‘We have to save our club’: Clean sweep for ‘leftist’ panel in Press Club polls

The group won all 21 seats in an election plagued by politics and allegations of ‘fake news’.

WrittenBy:Basant Kumar
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On May 21, voting took place to elect a new crop of office bearers at the Press Club of India in Delhi. A day later, the results were declared – the panel led by outgoing president Umakant Lakhera had won all the seats.

While MMC Sharma, who heads the PCI’s election commission, declared the results at around 9 pm, celebrations had already broken out shortly before. Pallavi Ghosh, the secretary-general candidate from the opposing panel, had also tweeted obliquely about her side’s impending defeat.

For some context, this panel is seen as a “left-liberal” clique, and has been in charge since 2010. Contesting it was a group seen to align with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Importantly, this election had a political shadow cast over it. For instance, a contesting panel led by Ras Bihari was accused of being backed by the BJP and RSS. Ghosh and her team were congratulated before results day by Delhi BJP leader Harish Khurana, though the latter subsequently deleted his tweet. And Congress spokesperson Ragini Nayak had tweeted her best to the “leftist” panel.

Here’s a rundown of the results.

Lakhera is the new president, scoring 898 votes. Runners-up include Sanjay Basak with 638 votes, Ras Bihari with 156, and Santushti Thapar with 46.

NDTV’s Manoranjan Bharti is vice-president, receiving 887 votes as against Pawan Kumar’s 578, KP Malik’s 209, and Shakeel Ahmad’s 52.

Vinay Kumar won the post of secretary-general again with 823 votes. Runner-up Pallavi Ghosh got 668 votes, Sandip Thakur 165, and Rajiv Kumar Nishaana 68.

The post of joint secretary was won by Swati Mathur who received 870 votes. Lakshmi Devi Aere got 536 votes, Jagdish Solanki 244, and Ranjan Basu 51.

The margin of victory for treasurer was slim. Winner Chandra Shekhar Luthra got 787 votes, just 12 ahead of Santosh Thakur’s 776.

The new managing committee comprises 16 members, all from the same panel.

At the PCI premises, the winning side burst into loud cheers when the results were officially declared; chief election officer Sharma had to step in and remind members to maintain the dignity of the club. Those from the opposing camp had already left the premises by then.

While declaring the results, Sharma said, “I have been a part of the club for so many years. As per my information, the polling turnout this time has been the biggest yet. We had to make two ballots because of this.”

Newslaundry learned 1,791 members cast their vote this election, as compared to 1,430 in 2021 and 1,763 in 2020. Higher turnout is often assumed to be a sign of anti-incumbency – and members were discussing precisely that on results night.

President Lakhera saw it differently, though. “Bumper voting happened due to the hard work of our team members,” he told Newslaundry. “Due to our struggle for the interests in our tenure. We amplified the voices of journalists, and people voted in big numbers to push it further ahead.”

Nadeem Ahmed, a former secretary-general of the PCI, told Newslaundry he thought the “bumper voting” was a result of people voting to prevent the BJP-aligned panel from winning. Senior PCI member Sohail Hashmi agreed.

“Today’s result tells us that at least the journalists who are part of the club want to save the freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” Hashmi said. “People who do serious journalism – they came together and voted against the people who are attacking the freedom of the press.”

Santosh Thakur, who lost the election for the post of treasurer by only 12 votes, shot down this theory. “We also want to save the press club,” he said. “First, we should identify those people who don’t want to save the club. There’s hardly a member who wants that.”

Thakur continued, “There are benefits to being the panel in power. Like getting new members. Now, the new members vote only for them. Also, around 200-250 members who couldn’t pay their club fees were barred from voting. They [the winning panel] benefited from this too.”

“However,” Thakur concluded, “they’ve won now. And my heartiest congratulations to them, for the win is the truth.”

Election officer Sharma announcing the results.
The winning group.

‘A victory for press freedom’

Lakhera told Newslaundry this is a “win” for press freedom and journalists, especially with the tragedy and troubles of the Covid pandemic.

“The Press Club of India is called a mini-India because journalists from all over the country take part in its elections,” he said. “In this election, the club has given the message that we won’t let the struggle for the freedom of the press be stopped in its tracks.”

On the narrow margin of victory for the treasurer’s post, Lakhera said, “Chandra Shekhar Luthra was fighting for the post of treasurer. He is a sports journalist. The defeated candidate, Santosh Thakur, is a Hindi journalist. There was no third viable candidate for the post. Had there been a third candidate who might have got 200-300 votes, our margin of victory would have been a lot bigger.”

Luthra himself told Newslaundry he’s been a member of the club since 1997 but things happened this year that he had “never seen before” – such as flowers being distributed and even a “PR company” being hired. Some candidates allegedly took out hoardings in Delhi, and even advertisements in newspapers.

“But all this happened this time,” Luthra alleged. “People forgot this is a club of journalists, a club that stands on values. This is not a property dealing. We have to save our club. I can only ask someone to an extent to vote for me, I cannot employ unfair means to ask others to vote for me.”

Luthra also said he’s “worried” about how the elections will play out in the future.

“Fake news was spread about our president,” he claimed, referring to how an “edited audio clip”, purportedly of Lakhera, had been circulated. “...This is bad for our club and we should worry about it. We are journalists and our work should be our identity. We should save and nurture our values.”

Lakhera said his team planned to “take further action” on the issue of “fake news” being spread. “Unethical activities like this sully the name of the club,” he said. “We will try and identify the people who spread fake news. We won’t spare them.”

This report was originally published in Newslaundry Hindi. It was translated to English by Shardool Katyayan.

Also see
article imageThe journalist as neta: Inside the heady world of Press Club politics

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