The CBI’s Witch Hunt

The NDA government has always been notorious for its lack of tolerance when its own conduct is put under the scanner, as was evident when, during its first tenure, the NDA’s raids against Tehelka magazine forced it into oblivion after it single-handedly exposed corruption in India’s arms deals through Operation Westend back in 2001. Despite subsequent years of experience and strategic rebranding, the government seems reluctant to the prospect of changing its ways. Thus, when NDTV’s Nidhi Razdan found herself in the midst of a heated argument with BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra on national television, the incident seemed suggestive of future efforts at retribution to many spectators.

 

NDTV is one of the most reputed news channels in India. However, it is increasingly becoming the target of online smear campaigns and hate speech for its skeptical stance and critical view of several developments nation-wide. The government has not been forgiving either; Many have called out the raid conducted by the CBI – the prime intelligence body of India which operates under the Government of India – on NDTV as an attempt at pursuing a vendetta against the media house.

 

The CBI on Monday searched four locations, including the personal residence of NDTV founder Prannoy Roy, in connection with causing a loss of worth Rs 48 crores to a private sector bank in which the government has a stake. A case has been registered against the Roys for their involvement in the same. However, it remains unclear as to what violations the two are being booked on – Some insiders claim that the case pertains to overvaluation of assets, while others have alleged that the case has been filed due to alleged defrauding of a loan. While curiosity concerning the channel’s finances is certainly not a new obsession, the CBI probe has stirred immense public speculation.

 

The probe comes three days after senior BJP spokesman Sambit Patra was asked to leave a segment hosted by Nidhi Razdan on NDTV after he alleged that the channel is using its platform to pursue an “agenda”. The CBI has been questioned for being a puppet in the hands of the government in the past as well. This incident served as no exception when once again the legitimacy of the CBI’s harsh step was questioned as speculators drew links between the dismissal of Patra and the CBI’s raid a couple of days hence.

 

NDTV has since issued a strongly worded statement, likening the raid to a “witch hunt”. An excerpt from the official statement published on their website reads –

 

“This morning, the CBI stepped up the concerted harassment of NDTV and its promoters based on the same old endless false accusations. NDTV and its promoters will fight tirelessly against this witch-hunt by multiple agencies. We will not succumb to these attempts to blatantly undermine democracy and free speech in India. We have one message to those who are trying to destroy the institutions of India and everything it stands for: we will fight for our country and overcome these forces.”

 

Popular journalists such as Nidhi Razdan, Praveen Swami, Sreenivasan Jain and Ajai Shukla have been quick to voice their support deeming the force used by the government as ‘goonda raj’.

 

While views on the matter may be diverse, it is of utmost important to put this incident in a larger context. It was only a few months ago that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had tried to put a ban on the channel for its coverage of the Pathankot attacks even though most channels had offered similar coverage. Even though the ministry had to take back its order, it is possible that efforts at singling out voices deviant from that of the government did not stop there.

 

According to the 2017 report by Reporters Without Borders, India ranks 136th in terms of World Freedom of Press Index; the rank is three places down from that of the previous year. The report states rising radicalism, intolerance, physical assault of journalists and external pressures by political parties and vigilante groups as the core reasons for this declining liberty.

 

In an initial reaction to the probe, BJP MP Subramaniam Swami was quoted as saying, Fear of law is necessary and it should be applied no matter who you are”. Perhaps a more democratic resolve would be to bank on judicious implementation, rather than misguided attempts at breeding monotonous compliance by propagating a fear of being silenced.

 

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