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Indian TV channels accuses political opponents of being “Hindu Haters”

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News Analysis |

‘Times Now’ a right wing pro BJP news channel has branded certain people as “Opposition Troll Army” against the ruling BhartiyaJanata Party as well as “Hindu haters.” Two of the five people named in the television show have been living in fear and are pursuing defamation cases against the news channel.

In a segment aired last Friday, news channel ‘Times Now’ showed photographs, twitter usernames and selected tweets from six users known to be supporters of the Congress party, and brandished them abusive trolls and “Hindu haters.”

“My sister got a call from her friend saying ‘your brother’s name is Riyaz, right? His photo is on TV and they are saying he’s anti-army and a Hindu-hater”, Riyaz Ahmed, one of the people named in the segment, told Asia Times. “My mother was in shock and was crying,” he added.

The narrative used by the BJP against its opponents uses such demonization. This is evident in the BJP’s strategy of depicting every rival as a threat to national security, implicit supporter of Pakistan, backer of the Kashmiri liberation movement and having a soft corner for militants and Naxalites.

The segment also came at a grim time for the 41-year-old writer and entrepreneur Sanjukta Basu, the fourth person mentioned by Times Now’s Editor-in-Chief Rahul Shivshankar. She had spent the morning with her family, amid rituals to commemorate her mother who passed away in April last year. “My father was already in a delicate state of mind and we come from a humble middle-class family – it’s not like we are very rich, powerful or influential people – so [on seeing the segment] he just instantly went pale and needed to lie down,” Sanjukta said.

The allegation of Times Now has led to a fear and a loss of jobs.”I am scared for my life … in my polling booth 97% of votes go to BJP,” Riyaz tweeted soon after the segment aired.

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Riyaz and Sanjukta said that amid India’s current political and religious environment, the “Hindu hater” tag has endangered their lives. “Imagine some extremist Hindu somewhere adds my name and photo to a list of ‘anti-Hindus’ and just like that I’ll be on their target list,” said Riyaz. “If I’m going out to meet someone, my family keeps calling or messaging every 10-15 minutes to check on my safety,” he added.

Support from neighbors has helped calm Riyaz’s immediate fears, but he still dreaded his face or location being published in the news. “My neighbors will protect me, but I don’t know what thousands of others will do,” he said.

In a segment aired last Friday, news channel ‘Times Now’ showed photographs, twitter usernames and selected tweets from six users known to be supporters of the Congress party, and brandished them abusive trolls and “Hindu haters.”

Sanjukta had similar concerns about the segment. “Tomorrow one ShambhuLalRaigar might just feel like killing me because he heard I’m a Hindu-hater on Times Now,” she said. ShambhuLalRaigar is a Rajasthan man who uploaded a chilling video of himself hacking and burning a Muslim migrant worker to death in December last year.

“They dehumanized and objectified me. They numbered me and put labels on me … we are tax-paying, law-abiding citizens with the same rights as Shivshankar. They can’t make such allegations without giving us an opportunity to be heard,” she said.

Riyaz was also fired from his job because of the segment. “I was working in public relations, and though I have a good a relationship with my boss, he called me and said he can’t have someone branded a ‘Hindu hater’ handling his communications,” Riyaz said.

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“I am not naming my employer because he will be attacked for either firing me or simply being associated with me,” he said, adding that the information will be available for legal scrutiny. Sanjukta also said she was worried about her value in the market as a freelance journalist after being labeled a “Congress troll.”

The premise of the segment was that Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi held a conclave on March 27 “to plan a social media strategy for 2019 general elections.” “Known anti-BJP trolls with odious track records and Modi and Shah baiters were invited to attend the meeting,” said the channel’s editor Shivshankar. He claimed his findings were “worse than Cambridge Analytica.”

Support from neighbors has helped calm Riyaz’s immediate fears, but he still dreaded his face or location being published in the news. “My neighbors will protect me, but I don’t know what thousands of others will do,” he said.

The segment was named “Rahul Gandhi’s Secret Plan to Avenge Amit Shah,” referring to political jibes made by Shah that day. “This was hilarious, bizarre and stupid at the same time. They were alleging that Rahul Gandhi met a bunch of people on March 27 to plan revenge for a jibe that was made on April 6 … They have given up on ethics to attack individuals whose opinions run contrary to the ruling regime,” Sanjukta said. “This is trolling by a national television channel,” she added.

Sanjukta said the meeting on March 27 was not a secret and was even reported on. Both she and Riyaz claimed it was a “free-flowing” interaction with Gandhi, who invited ideas for upcoming polls. She slammed Times Now for claiming they had been recruited by Gandhi. “He meets farmers, traders, students, and teachers – do they become his recruits? They are trying to malign my voice by suggesting I get paid for tweeting in favor of Congress,” Sanjukta said, “but I will not get silenced or intimidated.

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“I think we were picked out because we are strong voices. I even think some amount of profiling was done. Riyaz is Muslim and I’m Bengali, so it’s easy to brand me a commie,” Sanjukta said.

Times Now is a notorious right wing channel who once hosted the infamous TV Host Arnab Goswami before he left for his own news channel, Republic TV. It has been known for peddling fake news, yellow journalism and media bias in its broadcasts. However, the recent allegations against social media activists show an approach used by Hindutva parties against opponents.

The narrative used by the BJP against its opponents uses such demonization. This is evident in the BJP’s strategy of depicting every rival as a threat to national security, implicit supporter of Pakistan, backer of the Kashmiri liberation movement and having a soft corner for militants and Naxalites.


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