Crusader Arnab Goswami was hard at work again on the Fourth of July. He might not be American, but he was going to get our country its independence from the scourge of the Urban Naxal, whether or not they existed. But things haven’t gone as planned.
On July 5, 2018, lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj released a public statement about a super exclusive prime-time show, The Debate, on Republic TV which was aired on July 4, and was co-anchored by Shivani Gupta and Arnab Goswami. The activist and Delhi National Law University professor has accused the channel of running the show with unsubstantiated evidence and alleging that she and many others are “Urban Naxals” with Maoist links. She is also accused by the channel of having authored a letter which states that a “Kashmir-like situation” must be created and hints at her involvement in the larger conspiracy to kill the prime minister.
The good thing about Republic TV and most other news channels is that their hashtags are as vague as they come. This specific exposé was supported by the hashtag #UrbanNaxalsExposed.
The exposé on the “news” show anchored by Shivani Gupta was based on two letters accessed by the channel’s deputy editor, Shawan Sen. The first part of the debate was set around establishing the Maoist link to separatists in Kashmir. Gupta declared that “Urban Naxals” are working with Kashmiri separatists and want a financial package to be doled out to them so that they can train their urban cadre, just as separatists in Kashmir train stone-pelters against the Indian state. It wasn’t clear what the amount of this financial package was and whether Gupta and Republic TV are in the know that there are stone-pelting camps where novice stone-pelters are taught how to pitch or spin stones under the guidance of veteran stone-pelters. Which, just in case Republic TV is looking for a story idea, would make for a really riveting programme. #justsaying
The second part of the exposé was based on a letter allegedly written on the Communist Party India (Maoist) letterhead. The channel claimed that the letter was aimed at hatching a conspiracy to derail the investigations in the GN Saibaba case – the Delhi University English professor was arrested in May 2014 on suspicions of being involved in Maoist activities and was later sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017. According to the news channel, the second letter also mentioned that there was a need to build awareness of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) which has led to arrests of those who differ ideologically with the ruling government.
The reason why we say it was “allegedly written on the Communist Party India (Maoist) letterhead” and cannot vouch for the contents of the letter is because, through the hour-long broadcast, the letters were never shown clearly to the viewer. It wasn’t revealed where the channel had received these letters from either. In fact, at one point during the debate, Sen stated that the letters were being currently looked at by the Intelligence department and the matter was sub judice.
One of the panelists on the show, Gaurav Bhatia, Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson, spoke for some of us viewers and said, “We are basing the premise of the debate on the belief that these letters are genuine.” Not that this statement gave the channel any reason for pause.
Establishing a premise without substantial evidence, Republic TV claimed that the “tukde tukde gang” wants to divide the country. Getting caught up in their own conspiracy theory, they then took it a step ahead and claimed that they (the “tukde tukde” gang, not Republic TV) were working in conflation with the ISI of Pakistan.
Republic TV even used the letters to connect some dots and even came up with a flow chart for it!
This is the stuff that the best detective novels are made of.
They then came up with an interesting formula to describe the Urban Maoist logic, which is “Enemy=forces + government”.
All of this on an allegedly serious news channel.
Continuing with their bad journalism spree, they went ahead to claim that the enemy for the “gang” was then India and then debated what unites them all.
On the panel were Gaurav Bhatia, Congress’ Nishant Verma, Communist Party’s Suneet Chopra, economist MR Venkatesh, Srinagar-based activist and journalist Rameez Makdoomi and author and journalist Ratan Sharda. The “debate” disintegrated from a Congress vs BJP match to a Rightwing vs Left in a matter of minutes.
At one point in the telecast, the anchor Shivani Gupta screamed at Suneet Chopra, “questioning” and asking whether “you want India to burn down, how many anti-national activities will you support?” Bhatia decided he should join the shouting crew and yelled at Makdoomi, “There is no need to shout or scream anymore. The money from the separatists will reach you for your monologue on this channel.”
In an hour-long debate, questions were also raised over the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s report stating that there were widespread human rights violations in Kashmir. Republic TV added that college campuses across the country are training grounds for Urban Naxals. The things we learn.
Sudha Bhardwaj wasn’t the only person named by the channel as an Urban Naxal plotting and scheming against the nation-state. Other unverified claims were made against activist Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, currently being probed for the letters recovered from activist Rona Wilson’s laptop on June 6 which were linked to the Bhima Koregaon clashes. And since there’s no point in having a debate about anti-nationals without mentioning author Arundhati Roy, Republic TV also called her an anti-national, creating anti-India narratives abroad.
A news channel should report on the presence of Naxals in urban India, anti-national activities and anti-social activities which endanger the country is expected and warranted. But to do so, with no proof and no corroboration, is simply rumour-mongering and has little – if anything – to do with journalism.
Newslaundry has repeatedly reached out to RepublicTV for their comments on this debate and the claims made by the channel and its anchors. The article will be updated once a response is received.