Doordarshan called them local residents who just happened to be praising the government.
With the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh scheduled to take place across seven phases from February, political parties – from the Samajwadi Party to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress to the Bahujan Samaj Party – are leaping into the fray to launch their campaigns.
Unsurprisingly, the BJP’s campaign is the grandest, given the scope of its financial and other resources as compared to other parties. Over the past few weeks, prime minister Narendra Modi himself has inaugurated several new projects in the state, and his face, and that of chief minister Adityanath, has dominated newspapers and television screens.
Among this stream of activity is a half-hour programme on Doordarshan called Kya Bole UP. Airing on channels like DD Kisan and DD Uttar Pradesh, the show is anchored by Reema Parashar. Its hoardings have sprung up outside Prasar Bharati’s headquarters at Mandi House in Delhi, featuring Parashar, information on the show’s airtime, and, curiously, ads for the Adityanath government.
But why would hoardings about a programme on the UP election specifically feature ads for the state government? What about the other political parties? When asked, Parashar told Newslaundry, “It’s the marketing team’s job. I’ll give you their number. You talk to them.” She never sent the number, nor did she subsequently take out calls.
(Update: Days after this report was published in Newslaundry Hindi, the hoardings were removed from outside the Doordarshan office.)
But this isn’t the most curious thing about the show.
It features conversations with “common citizens”, like business owners and local residents, on what they think about the BJP’s schemes and programmes in the state.
Except they’re not really “common citizens” at all – they’re members of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the Vishva Hindu Parishad, or are associated with the BJP in one way or another.
Seventeen episodes of Kya Bole UP have aired as of January 8. All the episodes centre on what the BJP says; not one of them features an interview with an opposition leader, or even a photograph of an opposition leader. Instead, the episodes sing the praises of the BJP’s schemes at the centre and state.
An episode in Kanpur, for instance, explained that “three major things” are associated with the city – “Namami Gange, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and the slogan ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’”.
Parashar then turned to the “people to Kanpur” to “talk directly to them”.
Doordarshan introduced one Nirmal Tripathi, described as a namkeen trader. What changes has he seen in Kanpur over the years?
“There has been phenomenal change,” said Tripathi. “I have been the president of this Govind Nagar market for 21 years. I have seen many governments but there has been only one government with the motto of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ and that is the government of our prime minister Narendrabhai Modi and our chief minister Yogiji. Ever since they came to power, the traders have been getting a lot of facilities.”
Are the traders happy, Parashar asked.
“Yes, they are very happy,” he said.
But is Nirmal Tripathi merely a humble namkeen trader selected by Doordarshan for an interview?
In truth, he has been associated with the BJP for almost 40 years. He twice held the position of president of the BJP’s Kanpur business cell. And he is presently a member of the BJP district working committee.
How do we know all this? He told us so himself during a telephone call.
“I have been the president of Govind Nagar Kshetra Vyapar Mandal for 21 straight years,” Tripathi told Newslaundry. “I am seeking a BJP ticket for the fifth time from Kidwai Nagar Vidhan Sabha. Whether I get a ticket or not, I am an old party worker and will remain with the party.”
When asked about his interview with Parashar, Tripathi said, “She herself came searching. She called me and said, ‘I want to interview you.’”
Clearly Parashar was then well aware of Tripathi’s life as a BJP worker. Yet this was omitted from the episode.
The same episode in Kanpur also had Parashar interviewing a man named Manoj Singh, a “local trader”, according to Doordarshan.
“After the Yogi government came to power in the state, law and order has strengthened,” Singh said to the camera. “Not a single riot has happened.”
Minutes later, Singh reappeared – but wearing a change of clothes and holding a new identity. This time around, he sat with Parashar on a boat in the Ganga and was described as a “local resident” who was full of praise for the state government’s efforts in cleaning the river.
So, is Singh a local trader, or a local resident, or both?
He’s actually a lawyer who has been associated with the BJP since 2019, and is also the former president of Kanpur University. According to his Facebook page, he’s preparing to fight the election on a BJP ticket from the Govind Nagar assembly seat. His supporters call him a “veteran BJP leader and future MLA”.
Here’s what Singh himself told Newslaundry: “I am a lawyer, not a businessman. Before joining the BJP in 2019, I was with the Congress. As far as contesting the election from Govind Nagar goes, I have been the president of the university and my domain is very big.”
A third character in the Kanpur episode was Atal Pratap Singh, who spoke to Parashar while standing in a shoe store. He praised the state government’s “one district, one product”, or ODOP, scheme.
Like Singh and Tripathi, Atal Pratap is also associated with the BJP – a fact that Doordarshan chose to skip. He’s a VHP member from the Kanpur Dehat area and has a photo of himself presenting flowers to Narendra Modi.
“My entire family has been associated with the BJP from much earlier,” he told Newslaundry on the phone. “Right now, I have got the responsibility of the Vishva Hindu Parishad in Kanpur.”
Did he not tell Parashar of his association with the BJP?
“She had an appointment,” he said. “There are pictures of me with Maharaj [Adityanath] and Modiji in my office. I told her too. There is nothing to hide.”
While Kanpur’s episode revolved around government schemes like Namami Ganga and Swachh Bharat, the Kya Bole UP episode from Jaunpur lauded the government’s work for farmers.
