alleging that this wasn’t murder, but a natural death, much like the Karnataka Police had done the previous day?

Seriously, is this guy compos mentis? “Could a murder ever be “unfortunate”?”, he asks. Sorry, but what the actual fuck does that even mean? And then he goes on to parse the CM’s statement, and in the process put words in the mouth of the police — note that the police did not say it was a natural death; that is not what “saamanya saavu” meant.

And then there is this (emphasis mine):

The following morning, putting the spotlight on the political war that had broken out, we planned a morning face-offbetween the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP on the issue. While the BJP joined us, the Congress apparently declined, forcing us to plan a face-off between the BJP and a member of the CPI (considering the allegations were of a political killing). Here’s that full broadcast:

“…forcing us to plan a face-off…”?!!!! Really? By then, four days had passed; communal tensions had been created by an unsubstantiated allegation — and Aroor admits that the allegations are unsubstantiated — and yet this consulting editor is still riding the fake news for all it is worth. His focus is on the next sensational talk fest, the next “show”, the next spin.

Related reading: The Rise of the Pseudo-Event

Remember what he says at the outset?:

I’ve been branded a communal hatemonger, a rabble-rouser and a plainly bad journalist who deliberately picked up the Paresh Mesta story with the specific intention of, among other things, “scoring TRPs”, “fanning communal tensions before the Karnataka elections”, “currying favour with the BJP”. Calls have gone out from several quarters for my sacking, arrest or both. I stand accused by some of these sites of peddling fake news.

Net net, by his own admitted actions, Aroor has amplified an unsubstantiated allegation, which gave it oxygen, which led to communal tension; his journalistic choices have been irresponsible throughout. As for the allegation that this “story” has to do with the Karnataka elections, consider what is happening on the ground:

#1. Karandlaje in short order propagated a fake story of jihadi rape. #2. Even two weeks after the original incident, Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde was openly threatening violence in the state. Read that again, slowly: A Union Minister, sworn to uphold the rule of law, threatening violence and bloodshed. #3. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh continues to beat the drum of “justice” at a rally in Karnataka. Again — this is the central minister for Home — the man in charge of law and order in the country. #4. Tensions flare in Belagavi and every time some semblance of peace is restored, there is a fresh outbreak.

Do you need to be told that the next major state election is in Karnataka? Here, a clip from a story cited earlier (Again, emphasis mine):

Even after the state government handed over the investigation into Mesta’s death to the Central Bureau of Investigation on December 13, the BJP refuses to scale down its protests. For the coming week, it has announced a “jail bharo andolan”, calling upon people across Karnataka to court arrest to protest the Congress government’s policy of favouring Muslims. Chief minister Siddaramaiah has accused BJP of using Mesta’s death to create trouble for political gains.

The communal tensions come at a time when political parties are preparing the ground for Karnataka assembly elections to be held in the first half of 2018. In 2012, BJP had won in just one of the six constituencies in Uttara Kannada district and one of the eight constituencies in neighbouring Dakshina Kannada district. The 14 seats in coastal Karnataka will prove crucial in deciding the winner of next year’s election.

Connect the dots: Karnataka is Congress-ruled. Elections are due. The BJP, consistent with its win-at-all-costs methodology, has in rapid succession used two fake stories to stoke communal tension, and already begun to propagate its time-tested “favoring Muslims” allegation — the party’s go-to trope in every single election, in every single state. And all this is happening in the one region where the BJP is most anxious to gain a foothold.

Here is the part that should scare you: The dates for the Karnataka elections have not even been announced yet. And already, a former state-level minister, and two Union ministers, have done their damndest to light fires. Who knows what else is in store as the campaign actually gets under way?

All of which is why the “journalism” of the likes of Aroor — thoughtless, if I am being charitable; unprincipled, if I am being honest — is so dangerous; it is the oxygen that feeds the flames of bigotry, of hatred.

Elsewhere:

#1. BJP MP Kirron Kher joins the long line of politicians using fake photos to stoke faux patriotism

#2. A “fringe” outfit (I’ll have more to say on these fringes in a later post) in Karnataka is outraged that Sunny Leone, gasp!, is scheduled to perform at a New Year’s event in Bangalore. What will she wear?! Will she wear anything at all?!! Shock, horror!! And so the police — whose duty is to maintain law and order, not cater to every damn bunch of lunatics threatening the peace, decides to cancel the event. That is who we are today — a nation captive to every ragtag outfit that can say it with stones.

#3. Proving yet again that politics is the last refuge of the certifiably insane, a BJP MLA says that Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma chosing to get married in Italy is an unpatriotic act. The bit that should worry you?: “The crowd that had gathered there was seen applauding as the MLA was speaking.”

#4. The Hindu Jagran Manch — yet another of our ‘fringe’ groups, of which more here — threatened violence if Christian-run schools in Uttar Pradesh celebrated Christmas. Which is par for the course with the HJM. What should make you sit up and take notice is this: A Union minister saying, in support of the HJM threat, that schools are not religious places and people should celebrate only in their homes.

#5. A CAG report, which names Ramdev’s Patanjali in a list of polluters, provides a grim view of the Clean Ganga project.

Now, as per the CAG report, the river in the Prime Minister’s constituency of Varanasi happens to be along one of the most polluted stretches. In six cities of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal oxygen levels in the water have plummetted from the level it were in 2012-2013. Total coliform bacteria levels in all cities of UP, WB and Bihar was very high. The water quality in these cities was not even fit for bathing.

#6. In Rajasthan, a man kills a Muslim, videotapes the incident, and uses the videotape to raise money for an anti-Muslim campaign. Over 700 people from across the country deposit over three lakh in his account. A Hindu group supporting the killer clashes with police and raises a saffron flag over the area courthouse premises. And it turns out that the wrong man was killed.

Unpack this slowly:

During grilling, Shambhul told police that labourer Mohammed Afrazul, a resident of West Bengal’s Malda, was not his target.

He wanted to kill one Ajju Sheikh because he was in contact with a girl whom Shambhu regarded as his sister. But we suspect Shambhu had an affair with her,” said Rajendra Singh Rao, police circle officer of Rajsamand.

This hero on whose behalf people are raising funds and attacking cops brutally killed a man while meaning to kill another man he believed had eyes on ac”sister” he was having an affair with. Now what? Can the 700 idiots who “contributed to the cause” ask for their money back?

Tailpiece: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to TimesNow which, these days, is on a batshit hashtag trip, is engaged in Mission Sab Ka Saath. Per which Modi, on December 19, met fisherfolk in Kerala who were affected by Cyclone Ockhi and told them this:

“This is not the time for a lecture and I assure you that we will do everything to help you and that’s why I myself have comeWe are all with you and will do everything. With Christmas round the corner, we wish all the missing return back,” he said in his brief remarks on the occasion.

But even that is nothing compared to what he said next:

“The cyclone hit Lakshadweep, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and many of the fishermen are yet to return. We have taken quick action by first sending Defence Minister (Nirmala Sitharaman). The whole country is with you in your grief,” he said to claps from the grief-stricken families.

“…claps from the grief-stricken families”? Where is that facepalm emoji when I need one?

The cyclone hit the Kerala coast on November 30.

Originally published by Prem Panicker here.