On October 2, Vikas Sahay, a reporter with the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran went to cover an event commemorating the birth anniversary of India’s second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. In attendance was Nirupama Bajpai, chairperson of the municipal corporation in Lakhimpur Kheri.
As soon as he got there, Sahay claimed, he was roughed up by Sobhitam Mishra, a relative of Nirupama’s. “He first pushed me and asked me, ‘Don’t you know your place? Why do you write against doctor sahab?’” Sahay told Newslaundry, explaining the reference was to Dr Satish Kaushal Bajpai ‘Mauni’, the husband of Nirupama. The couple are with the BJP.
Sahay covers the municipal corporation for his paper and, with the next election due later this year, has been reporting on the work done by it at the ward level.
In an FIR filed at Lakhimpur Kheri’s Kotwali Sadar police station, Sahay alleged that Mishra assaulted and tried to strangle him because he was “miffed over stories published in Dainik Jagran”.
Mishra also threatened to kill him if he wrote against the municipal corporation and its chairperson, the journalist alleged.
Acting on the FIR, the police arrested Mishra and booked him under penal code sections related to criminal intimidation and voluntarily causing hurt.
Mishra is a contractual employee at the municipal corporation, where, because of his relation to the chairperson, he’s known as gurga, or henchman, a local journalist told Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity.
Dainik Jagran has been running a series of ground reports titled “Ward Ka Haal Chaal” in its local edition to take stock of the work that the outgoing municipal corporation has done across the 30 wards of Lakhimpur Kheri district. Sahay has contributed several reports to the ongoing series, a weekly feature. “News doesn’t mean I write glossy stuff about how the city has been revamped. Our role is to highlight work not done as part of the report card,” Sahay said.
His reports have looked at run-of-the-mill civic problems of waterlogging, poor maintenance of roads, vacant plots being turned into dumping grounds for garbage, and overcharging of street vendors ahead of Dussehra.
A reporter at another Hindi newspaper who would only speak anonymously for fear of reprisal told Newslaundry he was not really surprised by the assault on Sahay.
“The truth is that Nirupama Bajpai’s tenure has not been an impressive one. No new project has been started or a single road built,” he said. So, he added, the media’s coverage of the municipal corporation has largely been critical. But while his own paper has taken “the route of approaching the executive officer for the official version”, he pointed out, Sahay has been “directly interacting with Bajpai”. Sahay probably thought that “there would be no reaction”, the reporter said, suggesting he should have known better.
Sahay claimed that he had been receiving calls from Mishra before the alleged assault, but he hadn’t responded to them.
Newslaundry tried contacting Nirupama but without success. This report will be updated if there is a response.
In a statement on October 2, Sunil Singh, the BJP’s district president in Lakhimpur Kheri, condemned the assault on Sahay.
Mishra, who is out on bail, claimed that Sahay’s allegations against him were baseless. He had “no objection to stories” done by Sahay, Mishra told Newslaundry, but had expressed displeasure about a Facebook post by the journalist in which he allegedly called Nirupama’s husband a thief.
Dharmendra Rajpoot in Lakhimpur Kheri contributed reporting.