On March 8, the New York Times (NYT) published an op-ed, “Modi’s Final Assault on India’s Press Freedom Has Begun” authored by Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin.
Bhasin alleged that Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s media policies are destroying Kashmiri journalism, intimidating media outlets to serve as government’s mouthpieces and creating an information vacuum in the region.
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur reacted to NYT’s publication of Anuradha Bhasin’s article on Twitter wherein he said, “New York Times had long back dropped all pretensions of neutrality while publishing anything about India. NYT’s so-called opinion piece on freedom of press in Kashmir is mischievous & fictitious published w/a sole motive to spread propaganda about India and its democratic institutions and values. This is in continuation with what NYT and a few other link-minded foreign media have been spreading lies about India and our democratically elected Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi ji. Such lies can’t last long”
Furthermore, he said, “Some foreign media nourishing a grudge against India and our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi have long been systematically trying to peddle lies about our democracy and pleuritic society. Freedom of Press in India is as sacrosanct as other fundamental rights.” He added, “Democracy in India and We the people are very matured and we don’t need to learn grammar of democracy from such agenda driven media. Blatant lies spread by NYT abt press freedom in Kashmir is condemnable. Indians will not allow such mindsets to run their decisive agenda on India soil.”
Anuradha Bhasin, in the article, wrote, “Mr. Modi is taking steps that could replicate this disturbing model on a national scale. His Hindu-chauvinist movement, which has normalised intolerance and violence against Indian Muslims, has already put severe pressure on India’s once-rambunctious press, with journalists surveilled and jailed, and the government using strong-arm tactics against media outlets to ensure favorable coverage. But in January, draft amendments to digital media guidelines were introduced that would essentially allow the government to block any content it doesn’t like.” Furthermore, she alleged that the rest of India could end up looking like Kashmir.
She wrote, “Journalists are routinely summoned by the police, interrogated and threatened with charges such as income tax violations or terrorism or separatism. Several prominent journalists have been detained or sentenced to jail terms. We work under a cloud of fear.”
She added, “In late 2021, I spoke to a young journalist, Sajad Gul, who was being harassed for his reporting. Fearing arrest, he told me that he slept fully dressed each night and kept his shoes at his bedside — unusual in Kashmir, where shoes are customarily removed before entering a home — in case he had to make a quick getaway. He was arrested in January of last year and remains in custody.”
It is pertinent to note that Sajid Gul was arrested on January 6 for posting a video of terror-outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba’s commander Salim Parray’s family members and relatives protesting against his encounter wherein anti-government slogans were raised.
She further wrote about the hardships Kashmiri journalists face stating, “India and Pakistan both claim the mountainous region, which has been plagued by war and a separatist insurgency for decades. Journalists have been caught in the middle, threatened and intimidated by Indian security forces and militants, both of whom have wanted to control how the story is being told. At least 19 journalists were killed in Kashmir between 1990 and 2018. Still, Kashmiri journalism flowered.”
Bhasin claimed that the Kashmiri journalism which flowered in midst of adversities has disappeared under “Mr. Modi, whose government aims to silence any separatist voices or those advocating conciliation or a negotiated settlement in Kashmir.” She claimed, “My own newspaper is barely surviving.”
It has been alleged that Anuradha Bhasin’s father and Kashmir Times’ founder Ved Bhasin was a close friend of a known ISI-operative Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, who pleaded guilty for taking money from ISI. He also authored an article on Ved Bhasin’s death, stating, “He (Ved Bhasin) was bold enough to say it loud and clear that the only solution of Kashmir dispute is an independent state in South Asia.”
US Attorney Neil MacBride said in statement, “For the last 20 years, Mr Fai secretly took millions of dollars from Pakistani intelligence and lied about it to the US government.” He added, “As a paid operative of ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency), he did the bidding of his handlers in Pakistan while he met with US elected officials, funded high-profile conferences, and promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington”
She continued, “In 2019, I filed a lawsuit challenging the internet shutdown. In apparent retaliation, the government sealed our Srinagar office,” referring to the Government of India’s seizing one of the Kashmir Times’ offices in 2020.
It is pertinent to note that the government allocated the office premises to Kashmir Times during Ved Bhasin’s tenure, including another premises which served as his residence.
However, the administration issued notices to vacate the residence after Ved Bhasin’s death in 2015. The Deputy Director of the Estates Department Mohammad Aslam said that Kashmir Times occupied two premises in Press Enclave, one of which was taken back ‘amicably.’
He said that the premises were allotted to Ved Bhasin in his individual capacity and its allotment expired after his death in 2015. He said, “Their office is running in another quarter while this quarter was not in the name of Kashmir Times. It was being used for residential purposes by its employees and we requested for its vacation some two-three months back. Yesterday, they themselves handed over the facility.”
She wrote, “An ignorant public and a government free of scrutiny and accountability are threats to democracy. But Mr Modi appears intent on replicating this across India. The proposed amendments to national guidelines for digital media that were unveiled in January are strikingly similar to those imposed on Kashmir, empowering government fact-checkers to label online content as “fake or false.”
She wrote about Income Tax Department’s survey operations at British Broadcasting Corporation’s Delhi and Mumbai officer and said, “Days after those changes were announced, the government ordered online platforms to block links to “India: The Modi Question,” a BBC documentary critical of the prime minister. Indian tax agents later raided the British broadcaster’s offices in India. Such raids have been used repeatedly to pressure critical voices in the media.”
The BBC recently aired the documentary “India: The Modi Question” on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The two-part series was taken down from public platforms last month, and the Centre used the IT Rules to block the YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing the links for the documentary.
Arindam Bagchi, MEA’s spokesperson, said, “We think that this is a propaganda piece, designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, lack of objectivity and continuing colonial mindset is blatantly visible.” However, BBC continues to peddle propaganda against Prime Minister Modi even though the Supreme Court has upheld the Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) clean chit given to 64 people, including the Prime Minister, in the 2002 Gujarat Riots case.
The UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, reacted to a Pakistan-origin MP’s question about the BBC’s documentary and said that he “doesn’t agree with the characterization” of PM Modi. Lord Rami Ranger, a member of the House of Lords, condemned the BBC’s biased reporting of the documentary stating that the same would hurt the sentiments of all Indians as it insults India’s democratically elected Prime Minister and India’s judiciary.