At the start of Aman Chopra’s 8 pm debate show, Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge, on News18 India, an authoritative voice backed by intense background music announces a “statutory warning”: “Truth is bitter. If you don’t have it in you to stomach the bitter truth, please don’t watch this show.”
Fair warning, because Chopra’s recent shows must only be viewed at one’s risk – if at all. Even given the declining standards of primetime news, Chopra’s offering was a cocktail of communal dog-whistling and bigotry.
First, some context.
On October 24, India lost a T20 World Cup cricket match to Pakistan. FIRs were in two states against Indians who allegedly celebrated Pakistan’s win. Charges under the UAPA were invoked against the students and management of two medical colleges in Jammu and Kashmir, while three students in Uttar Pradesh were arrested for allegedly shouting pro-Pakistan slogans after the match.
Seven people were booked in total in Uttar Pradesh, for either allegedly celebrating the win or shouting slogans.
So, over this week, Chopra based three of his “news debates” on these developments. While Chopra successfully avoided showing anything of actual news value in the three shows, he also offered a masterclass in nuanced bigotry.
It is important to note that those arrested or booked were Kashmiri students, and insurgent sentiments in the valley have been a long-standing issue. But what Chopra tried to do with his show is to paint Indian Muslims in bad light by disguised and carefully wrapped dog-whistles.
Case in point is Chopra’s exchange with Ahmad Ayaz, the secretary of the J&K Muslim Personal Law Board. Chopra’s show on October 25 by Pakistan legislator Sheikh Rasheed, who had said Pakistan’s cricket victory was a “victory of Islam”, supported by Muslims across the world and in India.
It is because of this video, Chopra said, that “the Muslims of the world, the Muslims of India and Pakistan have come together...” He cited former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s in this context.
After playing a video clip from Rasheed’s speech, Chopra asked Ayaz, “Those who are in India are Indians first, right? Nation before religion, am I right? Do you agree? First Indian then Kashmiri, first Indian then Muslim.”
“Yes, Indian Muslims, Indian Hindus, correct,” said Ayaz.
“No, no,” Chopra intervened, “You are first Indian, then Muslim, I am first Indian then anything else… am I right?”
To which Ayaz said: “No, religion is foremost.”
“This, this is exactly the thinking,” Chopra said. “This is why some Muslims here are celebrating the win of Islam in Pakistan...Tell me one reason why these traitors have come out to support Pakistan. They have come out because of religion.”
When Ayaz said it was wrong to link a cricket match with religion, Chopra said, “Ahmad bhai, then why have these traitors come to the streets...They have come because of religion.”
Later in the show, he said: “Some people from the Jinnah gang who missed their train in 1947 and were left here, they are celebrating here.” Complaining to BJP’s Sudhanshu Trivedi, he went on: “My complaint is that a strong message is not given to such people...Those who say Jai Shree Ram or Bharat Mata ki Jai are put behind bars…”
On another show, he said, those who are blind should now open their eyes and see that “for these traitors, the match was never about cricket, but about religion.”
Let’s break it down.
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Of traitors and ‘anti-country’ activities
, Chopra said: “If India had won, and people had celebrated in Pakistan, god knows where the terrorist army of Bajwa [the Pakistan army chief] would have sent them. But here, we allow anything and everything in the name of ‘too much democracy’, freedom of expression and secularism.”
Chopra’s theory is that Pakistan would have sent those celebrating India “to hell”. On our shores, however, we’re tasting the “cyanide of secularism” and suffering under “too much democracy”, thus permitting scoundrels to cheer Pakistan during a cricket match.
His took it several steps further.
For starters, it was titled “Gaddaron ki Diwali, UP mein Kali?”, meaning “It’s a black Diwali for traitors in UP?”. Chopra was specifically jubilant about the “efforts” of the Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh, hailing the police action taken against those he called “gaddars”, or traitors, and “Pakistan bhakts”.
Referring to by Adityanath’s office, he went on, “Today, the souls of those who celebrate Pakistan’s victory are shaking in fear. Because now, they get charged with sedition. This has been done in Uttar Pradesh.”
Meanwhile, the ticker flashed text like “Pakistani bhakt, Yogi sakht”, meaning “Yogi strict on Pakistan devotees”, and “Pakistani awaaz, Yogi hee ilaaj”, or “Yogi is the cure to the Pakistani voice”.
