In a rare show of editorial courage, Aaj Tak anchor Anjana Om Kashyap cornered BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia over the remission of sentence of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, and asked audience present in the studio to rally behind her questions as the party leader tried to digress from the issue.
The face-off was part of her show Dangal – in which Anjana discussed RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s outreach to the Muslim community – on Thursday last week. Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate and BJP’s Bhatia were panelists on the debate – Shrinate’s party has claimed that Bhagwat’s recent camaraderie with Muslim clerics at religious sites was a response to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Now, Anjana isn't exactly known for her editorial courage, given that on many instances people have gotten away with saying debauch things on her show and that rarely has she questioned the powers that be, as you can see here, here, here, and here. However, on this particular show, she seemed to be in a new avatar, raising questions about such an outreach undertaken on part of the BJP’s parent organisation RSS in light of the perception that the party has a role to play in the denial of justice in the Bilkis Bano case.
“Is this a side effect of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra? This is what the Congress says,” she said.
Bhatia tried to respond with whataboutery, saying that article 370 was a temporary provision in the larger scheme of ‘Akhand Bharat’ and that his party always endeavoured for a united India. “Jawaharlal Nehru had said that this would take time. But you know why they never had the courage to remove it? Because there was a Muslim majority. Then Narendra Modi and Amit Shah threw away article 370 and Kashmir became an undivided part of an unbreakable India.”
But Anjana interrupted. “What did I ask and where have you gone? I have understood everything except the answer. Please answer the question...is there no mistrust among Muslims in this country? Is this not why Mohan Bhagwat is reaching out? Come to the real issue. You have spoken about article 370 many times.”
Bhatia tried to hit back with a reference to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. “The country’s stability was hit when the 1984 riots took place. Sikh brothers and sisters were killed, sisters were raped. And Sajjan Kumar and Tytler were made members of parliament,” he said, listing the Narendra Modi government’s welfare efforts such as the Ujjwala scheme.
At this point, Anjana brought up the Bilkis Bano case. “When are you sending Bilkis Bano’s rapists back to jail?” she asked. “All those who support my question, please stand up.” Everyone in the studio stood up in response.
Notably, the interaction comes a month after Anjana debated the issue on her show Halla Bol. The committee that cleared the remission of sentence of the Bilkis Bano convicts also had two BJP legislators.
“Sir they were brought into the party, but you brought rapists out of the jail,” Anjana said, asking why the Bilkis Bano rape-murder case convicts were brought out of jail and when they would be sent back.
Bhatia cited provisions of the code of criminal Procedure under which the convicts were released. “What happened with our sister has been taken into cognizance by the Supreme Court….because I am a soldier of the Supreme Court, I can say that it will be assured that the woman will get justice,” he said.
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