India Today has taken senior anchor and consulting editor Rajdeep Sardesai off the air for two weeks for a tweet saying that the farmer who was killed during a tractor rally on Republic Day had died in police firing, The Wire reported on Thursday. The channel has also deducted a month’s salary from the anchor.
Sardesai has refused to comment on this.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of Delhi for two months to demand the withdrawal of the three new farm laws. On Tuesday, a tractor parade of farmers to coincide with Republic Day celebrations turned into chaos when some farmers diverged from agreed routes, and broke through barricades.
The situation escalated when the police responded by using tear gas and batons on the protestors. The Delhi Police said 394 of its officers had been injured across the city.
It was not clear how many protestors had been injured, but one farmer died in the ITO area. While the Delhi Police said that the farmer had died in an accident, protestors alleged that the farmer was shot.
In a tweet, Sardesai had said that farmers had told him the protestor was shot at. “One person, 45-year-old Navneet killed allegedly in police firing at ITO,” he wrote. “Farmers tell me: the ‘sacrifice’ will not go in vain.”
On Tuesday evening, the journalist also went live on India Today, and said that the death of the farmer “would result in this rally becoming a big movement across the country”, according to The Wire.
However, the Delhi Police released a video shot at the ITO area in which a tractor can be seen crashing into a barrier and overturning. Hours after this video was released, Sardesai retracted his statement.
“While the farm protestors claim that the deceased Navneet Singh was shot at by Delhi police while on a tractor, this video clearly shows that the tractor overturned while trying to break the police barricades,” he wrote on Twitter. “The farm protestors’ allegations don’t stand. Postmortem awaited.”
Additionally, in his live coverage at 5.47 pm on January 26, Sardesai said, “What we do know is that while the farm protesters that we met insist that the person who died named Navneet Singh was shot at, but the police has provided us with a video that shows very clearly that the tractor overturned,” according to The Wire.
However, several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders said that this was not enough and demanded that a first information report be filed against him or that he be sacked for spreading “fake news”.
“Rajdeep said that he himself saw Navneet was shot in the head,” wrote party leader Kapil Mishra on Wednesday. “Rajdeep’s lies exposed in post mortem and video Rajdeep was openly inciting the attack on Delhi Police.”
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh Police, too, on Wednesday said the protestor was not shot, citing his postmortem report. “He succumbed to the antemortem injuries which he received after his tractor turned turtle as seen in the viral video,” Additional Director General of Police Avinash Chandra said, according to ANI.
Twenty-five criminal cases were filed in connection with the violence, and 19 persons have been arrested so far. The police have also detained around 200 protestors on charges of rioting, damaging public property and attacking its personnel.
On Thursday, the Delhi Police issued look out circulars against the farmer leaders who were named in a first information report. The leaders will also be asked to surrender their passports.
The police have alleged that farmer leaders made inflammatory speeches, and were involved in the violence. Farmers, however, have denied the allegations, and blamed “antisocial elements” for the chaos.