During the episode, Parashar said, “Attempts have been made to spread confusion on the issue of farmers. But the situation is quite the opposite...The farmers say their condition has improved a lot because of the kind of schemes going on for them. Be it fertilisers, providing seeds or the matter of Kisan Samman Nidhi...these are all such things which make the life of the farmers better. The farmers are very satisfied and happy.”
The episode also featured BJP members masquerading as members of the public.
For starters, Parashar visited a famous Beniram Debiprasad imarti shop – imarti being a fried sweet like a jalebi – where she posed questions about the UP government’s ODOP scheme.
One Mithilesh Tiwari, a “local resident”, said, “Ever since the BJP government has come to power, Jaunpur district has seen a lot of progress. Jaunpur is on the path of development. The people here are very nice. This was not the case during previous governments.”
Mithilesh is, of course, a BJP worker. After serving in the CRPF for 25 years, he retired two years ago and has been with the BJP ever since. He also works with Gyan Prakash Singh, a senior BJP leader who is expecting a party ticket in the upcoming election.
“I love Yogiji and Modiji,” Mithilesh told Newslaundry. “They made the whole country crime-free. Therefore, after retiring, I joined the BJP.”
On India being “crime-free”, we asked him about former MP and present fugitive Dhananjay Singh who was recently seen playing cricket in Jaunpur. Mithilesh declined to respond.
Mithilesh said he had been eating imartis when Parashar and others arrived. “Many others were there, so was I,” he said. “ She asked my name and put some questions to me which I answered.”
Did he tell her about his association with the BJP? “My remarks must have made it very clear to her, and to everyone standing there, that I am associated with the BJP,” he said.
The Jaunpur episode also featured Gyan Prakash Singh’s nephew, Shiva Singh, praising the government.
Meerut, Varanasi, Amethi and Ayodhya
From Kanpur to Jaunpur to Meerut, the concealment of identities continued on Doordarshan.
In Meerut, Parashar first went to a spot where food was being distributed under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana. When a random member of the public brought up the rising price of gas cylinders, she cut him off, saying, “What about free ration?”
Parashar then chatted with one Dinesh Mahajan who works in “business of sports goods”. What do you feel is different now than the past, she asked, and Mahajan waxed eloquent on the government’s work, especially the ODOP scheme.
It’s true that Mahajan’s family has worked in the sports business for three generations. But he’s also an office-bearer of the RSS. Doordarshan did not reveal that fact.
“Currently, I have the responsibility of Meerut province,” Mahajan said. “I am the coordinator. A child born in our family wears the RSS knickers first and nappies later.”
Doordarshan then took its viewers to Varanasi, the prime minister’s constituency, where Parashar visited a primary school adopted by Modi in Jayapur village. After the usual rituals of praising the school and the government, she said, “Let’s talk to people sitting here.”
The first question was posed to one Shiv Shankar Singh Khiladi. “Are you a resident of this district?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am, I live in this village. I belong to an ordinary family,” he said, and enthusiastically praised Adityanath and Modi.
Shiv Shankar is a BJP leader, as Newslaundry found out.
Parashar then went to Amethi, historically the Congress’s family bastion held by Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. In 2019, BJP’s Smriti Irani won from Amethi.
“This is a seat where people expected a lot of development,” Parashar said sadly. “But call it irony or misfortune that this district was devoid of basic things till recently. But now, everything is available here.”
She first visited the HAL workshop, set up in 1984, and then a village near Musafirkhana, where residents make moonj products under the ODOP scheme. One Bal Kishan Nishad, 40, praised Irani on camera and said he had been getting the benefits of the ODOP scheme. He then started talking about not having a house for himself, so Parashar quickly changed the subject.
Next, she went to a district hospital and spoke to a group of youths at the gate while telling viewers there was no hospital here before. This is true, but the construction of the hospital began under Rahul Gandhi’s tenure as MP.
One of the youths, Monu Pandey, chatted with Parashar about how good the hospital is. Unsurprisingly, Pandey has ties to the BJP, as confirmed from his Facebook page.
Finally, the episode from Ayodhya which, predictably, began with Parashar reciting a quatrain in praise of Rama alongside “exclusive” footage of the area that will soon be home to the Ram temple. She talked to visitors, sadhus and mahants, who praised Adityanath and his government.
But this was the theme for Kya Bole UP: a litany of praise for Modi and Adityanath and their respective governments.
Not one word was mentioned about the tragedies that unfolded in Uttar Pradesh less than a year ago – dead bodies in the Ganga, lakhs of migrants returning home on foot, or deaths due to oxygen shortage.
We asked Parashar about the content of the programme, the fact that the show hid identities of interviewees, and why BJP schemes were being promoted.
“You didn’t watch the show properly,” she replied. “Watch it.”
We watched every episode, we said.
“Watch it again,” she retorted.
When we brought up the “locals” actually being BJP or RSS or VHP workers, she said, “Are you questioning my journalism?”
She then disconnected the phone call and did not take our calls again.
We also sent a questionnaire to Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati, but did not receive a response.
This report was first published by Newslaundry Hindi. It was translated to English by Utkarsh Mishra.
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