The Ministry of Home Affairs has asked the Assam government to act against four journalists from the state on the basis of a complaint filed by the Legal Rights Observatory, a “voluntary organisation” linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In a letter dated April 16, an undersecretary in the ministry wrote to the heads of Assam’s home and political departments and police, enclosing the complaint filed by Vinay Joshi, convener of the Maharashtra-based organisation.
Scroll.in has accessed the complaint as well as the letter written by the home ministry requesting action on its basis.
The complaint accuses five Guwahati-based media organisations and four journalists of “exploiting” the turmoil over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 through December and January in Assam.
The bill seeks to make it easier to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The “media-created unrest”, the complaint alleges, led to the banned militant outfit United Liberation Front of Assam launching a “fresh recruitment drive”.
Legal Rights Observatory’s compliant lists one Assamese daily, Asomiya Pratidin; three news channels, Pratidin Time, Prag News and “News 18-Assamese TV channel” (a reference presumably to News18 Assam and NE), and the news website, Inside NE.
It also names the editors of Pratidin Time, Prag News, and InsideNE: Nitumoni Saikia, Ajit Bhuyan and Afrida Hussain.
In addition, the complaint names Manjit Mahanta, who is described as being affiliated to Asomiya Pratidin. Mahanta, however, is no longer a journalist but a civil society activist who took a particularly vocal stand against the bill.
The complaint alleges:
“Aforesaid people and their electronic, digital and print media outlets are directly broadcasting videos and propaganda material of newly inducted militants in battle fatigue to propagate militant ideology and to give fresh boost to ULFA and other militant groups.
“If government continues to ignore their blatant, violent propaganda, it will continue to create new militants with fresh blood in Assam and situation will worsen during Lok Sabha elections.
“On numerous occasions of recent past, all media outlets mentioned here have openly professed the need to take up arms to fight against central government and broadcasting propaganda videos of ULFA cadres along with telephonic interviews of absconding ULFA chief.
“With this letter, we are earnestly requesting your Ministry to issue stern warning to all media outlets in this regard and to explore all legal means to curtail their propaganda by invoking all stringent means available, so that Assam could be saved from burning again.”
The North East focus
On social media, the Maharashtra-based Legal Rights Observatory describes itself as a “voluntary organisation zealously dealing with the matters pertaining to violation of fundamental rights of Army, Police and society in general”.
This is not the first time it has taken umbrage with matters in the North East. In February, the group wrote to deputy commissioners across Assam to recover damages caused by shutdowns called by civil society groups in the state. At that time, the state was hit by several shutdowns over the Citizenship Bill.
But it is neighbouring Meghalaya that has been the group’s primary focus. It has routinely warred with local Christian groups in the state. In 2017, it even wrote to Pope Francis, demanding an apology for the supposed “religious discrimination and the rape of women” by Christians in Meghalaya.
The group’s convener, Joshi, said he served as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak in the North East from 2001-2010, when he worked primarily in Assam and Meghalaya. Joshi, who now lives in Guwahati, said he was no longer part of the Sangh and ran his own “legal activism organisation”.
Apart from Christian groups, Joshi’s activism seems to have been directed at journalists. He said that, recently, he had also filed a complaint against the president of the Mumbai Press Club for his “Maoist links”. “I think it is the same case in Assam,” he said. “Journalists are getting money from these terrorists groups.”
The journalists named in the complaint are standing defiant. Prag News’s Bhuyan criticised the Union home ministry for acting on the complaint “without knowing anything”.
“They are trying to scare me because I have been exposing the designs of the RSS,” he said. “It is nothing but a pressure tactic to silence me as I have been publicly taking a stand against the bill. I will not be bogged down by such intimidation.”
Hussain, editor or InsideNE, was steadfast too. She said that she would not budge to such “arm-twisting”.
Manjit Mahanta, who was accused of sedition by the Assam police in January for opposing the Citizenship Bill, said it was yet another attempt to arrest him for his stance on the bill. “They couldn’t last time, they are trying again,” he said. “But clearly their intelligence is rather poor. I was with the Asomiya Pratidin more than 10 years back.”