The Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh on Friday served a notice to The Wire’s Founding Editor Siddharth Varadarajan amid the nation-wide lockdown to appear in Ayodhya on April 14 for making an allegedly “objectionable comment” about the chief minister.
The matter pertains to an article published in The Wire on March 31 against the backdrop of the controversy over the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area that left many participants infected with the coronavirus. In a tweet, Varadarajan had mistakenly claimed that Adityanath said, “Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus.” The next day, he posted a clarification, noting that the statement had been made by Acharya Paramhans, the head of the Ayodhya temple trust, not by Adityanath. A correction was also made to The Wire’s article.
In a series of tweets, sociologist and Varadarajan’s wife Nandini Sundar said seven or eight policemen had come to their home in Delhi on Friday, claiming that they had driven from Ayodhya for the “essential service” to deliver the notice.
“When it comes to the gross abuse of police power by the Adityanath administration in UP and its intolerance of press freedom, it is clear that Covid-19, the lockdown and social distancing make no difference whatsoever,” Sundar said. “Today, April 10, at 2 pm a plainclothes man came to our home and said he had come from the Ayodhya ‘prashasan’ to serve notice on Varadarajan. He would not give his name. I told him to leave it in the mailbox. He refused.”
Sundar claimed that the two men in uniform also did not have any masks and among them only two identified themselves. “On insisting, they gave plainclothesman’s name as Chanderbhan Yadav, not designation,” she tweeted. “Cops said they’d driven from Ayodhya for this essential service!”
“They wouldn’t let me sign the notice – ‘Our rule is not to give it to women and minors,’” Sundar added. “When asked to be shown the rule, they sought instructions on phone and let me sign. Then, they phoned their boss to say notice has been received.”
Mritunjay Kumar, the media advisor to Adityanath, had said on April 1 that action had been taken against Varadarajan since he had neither deleted the tweet nor apologised.
The FIR was filed based on the complaint of Nitish Kumar Shrivastav, a resident of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. In his complaint, Shrivastav said: “The Wire editor on his blog, with the aim to spread rumours and hostility among the public, publicised the following message: ‘On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Yogi Adityanath insisted that a large fair planned for Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navami from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual while Acharya Paramhans said that Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus.”
The complainant said this amounted to “an objectionable comment” against Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath, “which has caused anger among people”. However, the FIR did not name the editor.
The Editors Guild of India said the first information report against the editor was “an overreaction and an act of intimidation”. Congress leader P Chidambaram had on April 2 attacked the Uttar Pradesh government and called the FIR a “deplorable act”, intended to suppress media freedom.