Provocative assertions are nothing new for journalist Suresh Chavhanke, who sought to connect Monday’s violence in Bulandshahr with a Muslim congregation that took place 40 km away, in a tweet liked by over 3,100 people and retweeted by 1,300.
“In the unrest in Bulandshahr Ijtema, children are stuck in schools and crying, people are in the forest, they have shut the doors of their homes – locals say in conversation with Sudarshan,” is the rough translation of what Chavhanke, the editor-in-chief of the “nationalist” Hindi channel Sudarshan News, had written in the tweet.
The violence in Bulandshahr was triggered by allegations of illegal cow slaughter, and led to the death of two people, including a police inspector.
The congregation in question is the ‘Tablighi Istema’ — a three-day Muslim gathering.
The Uttar Pradesh Police, which made four arrests Tuesday and suspects a local Bajrang Dal leader to be the prime instigator of the violence, was quick to refute Chavhanke’s tweet.
But the timing of Chavhanke’s tweet lent a sinister spin to the episode with its potential to aggravate a delicate situation already fraught with communal connotations. This was, however, hardly new for his 175,000 Twitter followers.
Chavhanke is the same person who made headlines last year with a job advertisement for Sudarshan News that said Muslims can’t apply for the positions. And a casual walk through his timeline is enough to prove Chavhanke is a serial provocateur.
Chavhanke, 46, claims to have been with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since the age of three and has worked with the pro-RSS newspaper Tarun Bharat.
He is accused of delivering communally charged hate speeches, tweets and programmes, but he vociferously defends them.
“Why is it wrong to practise journalism with an ideology?” Chavhanke said, in conversation with ThePrint. “If it is, then I am wrong, and so were Lokmanya Tilak, Bhagat Singh and the others.
“Had it been so wrong, I would not have been able to run a channel for 14 years,” he added.
His speeches and tweets teem with popular causes espoused by the proponents of “Hindutva” — the ideology he claims is the driving force of his journalism.
A fixed pattern
At a time when fake news has become a global worry, the fear of law doesn’t deter Chavhanke from broadcasting misleading information.
In fact, much of it follows a fixed pattern, often coming amid situations of communal tensions.
Sample this: In July this year, he put out this piece of “news” through a tweet: [Translation] “All we were afraid of has started. A mosque has issued a decree to cut UP police into pieces.” The tweet included a link to an accompanying report on the Sudarshan News website (ThePrint tried to access the article but the link was broken).
Soon afterwards, police in Baghpat, where it was alleged that the mosque was located, issued a clarification, saying the threat had been issued by the father of a youth found dead in a local sewer. But that did not push Chavhanke to either retract the article or issue an apology.
Chavhanke, however, defended his tweets.
“When did police start deciding what is right or what is wrong?” he asked. “If we continue to depend on what the police says, why are courts there? Is this the first time police have denied a story?
“In case of the Bulandshahr incident, we were speaking to residents who were indeed saying they were stuck in schools. Why is it wrong to show that live?” he asked. Chavhanke, however, didn’t say why he linked the Islamic congregation to Monday’s mob violence.
As for the Baghpat incident, he claimed to have “substantial proof” to support the report.
In April last year, Chavhanke was arrested for stoking communal passions in Sambhal, UP, through multiple programmes at a time when the area was already tense for over two weeks.
He was booked under Sections 153 A(1), 295A and 505(1)B of the Indian Penal Code, which deal with promoting hatred on religious grounds, committing an offence against the State, and deliberately outraging religious feelings of a certain group, and under Section 16 of the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1955, for the programmes Sambhal ko Kashmir Banane ki Saazish (The conspiracy to convert Sambhal to Kashmir), Sambhal ka Raavan Raj (Ravan rule in Sambhal), and Hari Mandir ka sach Jama Masjid ka jhooth (The truth of Hari Mandir, the lie of Jama Masjid), among others.
He was released on bail, and his attacks continued.
Earlier this year, when the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakherwal girl in Kathua deepened the communal fault lines in Jammu, he flagged off a ‘Bharat Bachao Rath yatra’ from the heart of the city and made a speech targeting the Muslim community.
Addressing a big crowd gathered under the banner of a fringe Hindu group called Rashtra Nirman Sangathan, he sought to explain the importance of a jansankhya niyantran kanoon or a law for population control.
“It is important to control population, but it’s crucial to control the imbalance in population,” he had said. “The imbalance is that despite giving out Pakistan on the basis of religion, the increase of mini Pakistans in India is imbalance and should be stopped.”
The statement elicited applause and chants of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.
“We must not be worried if there are two or three riots anywhere in the country, since it is important to save the country,” he had added, challenging the then Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to stop him if she could.
Talking to ThePrint, Chavhanke said his speech in Jammu was a retaliation to Jammu & Kashmir deputy grand mufti Nasir-ul-Islam’s statement that Muslims in India should demand a separate country and that India was “illegally occupying” Kashmir. Chavhanke said he was an activist and there was nothing wrong if he “fights for a cause”.
“If any political or social group is not taking up the subject, why is it unconstitutional if I take it up?” he added.
Talking about his call for a population control law, he added, “In fact, many Muslims are also part of this movement.”
In a programme aired 11 May, his channel referred to locals of Delhi’s Bawana area as Rohingya and Bangladeshis, following which the Delhi Minorities Commission issued notice to the channel. Bawana has a significant Muslim population.
Chavhanke has been at the centre of other controversies too, having been booked for the alleged rape of a former colleague in November 2016 in Noida. However, the case fell because police could not substantiate the charges against him.
Chavhanke, however, remains unfazed.
“If speaking the truth is bias, then I’m biased,” he said. ( The Print )