After the Maharashtra BJP chief urged party workers to “take journalists out for tea” to make sure they only filed “positive” stories, journalists across the state have demanded that he apologise.
Chandrashekhar Bawankule, who became state party president in August, allegedly gave these “instructions” while addressing a gathering of workers in Ahmednagar. An audio clip of his comments soon went viral.
The Working Journalists’ Union of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar released a statement inviting Bawankule for a “special party”, promising to bear all expenses. The union then took out a procession this morning to the BJP office to extend its “invitation” to the state BJP.
Vindo Kakde, president of the union, told Newslaundry the BJP “can stoop to any level” to attain its goal of staying in power.
“Bawankule and the BJP believe all journalists are for sale,” he said. “Because of some corrupt journalists in the mainstream and local media, they think all journalists are corrupt. They want to ‘manage’ journalists so everyone writes in their favour. They want to destroy the fourth pillar of democracy. Such statements embolden political workers to attack journalists who do not dance to their tunes.”
Kakde vowed that the state’s journalists will not “bow down to such leaders”.
Journalists outside the BJP office this morning.
But what exactly did Bawankule say?
On September 24, he attended a meeting at Mauli Sabhagruha, a venue in Savedi locality of Ahmednagar. The meeting was on the state BJP’s ambitious Mahavijay 2024 project, which aims to win 45 Lok Sabha seats in the state in next year’s general election.
According to the leaked audio clip, Bawankule said in Marathi that party workers must “make a list of 4-5 journalists in your 4-5 booths”.
“Haar-paanch je lok patrakar aahe, tumchya chaar booth var je ase kalakar aahe tyanchi yaadi banawa...Paanch-saat lokanchi...Chaar both var kiti rahnar aahe...Ek-don portal waale asteel, ek-don print media waale asteel, ek-don electronic media waale asteel...Paanch-saha...Tyana mahinyaat ekda chaha pyayla bolwa ..Tyani Mahavijay 2024 paryant aaplya baddal kahi lihu naye...Chaha pyayla bolwa...Chaha pyayla bolwa mahnaje samjhlech asel tumhala...Tyat kaahi kami jaast jhaale tar sujay vikhe aahetach...Dhabhya var gheun jaava...Yacha pudhe tyana vyavasthith sambhulun thevacycha...Konti hee baatmi tya chaar booth var aaplya virodhat naahi aali paahije...Chaar booth cha mahavijay mahnje ek hee baatmi tya chaar booth var aaplya virodhat aali naahi pahije...Aaplya positive aali paahije negative naahi.”
Loosely translated, he said: “You should call them once a month for tea. These people should not write anything about us till Mahavijay 2024. Call them for tea – you must have understood what it means to call them for tea...Take them to the dhaba...From now on, you should properly manage them...Not a single story should come against us...Only positive stories should come about us, no negative stories.”
When he began receiving backlash, Bawankule he had been “misunderstood”. He was also defended by deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who told the media that politicians often “say things out of humour, and such things should not be taken at face value”.
But some journalists in the state aren’t buying it.
Prashant Pawar, who runs a Marathi news portal called Bai Manus, said Bawankule’s comments were “totally a part of political strategy”.
“Dhaba culture exists in tier-2 cities where a section of journalists are entertained by politicians to gain favours,” said Pawar, who is based in Mumbai. “Since 2014, more than 40 journalists in Maharashtra have left journalism and started working for BJP leaders as media advisors or social media heads. But it doesn’t mean all journalists are the same.”
He added, “Bawankule’s statement was mala fide. He believes the entire fraternity to be corrupt. His statement has angered journalists in Maharashtra, but still the reaction is somewhat lacking because he has maligned the credibility of all journalists.”
Journalist Pandurang Sandbhor, the president of a press union called Pune Shramik Patrakar Sangh, told Newslaundry the incident has shown the “true colours of leaders like Bawankule”.
“These guys are two-faced. In public, they pretend to respect journalists. But in private, they mock journalists and consider them to be manageable for money,” he said. “He made this statement in a confidential meeting that was leaked, which helped us know their thoughts about journalists. He should apologise. If he doesn’t, we will boycott such leaders. We will not attend their press conferences until he tenders an apology.”
Nadeem Inamdar, a senior journalist in Pune, said, “It’s shameful for politicians to use such language against journalists. Unfortunately, they have become emboldened because of some black sheep in journalism who bow down to political parties and their leaders for perks and benefits. It’s high time for journalists to introspect, otherwise they will become a laughing stock for everyone.”
Newslaundry made multiple attempts to contact Bawankule for comment. This report will be updated if he responds.