Skip to main content

Media turmoil following allegation of Assam editors' support to "anti-national" elements

By Nava Thakuria*
Reporting turmoil and conflicts was order of the day for most of the Assam-(also northeast India) based scribes as the region was overshadowed by separatist militants with their disruptive activities till few years back. Media persons then faced two edged swords. Reporting would bring brickbats from government agencies, and aloofness could invite wrath from the armed rebels.
Time changed and so did militants’ influence (read power) over the common people. Slowly those militant outfits, who had dreamt of independence out of New Delhi’s “colonial” rule over the alienated region, came to realize that materialization of their golden vision would not be possible in near future. Many turned to peace talks with the government, but few continued their struggle.
While most militant leaders realized their limitations, some elements refused to depart from the notion of armed revolution with the fantasy of a homeland with self-rule. Though never engaged with revolution personally, some emotionally-charged entities too continued their flowery words in favour of militant leaders as and when necessary in public domains.
A section in the media persons is found to be particularly sympathetic towards such a sentiment. Many see this section interpreting an insurgent being killed in an encounter as a Central (popularly termed as Rashtra-Jantra) onslaught on indigenous population. But if a member of armed forces, engaged in counter-insurgency operations in the troubled region, got neutralized, it was projected as a sign of victory to the revolution.
Both newspapers and news channels of the region reported this spirit of the locals, with some even turning sympathetic to the separatists. Even regional newspaper editorials and television talk shows were augmented with such a temperament.
Recently, when most of northeastern localities witnessed an uproarious ambiance with the emergence of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that offers Indian citizenship on the basis of religion to asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The ruling BJP brought the bill and got it passed in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament. However CAB lapsed in the upper house, Rajya Sabha, as the saffron party and its allies did not have majority.
Media sentiment followed numerous anti-CAB protest demonstrations. Some media personalities, including a few intellectuals in Guwahati, began to favour the view taken by the banned separatist militants (read United Liberation Front of Assam-Independent) on the issue. When a few Assamese youths joined Paresh Barua-led Ulfa(I),this was reported as an instant implication of anti-CAB sentiment.
Meanwhile, over 25 Guwahati-based editors signed a memorandum opposing CAB and submitted to Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to pursue with the BJP leadership to withdraw the Bill, which was criticized as anti-Assamese (Jaati-Dhangshi) in nature. Sonowal, on his part, urged them to repose faith on his authority.
The issue of CAB remained visible on poll-campaigns for general elections, with the Opposition Congress raising the issue all through. The outcome of how deep has this sentiment has rooted would, however, be clear on May 23. The north-eastern region sends elected 25 representatives to the Lok Sabha.
The CAB issue has reached to the media fraternity of Assam in different incarnations. Things turned particularly curious after a Maharashtra-based voluntary organization lodged an official complaint against five media outlets alleging that those exploited the turmoil over CAB and helped banned militant outfits in their fresh recruitment drives. Following the accusation of the Legal Rights Observatory (LRO), the Union Home Ministry asked the state government in Dispur to take necessary actions.
Vinay Joshi, convener of LRO, in his public grievance petition sent on February 14, 2019, accused four editors, namely, Ajit Kumar Bhuyan (chief editor of Prag News channel), Nitumoni Saikia (editor of Pratidin Time news channel), Manjit Mahanta (former executive editor of Asomiya Pratidin newspaper) and Afrida Hussain (editor of InsideNE news portal) of propagating militants’ ideology.
The LRO letter urged the ministry to investigate the role of "suspicious" Assam media outlets and their owners, their financial transactions, source of income, possible flow of funds from foreign intelligence agencies and banned terrorist groups to media owners and all other possible aspects related to it”. The letter added that on various occasions, these media outlets had openly professed the need to take up arms against New Delhi and broadcast propaganda videos of militant cadres.
Responding to the LRO letter, Union home ministry official Sanjeev Kumar sent an official communiqué to Assam police chief Kuladhar Saikia and State home secretary Ashutosh Agnihotri on April 16 directing to take necessary actions in the matter.
While the communiqué did not specify the editors concerned, media outlets reported that the Centre was going for investigations against the editors who opposed CAB and it would take action against them. Seen as an anti-media conspiracy of the Union government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it got support from the media fraternity across the country.
The LRO convener, on his part, claimed that they opposed the editors for spreading “anti-national” propaganda during the turmoil and not for their stand in favour or against of CAB, adding, they respected anyone’s stand on political issues but would continue pursuing with the “responsible authorities” against violent propaganda so that Assam could be saved from burning again.
Earlier, a Guwahati-based concerned citizen (Biswajit Nath) sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) describing “suspicious” behaviour of some print and electronic media outlets of the State. His letter on November 26, 2018 asserted that a section of scribes always glorified the insurgents and often highlighted Ulfa(I) leader Barua with live interviews. As usual, the Centre on February 22 asked the state government to take appropriate actions in the matter.
---
*Northeast India-based media activist

Comments

TRENDING

Allow international human rights observers, media to access Kashmir: US lawmakers

Counterview Desk
In a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two members of the American Congress, Pramila Jayapal and James McGovern, raising "significant concerns" about what they call "humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jammu & Kashmir”, quoting "credible reports" from journalists and advocates on the ground" have said that "the Indian government has detained thousands of people with no recourse, imposed de facto curfews on residents' and cut off internet and telephone access in the region.”

