India’s Modi government attacks journalists, following NY Times’ hit piece

BY:Special to| October 10, 2023
India’s Modi government attacks journalists, following NY Times’ hit piece


Late Tuesday in New Delhi, India, two highly respected people who work for the news website Newsclick have been arrested by Prime Minister Modi’s BJP government on anti-terror charges under the draconian law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act that gives the police nearly untrammeled power to act against the principles of justice. Prabir Purkayastha, the founder of Newsclick in 2009, and Amit Chakravarty, the human relations officer of Newsclick, have opposed terror and fought for peoples’ basic human rights all of their lives.

Newsclick focuses its coverage on people’s movements. Their coverage of the struggles of workers and farmers, women and Dalits (oppressed castes), Adivasis (indigenous peoples), and others has enraged the government for years.

The size of the raid was unprecedented — with the exception of the Emergency period under Indira Gandhi in the 1970s, when all civil liberties were rescinded. On the morning of October 3, 500 police officers descended upon people’s homes and workplaces across New Delhi. They detained over 100 journalists and researchers who report on working people’s struggles and daily needs. The police interrogations of detainees concentrated on who reported on most of the powerful working-class and farmer struggles of the last three years.

First, they demanded to know whether the detainees had publicized the terrible violence against Muslims in East Delhi in February, 2020. Second, the police demanded they confess whether they had reported about the horrific policies of the BJP government during the pandemic, and whether they had researched people-centered alternatives to these devastating policies. Third, they demanded these reporters and researchers confess to covering the farmers’ revolt during 2020–21 that ultimately forced the central government to rescind anti-farmer legislation. All of their questions sought to condemn reporters who provide the news, and chastise researchers who gather evidence and share those facts and analyses.

Modi’s BJP government has consistently targeted independent journalists in its 9-year reign. Even the more centrist news outlets have been targeted. In the case of NDTV, the most established news company that refused to be silenced, majority stakes of NDTV were acquired by billionaire Gautam Adani who is close to Modi and the BJP government. In the face of years of personal and financial harassment by the government, the founders of the NDTV news conglomerate, Radhika and Prannoy Roy, resigned from the board in December, 2022. On Oct. 5, the Securities Appellate Tribunal quashed two scurrilous cases brought against the Roys for insider trading.

Modi’s harassment of Prabir Purakayastha and Newsclick has a longer history. In February, 2021, they raided the news organizations with allegations of foreign funding. Similar to the allegations lodged against Prabir this week, they alleged that Newsclick reporting — on the farmers’ protests, Muslim women’s spontaneous protests against anti-Muslim citizenship bills, and the expulsion of migrant workers in cities during the pandemic — were foreign-funded, and designed to undermine the country. Prabir defended his organization then, with the transparency of its funding and its legal compliance with foreign investment.

On August 5, 2023, the New York Times published a slanderous article about the financial support by Neville Roy Singham of leftwing news, research, and other institutions that support the struggles of working-class people. The article was based on public information, but spun in true McCarthyite hysteria to suggest a plot rather than legal financial support for the dissemination of ideas and knowledge about peoples’ ongoing struggles for survival. This article was seized upon by Modi’s government to revive the paranoia of the BJP government against Newsclick.

Even though the NYTimes article admitted that the Modi government’s charges of Newsclick’s ties to the Chinese government had no proof, their story about Singham threw gasoline into the fire of unsubstantiated claims that Singham’s network is backed by the Chinese government. This year, India has fallen to its lowest rank ever in the World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by the non-profit Reporters Without Borders, from 150th last year to 161st. But the Indian people are not taking the repression lying down.

The top leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) quickly condemned the early morning raids. “This is a brazen assault on the media and the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” they wrote. The statement called “upon all Indian democratic minded patriots to rise in unison to protest against such a systematic conspiracy to target, persecute and suppress the media that is meant to be the conscience keeper.”

The former editor of Frontline, N. Ram said, “This is India’s McCarthy-like moment. This is an attack on the freedom of the press.” The people of India have responded with shock and outrage. The largest women’s organization in the country, the All India Democratic Women’s Association, also condemned the charges immediately, saying, “AIDWA expresses solidarity with all those who have been the target of the raids today. AIDWA appeals that all democratic citizens come together to oppose [these] illegal and repressive actions by this fascistic regime. AIDWA also demands that those who have been detained or taken away by the police today must be released forthwith.”

Images: Delhi state committees of the Left parties (CPI-M, CPI, CPI-ML, RSP, AIFB & CGPI) organised a protest on Tuesday against the attempt to silence media critical of the Modi government by CPIM Delhi (Facebook); Arrested journalist Prabir Purkayastha holding his recent book, Knowledge as Commons, photo by CounterPunch


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