“Muslims in Uttar Pradesh are happy with the efforts of PM Modi and CM Yogi,” declared a news segment aired on on January 19. It relied on a ground report from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi, where an event had been organised by an outfit called Vishal Bharat Sansthan.
The telecast came the same day the ministry of external affairs had issued its first remarks on the controversial BBC documentary series on the 2002 Gujarat riots and PM Narendra Modi’s relationship with Indian Muslims. The MEA had termed it a “propaganda piece”, two days after the BBC premiered the series in the UK.
The nearly eight-minute-long ground report on Times Now Navbharat, meanwhile, featured several bytes from participants, mostly Muslim clerics, at the event called Jalsa-e-Ulmaye-Islam. The reporter introduced the event by talking about the outreach to Muslims by the PM as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
“They are responsible for the Godhra carnage – be it the Congress party, or the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party. In order to serve their own ends, they pass on the blame to Modiji,” one cleric told the reporter. Another cleric said “India is free of riots now, and in Uttar Pradesh there are hardly any riots so why should we be scared?”
The chief guest was RSS leader and Muslim Rashtriya Manch chief Indresh Kumar, and the event ostensibly had links with the BJP’s parent outfit RSS. However, the channel’s reporter said the gathering had not been organised by the RSS but “some of its tall leaders were present on the occasion”.
Newslaundry reached out to Tazeem Bharatvanshi, the media coordinator of Vishal Bharat Sansthan. “As far as Vishal Bharat Sansthan is concerned, our marg darshak (mentor) is Indresh Kumar who belongs to the Sangh and often participates in our programmes.”
Bharatvanshi also confirmed that most participants at the event were members of the Vishal Bharat Sansthan, an organisation which has been in existence since 1988 with branches in several districts of east UP.
In recent years, its affiliate group Muslim Mahila Manch has made it to headlines for its initiatives such as obeisance to Lord Ram in October and welcoming the judgment by Varanasi’s district court in the Gyanvapi mosque case
Meanwhile, as the around the BBC documentary raged on over the next few weeks, clips from the same Times Now Navbharat show portraying a positive sentiment for PM Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath among Muslims made its way to several pro-BJP WhatsApp groups and platforms. These included Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar, a YouTube channel which claims to be working on the 2024 Narendra Modi campaign.
But the January event is not the only such story aired on the channel.
YouTube live from the Lucknow event organised for Pasmanda Muslims
Another event, no disclaimer
On October 19 last year, at an event in Lucknow organised by the BJP for Pasmanda Muslims, Times Now Navbharat’s YouTube channel posted a four-hour featuring the reporter and participants.
After the reporter spoke about the poor socio-economic condition of Pasmanda Muslims, the story segued into questions such as whether the “BJP would be able to bridge the gap with Muslims.”
“What did the Pasmanda Muslims say in appreciation of BJP and PM Modi?” read the slug on the video.
However, the video itself did not specify that it was an event organised by the BJP; only the YouTube description mentioned this fact.
Newslaundry reached out to Javed Malik, president of the Akhil Bhartiya Pasmanda Muslim Manch, which helped organise the event for the BJP. “Such a function had been organised for the first time in Uttar Pradesh by the BJP with UP’s deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya as the chief guest. We are trying to give a platform to the voice of Pasmanda Muslims unlike the Ashraf Muslims who’ve always been heard. PM Modi is now thinking about them (Pasmanda Muslims).”
According to Malik who is also the president of the BJP’s west UP wing, such events for the Pasmanda Muslims have been part of the party's overreach to a certain section of the minority community.
While the Pasmanda movement has sought a nationwide caste census, and restructuring of quota categories for social justice for depressed classes among Muslims, a section of the movement in recent years has seen greater intermingling with Hindutva forces with little attention to core demands of social justice.
(Newslaundry recently on one such convention in Delhi with a focus on underrepresentation of Pasmanda Muslims in minority institutions.)
A clip from a similar event organised in February on the network’s YouTube channel was titled ‘Muslims speak about PM Modi before 2024’.
The All India Minority Conclave, held in Chandigarh, had been by the , whose patron Satnam Singh Sandhu is known to be an of PM Modi and is the chancellor of Chandigarh University. The video posted on the Times Now Navbharat YouTube channel is a portion of the uploaded by the NID Foundation’s YouTube channel. The keynote speakers included Kerala Governor .
Newslaundry has sent a questionnaire on such videos to Times Now Navbharat’s communications department. This report will be updated if a response is received.
With inputs from Anuj in Varanasi.