RSS mouthpiece resorts to copy-paste propaganda against farmers

Panchjanya reproduces old stories from sundry publications in a bid to delegitimize protests against the Modi government’s new farm laws.

ByBasant Kumar
RSS mouthpiece resorts to copy-paste propaganda against farmers
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Since farmers from Punjab and elsewhere arrived at Delhi’s borders late last year to protest against the Narendra Modi government’s new farm laws, the incumbent dispensation has spared no trick to vilify and delegitimize them. The latest such attempt is the April edition of Panchjanya, Hindi mouthpiece of the RSS, the mothership of Modi’s BJP and sundry Hindu supremacist groups collectively known as the Sangh Parivar.

The magazine features 14 farmers who it claims have been benefiting from Modi’s agriculture policies and are leading India towards “change and prosperity”. “Presently, there is great unrest against the three farm laws. Andolanjivis are instigating farmers that the new laws will cause ruin. The ground reality is otherwise,” goes the cover story by Rakesh Sen. “Under the leadership of prime minister Narendra Modi, the central government’s efforts seem to be bringing change in the lives of farmers. Several sons of the soil, through their hard work and government schemes, are leading the country towards change and prosperity.”

Panchjanya claims that its reporters met these farmers in their fields. That’s a lie. Newslaundry found that the stories of all 14 farmers are lifted from sundry publications, mostly verbatim. The RSS magazine even lifted the pictures, without crediting the original sources.

Most egregiously, Panchjanya copies a “success story” from when Manmohan Singh was prime minister and praised the Modi government for it. It’s the story of Kailash Chaudhary, from Kiratpura village in Jaipur, which was carried on the Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s website in 2010.

The magazine never contacted Chaudhary, let alone visited him. “No one from Panchjanya spoke with me. The story you are talking about was published 10 years ago. In that photograph, I am with Harji Ram Burdak ji who was then the agriculture minister of Rajasthan. I was showing him pickles that I have stopped selling since. Harji Ram Burdak has also passed away,” Chaudhary said.

Chaudhary supports some demands of the ongoing farmer protests and opposes a few. “I support the demand for MSP for everyone. Pertaining to the scrapping of the farm laws, I believe that only the wrong provisions should be amended,” he explained.

Kailash Chaudhary’s story in Panchjanya and on the ICAR website.

Kailash Chaudhary’s story in Panchjanya and on the ICAR website.

Of the other 13 success stories carried by Panchjanya, seven are lifted from the newspaper Dainik Jagran. That’s not all: it splits one Jagran report about three farmers into three stories. They are reproduced verbatim, or with minimal editing.

One of these stories is about Sujeet Singh from Tingori village in Mohali, Punjab. He has been an organic farmer since retiring from the Punjab police. Jagran carried his story in December 2020. Panchjanya changed the headline and certain words in the long report and removed some sections.

Speaking with Newslaundry over the phone, Sujeet Singh, 66, said, “People from Jagran never met me. Some agriculture officials had told them about me and they just wrote that. Nobody from Panchjanya came to me either.”

Ironically, Surjeet Singh is involved with the farmer protests that Panchjanya seeks to delegitimize through his story. “My entire village is at Delhi’s Singhu border. I returned recently after spending a week there. My son is still there,” he said.

Asked if he has received government assistance, he laughed. “No help whatsoever,” he said. “I prepare my own manure for organic farming. There is no market for organic produce here. I sell the produce myself. I grow organic sugarcane and make jaggery out of it on my own.”

At one point in our conversation, Sujeet Singh suspected that we might be with the police or the BJP. “If you are journalists, fine. If you are from the BJP, then know that we will not back down,” he said, “we are prepared for sacrifices.”

Another story the RSS mouthpiece lifts from Jagran is about Jaskaran Singh and Balvinder Singh of Bathinda, headlining it “Contract farming will be beneficial”. The magazine used the same picture used by Jagran. Newslaundry could not contact either of them despite repeated attempts.

Then there’s a Jagran story, published in January 2020, about a few villages in Bihar’s Motihari adopted under the ICAR’s farmer awareness campaign. One of the villages is Jasauli Patti where Newslaundry spoke with a farmer named Ravindra Singh. “Thanks to ICAR’s help, my production and income have increased,” he said.

Panchjanya reproduces this story with a few changes. As it does a April 1 Jagran story about tanks built under the MGNREGA scheme in Punjab’s Faridkot. The stories are identical except for Darshan Singh who is a sarpanch in Jagran’s report and becomes a farmer in Panchjanya’s.

Apnikheti is a website run out of Mohali, Punjab, which offers farmers advice related to agriculture and highlights stories of successful farmers.

In its April edition, Panchjanya lifts stories of five farmers from Apnikheti. One of them is Vivek Uniyal, who grows mushrooms in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. He also actively works for the BJP.

Apnikheti published my story in 2019. As far as Panchjanya is concerned, I was not contacted by them,” he said.

Has he received any assistance from the government? “No, no. No help is offered. BJP has been in power since I came to this region,” he replies.

He doesn’t support the ongoing farmer protests, however. “The old arrangement doesn’t benefit farmers. They were committing suicide. And if the government is changing it, then what is the need to protest? Why are farmers asking for old arrangements? If someone is offering better prices outside the mandi then why not sell outside? There’s no need to sell only in mandi,” he argued.

Apart from Jagran and Apnikheti, the RSS mouthpiece lifts a story from the website Access Agriculture. The story is about Neeraj Kumar, 27, of Durdih village in Lekhisarai, Bihar, who runs an NGO called Kheti. Panchjanya reproduces the story word for word.

Neeraj supports the farmer protests. “Most of the farmers in the movement are from Punjab and Haryana. The point about APMC and MSP is not relevant in Bihar but farmers of Punjab and Haryana will definitely incur losses. I support them. The farm laws should be implemented in one state. The farmers will get to know what effect the laws have there.”

About Panchjanya copying his story without attribution, he said, “I didn’t know this. If they have published it without asking, it is wrong. They could have made a phone call at least.”

We asked Panchjanya editor Hitesh Shankar if they had taken permission to reproduce the farmer stories. “The subject has been raised. A response has been requested from the correspondent in this context. Once a response is received then action will be initiated with respect to the facts of the matter,” he replied.

A version of this report was originally published on Newslaundry Hindi.

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