Hindutva groups attack media offices for exposing their members' role in terror attacks in the country.
AT around 5 p.m. on July 16, some 70 members of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu right-wing organisation, gathered around the multi-storeyed Videocon tower building in New Delhi holding placards and raised slogans against the media. After screaming Vande Mataram' and Bharat mata ki jay', the crowd, which had swelled to 800, barged into the building through its two gates and started breaking glass frames and flower pots and vandalising the cafeteria on the ground floor. Some of the guards and officials were injured seriously in the attack. The office of Headlines Today, a national television news channel of the India Today group of publications, located in the building was the target of their attack.
The previous night, the channel had aired an audio-video clip showing the involvement of Hindu right-wing leaders in terror attacks at various places in the country. This perhaps unsettled the RSS, which mobilised its cadre immediately to stage a protest against what it called unsubstantial reporting borne out by the English media bias.
However, Harinder Baweja, Editor (Investigations) of the channel, pointed out that there was nothing unsubstantiated in the story. What we showed was an audio-video clip and an audio clip. The first one showed Dayanand Pandey, Lt Col S.P. Purohit and B.L. Sharma Prem' talking terror. The other audio clip contained a telephone conversation between Dayanand Pandey and a practising doctor plotting to kill the Vice-President of India, Hamid Ansari. We also showed how Sunil Joshi, the main accused in the Ajmer dargah blasts [who was later killed mysteriously], had informed Indresh Kumar, a national executive member of the RSS, about the blasts.
While Dayanand Pandey and Purohit are the chief accused in the Malegaon blasts case, Sharma Prem' is a former Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament from East Delhi. Prem' is known to be a hardliner within the BJP and was a staunch RSS worker. He had settled in Haridwar and stayed away from active politics for many years. However, he decided to contest the 2009 parliamentary elections from a Delhi constituency.
At the same time that the Headlines Today office was attacked, Shiv Sena members attacked Zee 24, another TV news channel, in Mumbai for picking up the news. Here, too, property was vandalised.
When Frontline contacted the RSS media-in-charge, Manmohan Vaidya, for his response, he denied any linkage with the people accused in the clip. He expressed regret that property was vandalised but said that the people who destroyed property did not belong to the RSS. They could be common people who were angry at the unsubstantiated reporting, he maintained. No major member of the RSS was shown in the clip. Those who were featured do not belong to the RSS. We have already said that we will cooperate with the investigating agencies fully. But such reporting is a deliberate attempt to malign the RSS, Vaidya said.
When pointed out that Sunil Joshi was an RSS member, he said there were many people who joined the Sangh but left it subsequently because they joined it with preconceived ideas. We are engaged in only creative and social work. Our job is to develop the character of the nation, nothing else. But the channel tried to falsely implicate us in the case by showing such videos involving people who are not from the RSS, he told Frontline.
Vaidya could, however, not deny that Indresh Kumar was an RSS member. The RSS has come in defence of him. Indresh Kumar stated in a press note: As a swayamsewak for the last four decades, I have led my life transparently and dedicated my life for the nation and its development. I have never believed in any violent activities and I condemn such misrepresentation by the media. It is a political conspiracy against not just me but against all nationalists in the country.
However, journalists in New Delhi are up in arms against such press bashing. S.K. Pande of the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) said, Intolerance of and coercion against the media must be stopped. Whenever a political outfit is in a weak position, it seems to resort to press bashing. At present, it is right-wing Hindutva forces that seem to be on the rampage. It is an attack on the media as an institution.
Similarly, Rahul Kanwal, Executive Editor of Headlines Today, pointed out that dissent could be expressed in a democratic manner, without resorting to violence. This kind of attack is a tacit admission that the story is true.
In the past fortnight, there have been seven attacks on journalists. But what is causing more concern is that individual journalists are coming under attack. Recently, a journalist was killed in Allahabad while covering a Minister's rally. There has to be a risk insurance cover for journalists who are victims of such attacks, Pande said.
Political analysts have pointed out that history bears evidence that violent activities like riots and stray attacks have helped right-wing parties to polarise the electorate and consolidate Hindu votes. The BJP, pushed to the corner after the last parliamentary elections and troubled by internal conflicts, is the only party to gain from such violent demonstrations. D.R. Goyal, the author of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and a historian, said in an interview to Frontline that such attacks on the media were a normal thing for the RSS in the pre-Independence days, and that it would not tolerate any dissent anywhere. Historians say that when right-wing forces are in power, the impact of such attacks is greater and they use it to gain over the polity. However, most of the attacks happen when they are not in power, and they use these to consolidate their vote bank further.
What is, however, significant is the pattern of attacks on the media since 2006, Pande said. We recall the attack on Loksatta, a Marathi-language newspaper in 2006, which was attacked by a splinter group of the Shiv Sena, which supports Maratha majoritarianism, for not publishing any news on Shiv Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the warrior king Shivaji. Incidents such as these show that right-wing groups attack the media at the slightest provocation in order to display their strength in a particular region.
Similarly, when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992, the media were attacked at various places for publishing news against the right-wing parties. The offices of the Hindi and Marathi TV news channels, IBN 7 and IBN-Lokmat, in Mumbai and Pune were attacked and vandalised by Shiv Sena activists on November 20, 2009. Various Shiv Sena spokespersons justified the attacks.
Jammu and Kashmir is known to have witnessed the most brutal attacks on the media and individual journalists. Many journalists have also been killed in this State. It is reported that the Chhattisgarh government has issued an unofficial diktat to the media against reporting or broadcasting anything against the State government and its brutalities in the Maoist-dominated tribal areas of the State. The situation is no different in the insurgency-ridden States of Manipur, Nagaland and Assam.
In such a situation, only an organised and responsive protest from media houses, the Editors Guild and journalists' unions can resist the attack on the freedom of the press.