On May 30, Anirban Chattopadhyay, the editor of the Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika, resigned. In the days since, rumours and several reports have emerged suggesting Chattopadhyay resigned because he had the Trinamool Congress government in the state or that he was about imminent layoffs and salary cuts.
Chattopadhyay has maintained that he resigned for “”. He was succeeded by Ishani Dutta Ray, who took over as the “temporary editor” of the daily on June 1. Chattopadhyay told the Wire that he will remain associated with the publication.
Chattopadhyay’s exit raised questions, however. A few days before he quit, he had been summoned by the police in connection with an FIR filed against him over “misinformation” in his publication on the Covid-19 death toll.
However, Chattopadhyay’s wife, Madhumita, put up a Facebook post categorically stating that Chattopadhyay had intended to leave his editorial post for “quite some time now”.
Several politicians commented on Chattopadhyay’s resignation. Jagdeep Dhankhar, the governor of Bengal, tweeted that it was a “sad reflection” on the freedom of the press under Mamata Banerjee’s administration.
Surya Kanta Mishra, the state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), asked whether it was meant to “settle the score” because Anandabazar Patrika was “upholding the secular values”.
The FIR was filed on April 5 at the Hare Street police station by Mitra Chatterjee, ex-officio joint secretary and the director of information in the state’s Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs. It said the “Editor & Responsible Person of Anandabazar Patrika” had “published unauthorised and unidentified informations with regard to the Corona related death toll figures as well as Corona affected persons in Anandabazar Patrika and thereby, gave provocation to public panic”.
The FIR was filed under Sections 153, 182, 504, 505(1), and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code, which deal with provocation with intent to riot, circulation of rumour or report, and false information. Newslaundry has accessed a copy of the FIR.
On May 25, Chattopadhyay was served a notice at his office under Section 41A(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code. The notice directed him to appear at the Hare Street police station for questioning within three days.
Interestingly, on the same day, government advertisements appeared in several regionals newspapers commemorating the birth anniversary of Kazi Nazrul Islam, a Bengali writer, musician and activist, and Eid. But the advertisements were conspicuous by their absence in Anandabazar Patrika.
It’s also significant to note that on May 27, Banerjee addressed a press conference on Cyclone Amphan where she pulled up the ABP Group, the newspaper’s parent group, and accused it of “spreading panic”. A reporter who attended the press conference told Newslaundry that Banerjee said the group’s “recent editorials against the Centre” had made it difficult for her to secure financial relief.
Meanwhile, the and reported that Chattopadhyay didn’t appear before the police for questioning; instead, he submitted a letter and medical certificate to the Hare Street police station stating that he was a senior citizen and had been medically advised to avoid exposing himself to infection in this time of the coronavirus outbreak. A police source also told Newslaundry that Chattopadhyay applied for anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
However, a of the regional media reported that Chattopadhyay was interrogated for six hours at the police station on May 28. This was refuted by Chattopadhyay’s wife on social media, who said he did not go to the police station, he was not interviewed by the police, and “not a word came from anywhere to create any kind of pressure on him”.
Newslaundry reached out to the investigating officer in the case at the Hare Street police station, but was told that no comments would be made on an ongoing case. Newslaundry also reached out to Chattopadhyay but he did not respond.
Newslaundry contacted members of Anandabazar Patrika’s senior management for comment. One of them responded: “I will not add to this toxic speculation.”
Newslaundry also repeatedly called the office of Mitra Chatterjee, who filed the FIR against Chattopadhyay, but there was no response.