TN woman's No Caste, No Religion struggle 'follows' ideals of Marx, Ambedkar, Periyar

By Sheshu Babu*
In these days of rising communal tensions, a courageous woman from Tamil Nadu achieved her dream of obtaining 'No Caste, No Religion' certificate through persistent struggle. This is quite a significant achievement. It comes alongside some colleges in West Bengal introducing 'humanity', 'agnostic' , 'secular' or 'non-religious' in the application forms for online submission for students who are unwilling to disclose their faith.

Rescind Gates Foundation award to Modi, demand three Nobel Peace laureates

Counterview Desk
In a major boost to those opposing the award to the Gates Foundation’s proposed to be awarded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Mairead Maguire (1976), Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman (2011) and Shirin Ebadi (2003), have in an open letter called upon Milinda and Bill Gates to withdraw their decision, stating Modi is allegedly involved in human rights violations.

US Kashmiri diaspora body: World leaders, UN 'not acting', India enjoys total impunity

Counterview Desk
Ahead of the United Nations General Assembly session, to begin on September 17 in New York, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, secretary-general of the World Kashmir Awareness Forum, a non-profit organization based in Ohio, US, claiming to focus on providing information on Kashmir, has regretted that despite "violent" behaviour of Indian authorities in Kashmir, they enjoy "total impunity" across the world.

Modi used to 'run errands' during Emergency, his role was that much: Top JP associate

By Rajiv Shah
In a sharp exposure, well-known Gujarati critic, journalist and activist Prakash N Shah, who had been among the main contact persons of Jay Prakash Narayan (JP) in Gujarat, has recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “merely running errands” during the Emergency (1975-77) period, adding the PM’s stature has been “sought to be unnecessarily inflated”, though adding, he is not saying this to “belittle him.”

Jharkhand riverine terminal: 485 families 'displaced', lose land, livelihood in Sahibgunj

Counterview Desk
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposes to inaugurate on Thursday India’s second riverine Multi-Modal terminal (MMT) at Sahibganj in Jharkhand, built at a cost of Rs 290 crore reportedly in a record time of about two years, several civil rights organizations* have said that the government has failed to address the high-profile terminal’s social and environmental concerns.

Now clampdown on rally, arrest of pro-freedom activists in Pak-occupied Kashmir

Counterview Desk
In a fresh evidence, international human rights organizations are not just confining their attention on the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), whose special status was taken away by the Government of India in early August, leading to an unprecedented clampdown on the region. They have simultaneously begun focusing on the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), where the situation is said to be worsening.
Thus, the International Human Rights Council ((IHRC) Hong Kong (HK), a top human rights organisation, said to be working towards to the promotion peace, equality, fundamental rights and social justice “as enunciated in the UN Human Rights Charter and other instruments of human rights”, has noted now a new wave of independence movement has struck PoK.  With offices in US, UK, Switzerland and Hong Kong, and having Kirity Roy and Lenin Raghuvanshi as IHRC office bearers from India, in a statement, it has claimed that on September 7 one of the biggest pro-Independenc…

Govt of India 'moves' to hold Assam-type foreigners' tribunals across India, warns report

Counterview Desk
A People’s Tribunal on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has warned in its interim jury report that two recent notifications of the Government of India may lay down the groundwork for triggering an NRC process in different parts of the country, pointing towards recent moves towards this.

India performs 'poorly' in Quality of Life Index, ranks 62nd out of 64 countries

Counterview Desk
“Expat Insider”, which claims to be one of the world’s most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, in a survey of 20,259 participants from around the globe, has found that of the 64 destinations around the globe, has found that while Taiwan is the best destination for persons living outside their native country, closely by Vietnam and Portugal, India ranks 59th.

New sample suggests high pollution off Vadodara effluent channel, 'requires' action

Counterview Desk 
Gujarat’s top environmental group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) has sharply criticized the Gujarat Pollution Control Board’s (GPCB’s) “on-serious, casual letter” dated September 5, which allegedly suggests that the top state state agency does not favour taking any action Central Gujarat’s effluent treatment plant, Vadodara Enviro Channel Ltd (VECL).