Chopra’s panel that day included representatives from the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Janata Dal United; along with the former DGP of Uttar Pradesh, Vikram Singh.
Chopra asked Singh what has changed in Uttar Pradesh. Singh said the state government has “shown moral courage in doing what should have been done much earlier”.
Singh also said there’s “zero tolerance” towards “anti-country activities” and “Pakistan adoration”. “For very long, we have tolerated such undesirable activities,” he said, but now, the country has to “decide whether these activities should be treated with homeopathy or with a bypass surgery, there is no other alternative”.
During the course of the show, the JDU’s Ajay Alok had a eureka moment: “It should be passed in the parliament that the citizenship of those who commit treason should be quashed...Why should we carry their burden? Why should they be charged and put in jail only to be fed and taken care of like a son-in-law? They want to go to Pakistan, let them...they will come to know the importance of India.”
Chopra hailed this plan, saying, “There should be no place for traitors in this country.”
Disagreeing panelists are Pakistani supporters
If this isn’t exhausting enough, allow us to break down Chopra’s show on October 26, the day after the cricket match.
Riffing off FabIndia’s that was later retracted, the show was titled “Jashn-e-gaddar, Pakistan ke yaar”.
Chopra commenced by saying, “India’s loss, and the traitors come out of their burrows.”
Visuals flashed onscreen: college students cheering, “pro-Pakistan” sloganeering, random people “celebrating” with soft drinks. These people are, in Chopra’s own words, “traitors”, members of the “Jinnah gang”, and agents of “Pakistan’s sleeper cells”.
At no point in any of his shows did he mention that the Jammu and Kashmir police told his own channel’s website News18, that most of the viral videos were old footage.
This is also when Chopra clashed with Ayaz Ahmad, who pushed back against the politicisation of a cricket match.
Chopra wasn’t having it. “Why am I getting the hint from your statement that you have not felt very sad about India’s loss?” he asked soon after.
Later in the show, panelist Irfan Lone, a lawyer and a member of the district development council in the Sangrama territorial constituency, told Chopra that as a “senior” journalist, he must not “stoop so low” and politicise a game.
Chopra was astounded. “You have also celebrated, right?” he asked Lone. “I feel you were also a part of those yesterday who celebrated Pakistan’s victory.”
Celebrating the UAPA state of affairs
Finally, there was , after students in Kashmir were booked under the UAPA. The show was titled, “UAPA wala thappad se sudhrenge gaddar?” Loosely translated, “Will traitors be disciplined by the UAPA slap?”, with the hashtag #GaddarGangKaGameOver.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra was on the panel, so you can guess what followed.
Describing the UAPA charges as “news worthy of celebration”, Chopra said, “Now, patriots should burst crackers because these traitors in Kashmir, who had celebrated India’s loss and Pakistan’s win, have been booked under sections of the UAPA.”
The ticker helpfully said, “Indulge in Pakistani celebration, be called a terrorist.”
He added, “It seems like it’s time over for the tukde-tukde gang because UAPA is an anti-terror law, where it is difficult to even get bail. The soul starts to shiver.”
Chopra then asked Patra why the “Kashmir UAPA model” isn’t being implemented across India. Patra, true to form, agreed that the UAPA charges must be hailed.
Firdaus Taak, a representative from the People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir, pointed out that due to UAPA charges, the future of over 50 students in Kashmir has been put at stake. While celebrations are wrong, he said, it should be probed why the sentiment exists at all, instead of using “arm-twist” policies.
Taak said: “In the last three years, the policies being implemented by the central government in Kashmir, the laws that are being formulated..."
Chopra promptly cut him off, saying, “So, if the policies are not right, ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogans will be shouted?”
Taak’s response was simple. “If you want to form an opinion about me because of my name,” he said, “you are free to.”
Irony also died a thousand deaths that night. Indian Muslim Front representative Shoeb Jamai told Patra he did not belong to the “Godse and Sawarkar family”. Chopra was aghast. “Your language is wrong,” he told Jamai firmly. “You’re on the national news. Mind your language.”
All in all, it’s just another week on TV news.