On 16th March 2016, Firstpost published an interview with UK-based doctor Manish Panditthe, who is the maker of the explosive Ishrat Jahan documentary. Along with the interview, the said documentary too was posted. The interview was titled – ‘It’s certain that Ishrat Jahan aided & abetted terrorists’: The story Indian media chose to ignore.
The documentary, which was made in 2014, contained many facts such as Headley’s disposition in front of an FBI in Chicago, how Satish Verma was appointed as SIT chief after two outstanding officers recused themselves, (and how they were hounded), RVS Mani’s letter.
But within a few hours, Firstpost mysteriously deleted this interview without any explanation. We, however, had taken a back-up of the entire interview and hosted it. There was a lot of social media outrage on this sudden move, which triggered Firstpost to re-publish the interview late on 17th March, under a new link.
To get to the bottom of the controversy, we spoke to the maker of the movie, Dr Manish Pandit on his experience during the entire process, right from making the movie, facing rejection from media houses, to the latest controversy.
Q 1. What motivated you make to a documentary on such a controversial topic?
Ans: What is most astonishing about this case is that somebody obviously made a serious attempt to try and subvert democracy in India. It appeared that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were being framed in a case with which they had no connection.
The truth that Ishrat Jahan was a terrorist was suppressed within the affidavit. Why was this done? Who did it?
I am a film maker. Once an idea is in my head I need to follow it to its logical conclusion. I knew at the end of my research that the truth about Ishrat Jahan, was being suppressed by certain vested interests. Once this was known, I knew that I owed it to my country to say the truth and the only way to do this was to make a film for which there was no funding. So I spent my own money to make this film.
Q 2. With so much danger and risk involved, how did you manage to collect the evidence needed?
Ans: With a lot of difficulties, I managed to get the charge sheet. Then I had to sit and sift through volumes of newspapers. I thank Prithvi Pratap Singh for invaluable help during the making of this film. Shooting the film as a docudrama must have been one of riskiest things I did in my life (only thing riskier was confronting armed Naxals when I was younger).
I had told my actors that this is really risky and full credit to them that they helped me. All scenes were shot in deserted parts of Thana and other outskirts of Mumbai. I could only shoot everything once, as I did not have any time to shoot multiple takes (kudos to the actors). I filmed the docudrama part of the film alone which was really very difficult.
Q 3: How did you manage to speak to and get access to important people like Mr Doval?
Ans: First of all, let me say that Ajit Doval is an incredibly humble man. He is also incredibly focused and we are lucky to have him as our National Security adviser. You may know that he is India’s lone civilian Kirti chakra winner. I somehow tracked down Doval saab through three contacts. I was finally introduced to him by a mutual friend. He was at the VIF in Delhi at the time but each and every detail of the case was known to him and he was very articulate in presenting the facts of the case. I had already studied the case and so my questions on camera were focused and his answers were very incisive.
Q 4: What was your experience in 2014, when you tried to contact the main-stream media for your documentary?
Ans: I have to say that I was very disappointed with the way our electronic media behaved. Let me assure you, every editor of some note in this country knows about this film from 2014, they saw it and so did their underlings. However, I was told various things: “Pagla gaye ho kya? Yeh film nahin dikha sakte, We cannot show this film, this is too explosive.” Some people just stopped answering my calls, others sent messages that “What if they withdraw all the loans for our media house in 48 hours?”
Basically, it seemed to me that they were all scared. If not, then what was the reason to not show a film which showed all the facts of this case so crucial to the nation’s interest, which were revealed in 2016 recently?
Q 5: Did you face any kind of threats and harassment after making the video?
Ans: No, however, a lot of well-wishers have told me to be careful and vigilant. And I can see why.
Q 6: How was your experience in 2016 when you tried to publish the video?
Ans: See, the film is too explosive for our media and I am still waiting for somebody to show it. However I am grateful to India Facts and Niti Central who featured this film in 2014 itself on their website. I am especially grateful to my friends from medical school who managed to show it in Bangalore and Karnataka in certain Universities as small screenings. I am especially grateful to Vichar Manthan for showing it in England and to European friends who organised cinema screenings in 2015. These were really great.
It was also wonderful of your site to publish my film which had got me standing ovations in cinemas in 2015 but was effectively censored by the media.
Q 7: Firstpost is probably the first mainstream media backed outlet to have talked to you and hosted your docudrama. Did Firstpost approach you or did you go to them?
Ans: Firstpost approached me through email. I agreed to give them an interview a couple of weeks ago.
Q 8: Firstpost initially published your interview and docudrama, but within a few hours, it was dropped from their site. We covered the incident, and there was massive social media outrage, thanks to which, it appears that Firstpost has re-uploaded your interview on a new link. Any idea how and why it happened?
Ans: Well, the link was first published on Wednesday 16th March. Approximately 4 hours later the desktop link went down, and later the mobile link went down as well. When I asked the reporter, he did not know anything about it and he went to ask his editor and IT cell. Then he got back to me and said that there was some technical glitch. However, the link did not appear throughout the night.
I woke up just an hour before sunrise here, in London, and tweeted tagging Firstpost that at the stroke of dawn I would start asking them questions. At dawn I asked Firstpost, why was the interview deleted? Was there any pressure on them at all? What happened?
Anyway, I am thankful to the Twitterati who supported me and tagged Firstpost. My deleted interview suddenly mysteriously reappeared the following night but under a different URL. What this meant is that the retweets that the original post had got came up with “404 errors” saying that the page cannot be found.
When the link was re-published, there was no mention on the Firstpost site that the interview had vanished and where it could be found. This interview I thought was quite innocuous, but the sequence of events makes me think that obviously somebody was trying to silence the voice of my film and my interview. I feel that there was probably huge pressure on Firstpost.
Q 9: According to you, what is the implication of such selective censorship?
Ans: To my mind, it appears that somebody does not want people to know that there was a conspiracy to target our Prime Minister Modi and these people did not want anybody to know that that there is an entire film about it which is already showing the proofs from 2014.
This is quite worrying as it suggests that the fourth pillar of democracy in our country is compromised. I have seen that there is a very odd way in which certain sections of the media reports certain news items. There is a very heavy bias, almost as if a huge spin is applied to news items rather than facts being reported. If facts are being reported then those facts are also either selectively reported or spun heavily. This news story regarding the Ishrat Conspiracy was not covered with the diligence required by most of the media which is bad news for our democracy. There was a conspiracy of silence by the main-stream media about my film.
Q 10. What are your views about the deletion of the interview?
Ans: It appears to me that this deletion of my interview was somewhat incidental and the main problem was that Firstpost had put the video link at the bottom of the interview. I think that somebody not belonging to Firstpost saw that link, followed it up, panicked when they realised that over 2 lakh people have seen my film, out of which at least 1 lakh have seen the film just in the last 7 days. The film is going viral and somebody wanted to stop that process. I feel that there must have been huge pressure on Firstpost to delete the article. I guess we will not come to know exactly what happened that evening, but I cannot believe that a technical glitch would affect only this film and interview link, that too for at least 16-18 hours.
Q 11: Are you planning to take this further?
Ans: As you know, I run a talk show out of Birmingham/Manchester called “Media Weediya” which plays every two months. I am planning to take this show to the next level with a monthly studio audience soon and I think that this show which is currently on the web should be televised so that more people can see the truth. Thanks a lot to OpIndia.com for featuring my film twice and for bringing my deleted interview to the nation’s attention.