#YuvaHunkarRally: An alarming message for media

While the organisers need to worry about the empty chairs spotted at the venue, the treatment meted out to sections of the media indicates the beginning of a dangerous trend.

ByAmit Bhardwaj
#YuvaHunkarRally: An alarming message for media
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The #YuvaHunkarRally was not only a hit with TV news channels but the social media as well. It was one of Twitter’s top trends on Tuesday. However, as far as participation of the masses was concerned, it failed to leave an impact.

To be precise, the yuva (youth) were missing on the ground. So much so, that security personnel deployed at and around Delhi’s Parliament Street outnumbered the participants. 

The youth rally, called by Dalit youth leader and Gujarat legislator Jignesh Mevani, also had an alarming message for the media. Slogans, against a certain section of the media, were raised both at the beginning as well as the end of the event. It was alarming because those shouting these slogans and chasing the journalists were doing so voluntarily. 

Several youth leaders had assembled at the rally. The common link between them was that most of them had faced the might of the state’s oppressive machinery at one time or another. Be it Assam’s peasant movement leader Akhil Gogoi, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) student Umar Khalid, or missing JNU student Najeeb Ahmad’s sister or Mevani.

Though the rally was called to raise an array of youth-related issues, slogans demanding the release of Bhim Army’s founder Chandrashekar kept reverberating at the venue.

In his scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Vadgam legislator asked Modi to choose between the Constitution and the Manusmriti. “Not Love Jihad, we are love-ishq-mohabaat zindabaad guys. We celebrate April 14 (BR Ambedkar’s birth anniversary) and we will also celebrate February 14,” Mevani said.

Questioning the PM, the Dalit leader said, “Why even today incidents like Una (flogging incident) are happening, why is Bhima Koregaon happening?…Why are farmers in Madhya Pradesh being shot at?”

The Vadgam legislator said the machinery of the BJP is bringing up non-issues such as Love Jihad and Ghar Wapsi so that the youth doesn’t question them on real issues like unemployment and demonetisation.

While the rally was widely covered by the media, the low crowd turnout would be certainly disheartening for the young organisers. However, they blamed the low turnout on the heavy police deployment and “misinformation” spread by sections of the media and the police.

Former JNU students’ union vice president and one of the key organisers, Shehla Rashid, told Newslaundry, “Misinformation was spread by a section of media that the rally has been cancelled. Even the official twitter handle of DCP [Delhi Police] was spreading the misinformation about the permission [for organising] the rally. That’s why the crowd was less.” She added, “The entire area has been cordoned off by the Delhi Police. Anyone would be scared to reach the venue in these circumstances.”

As a matter of fact, both claims made by the organisers are right in a way. Until this morning there was utter confusion regarding the police permission for the rally. Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan had taken on the Delhi Police for claiming, on the micro-blogging site Twitter, that permission for the rally cannot be granted considering the restrictions put up by the National Green Tribunal. However, Team Mevani seemed unperturbed by the police’s stand.

On January 9, by noon, Delhi’s Parliament Street, the venue, was transformed into a mini cantonment. The Delhi Police had cordoned off the entire area. Anti-riot vehicles, several buses and water cannons had been stationed near the venue. One would prefer to stay away from a rally being organised without police permission especially when it has thousands of police personnel deployed in the area. While the claims about crowd participation could vary from organisation to organisation, the footfall was not more than 1,000 even when the rally was at its peak. The empty chairs spotted at the venue are proof.

But does that mean the rally itself was a flop show? Well, that would be jumping the gun. Team Mevani should be given credit for the fact that they were able to form a larger alliance against the current dispensation, considering that the political opponents of the BJP have failed to do so as far as national politics is concerned.

Leaders, including Bhushan, targeted the BJP and Right-wing organisations. “Today, our fundamental rights are under attack,” Swaraj Abhiyan leader Bhushan said, addressing the crowd. He added that the country has witnessed instances when several people criticising the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the likes of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath have been booked by the police.

Several youth leaders from different states raised the issues of unemployment and the use of a repressive state machinery to crush the youth-students’ movement. One such leader was Pooja Shukla, the girl who was arrested on June 9 from Lucknow for waving black flags at Adityanath’s convoy. Shantanu, representing the Banaras Hindu University anti-molestation movement, also spoke on the issue.

While an array of leaders failed to create a singular, larger narrative – besides being anti-BJP and anti-Modi – a common thread was the demand for the release of the Bhim Army’s chief. In fact, most vocal participants were largely those who had come together to demand Chandrashekar’s release.

Days after the inter-caste violence in Saharanpur, the Uttar Pradesh Police had arrested the Dalit leader who was on the run. A day after he was granted bail in November 2017, the UP Police had charged him under the National Security Act (NSA).  

The change in the understanding and tone of Bhim Army’s chief Vinay Ratan was noteworthy. On Tuesday, Ratan didn’t sound like a regular aggressive Bhim Army activist. “Bhim Army belongs to the classes of the oppressed. If a Dalit is oppressed, Bhim Army would stand for them, if a Brahmin or a Kshatriya is oppressed – Bhim Army stands for them. We will have to fight both the casteist and the capitalist structure,” he said.

Another activist, also charged under the NSA, Gogoi, attacked the BJP on other concrete issues. In his salvo against the BJP governments at the Centre and the state Gogoi said the proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act “will make two crore illegal Bangladeshi” non-Muslim migrants Indian citizens.

According to Gogoi, while the BJP is doing so with its eye on the votebank, it will destroy the demography of Assam. “We don’t trust Rahul Gandhi or Arvind Kejriwal for this fight. But leaders who have come out of movements such as Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani are to be trusted for this fight,” he said.

Meanwhile, former JNUSU president Kumar also took on the BJP and Right-wingers. However, unlike his associates, who were constantly accusing the media of trying to derail the event, Kumar tried to defend the media. Though, in the following line, he also targeted the journalists reporting from the area where the chairs were empty. “Hum maante hain humare paas bheed nahi. Par jo log yahan aaye hain wo jinda log hain. (While I agree we don’t have much crowd here, those who are present are rational,” said the former JNUSU president, who himself is facing sedition charges.

While the organisers have poor crowd turnout to worry about, the rally had an alarming message for the media fraternity. Throughout the event, the organisers and several speakers kept blaming a certain section of the media for spreading misinformation and running campaigns against youth leaders. Even when Mevani started his speech, he preferred to start it by parodying Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami. He did so on a lighter note. However, the public was not as kind.

On several occasions, “Modi media murdabaad” slogans were raised by protesters. Importantly, these slogans were raised voluntarily. To be specific, channels like Republic TV and Zee News were their target. But what can be seen as the start of a dangerous trend was constant name-calling by people, accusing news anchors of running a propaganda.

It is when the anger against these news anchors is meted out to reporters on the ground that it becomes a threat to the media. The dangerous trend of rounding up, verbally heckling and chasing down reporters from particular media organisations have already started. 

On Friday, January 5, a few youth inside the Press Club of India questioned Republic TV’s Aditya Kaul accusing him of being anti-Ambedkar. They shot this sequence and posted it on social media platforms. On January 9, Zee News and Republic TV reporters were faced with a similar fate at the end of the rally. A Republic TV reporter was surrounded and chased by a section of the crowd as they raised chants of “paid media”.

This portends the beginning of something worse for media professionals. There is no telling when the sloganeering can give way to physical violence. And those indulging in it could be anyone – a commoner, supporters of the Right or Left ideologies or religious fundamentalist organisations.

What happened yesterday will not only deter reporters from covering such rallies but also add an element of fear to their routine job.


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