‘’Friends have told me about Niti Central’s demise. My response is one of indifference. I resigned from my post as Editorial Director of Niti Digital in June 2014 after a callow techie whose only demonstrated qualities were of intrigue and deceit was appointed CEO. As part of my exit agreement, I insisted on all content attributable to me to be removed from the site, including any mention of my name. I wished no association with the new dubious avatar of what was once a trail-blazing multi-media digital platform. I have neither visited the site nor cared to think about it since then. Its closure means nothing to me.’’
These are the exact words of Kanchan Gupta, the former editorial director of the now defunct right wing news portal/ campaign website for BJP called NitiCentral. Any guesses on who this CEO that he is talking about is? It is Shashi Shekhar, who will soon be appointed as a part time member of the Prasar Bharati board by the Narendra Modi Government as per this report.
Shashi Shekhar was contacted over the phone and he responded by saying that he cannot talk about NitiCentral as of now. He said that perhaps next week he can do so. This story will be updated if and when he responds.
Niticentral.com, the right wing ‘‘news portal’’ announced on its official page on 7 February 2015 that it has retired (the word used on the website) as of January 31 2015. The retirement was a little too premature for the website couldn’t even last for a full four years. The website was part of the Niti Digital initiative and described itself as a ‘’news website.’’ The platform actively campaigned for Narendra Modi in the run up to the 2014 election. While there was appreciation in the early days for a right wing voice making itself heard in a crowded left liberal news space, there has also been criticism from readers who have described it as propaganda camouflaging itself as news. Shashi Shekhar was the CEO of the website from June 2014, till the website retired.
Newslaundry got in touch with a former employee of NitiCentral who worked there for more than a year. The employee wished to remain anonymous and said, ‘’After Shashi Shekhar became the CEO, the site was changed to a policy website. So a lot of people did not want to be a part of it as it started carrying far less opinion pieces. It became a lopsided news website. Lots of people stopped writing for us.’’
Shailja Naqvi, Editorial Operations Head of the site till March 2015 was contacted. On being asked whether Niti had become something akin to a propaganda website after Shashi Shekhar took over, she responded in the affirmative. She said, ‘’Lots of people did not associate with them (NitiCentral) after the elections. All of us are journalists, but even if you have your biases it’s important where you put in your opinion.’’
Naqvi said, ‘’While Kanchan Gupta was on the job the page looked very good. We had a specific understanding of what we were doing. Later on somehow the exact vision of the website was lost when Shashi Shekhar took over.’’ Naqvi pointed out that the exit of Kanchan Gupta was also something which was ‘’unceremonious’’ and ‘‘abrupt.’’
Newslaundry also spoke to a senior employee, who worked in NitiCentral as a content officer from April 1 2013 till November 2014. The individual also wrote opinion pieces for the website. He did not want to be named.
He said, ‘’After the elections, Niti could have played a very strong role in being a critic of Modi’s government, reinforcing the vision and critiquing the elements within the government to be able to be a watchdog and thus create a very healthy think tank zone in the setup. Ideally the space Swarajya has. But Shashi and Rajesh (Rajesh Jain is the owner of Niti Digital) did not have the vision to do that. You need to understand the content ecosystem. You can’t just have opinion pieces on net neutrality, you must also have them on Muzaffarnagar.’’
He was asked to leave NitiCentral in November, 2014.
An opinion piece had been written by him on Somnath Bharti and the controversy over the African women. He had been threatened with legal action on Twitter by Bharti. He claimed that nothing in the piece was unsubstantiated. According to him, he was asked to leave in the next 24 hours by Shashi Shekhar. He said, ‘’Niti did not want to take any risk.’’
He was asked to step down following Bharti’s tweet. The piece was also taken down. Interestingly, an employee with NitiCentral told Newslaundry that there was another instance when Shashi Tharoor had threatened legal action after an article on Sunanda Pushkar’s death was published on the website.
Swapan Dasgupta is a journalist who is known for his support of the BJP. Newslaundry contacted him and the conversation did not even last for a minute. Dasgupta had written two articles for NitiCentral in 2012 and also took part in a few podcasts titled, ‘’The Swapan Dasgupta Show,’’ sometime in 2013. He said that he did not know much about the website and had nothing to say. He initially couldn’t even recollect that he had written for the website.
NitiCentral started off as a strong voice for the right wing. From a tiger’s roar, it became a cat’s purr before it was finally silenced. It is sad that it was a cat fight that nobody won.