Times of India changes headline to ‘protect’ DU professor accused of helping Maoists

In an explosive expose of sorts, Podiyam Panda, a Maoist operative who has now surrendered to the authorities reportedly claimed in a press conference on Wednesday that he used to be the link between senior Maoist leaders and certain prominent activists and citizens of the country.

According to the report, Panda who is suspected to be involved in the recent Sukma attack has claimed that he used to drive activists from Delhi including Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar and prominent ‘activist’ Bela Bhatia deep into the forest of Sukma to meet top Maoist leaders.

These allegations have ruffled a lot of feathers as if indeed proven true, they would provide a boost to the ‘Urban Naxal’ theory which talks about various prominent intellectuals, influencers or activists in India being sympathetic to the Naxal cause and working towards spreading insurgency against the Indian state.

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According to the report the Sukma SP has claimed that:

Maoist Podiyam Panda was serving as the main link between the Inner cadre of Maoists and the urban network system in Delhi, Raipur and other cities

Also according to the SP, apart from being a contact he was also involved in active warfare against India and had participated in the recent Sukma incident and the Tadmetla attack of 2010 which had claimed the lives of 25 and 75 CRPF Jawans respectively.

This isn’t the first time the DU professor Nandini Sundar has been involved in the Naxal controversy. According to reports, she was named in an FIR lodged in November 2016 for the murder of a tribal who had been getting threats from Maoists for having complained against her and others for inciting tribals against the government. The wife of the murdered tribal had filed complaint demanding action against Sundar for her husband’s murder.

Sundar’s suspected connection and active involvement in Moaist operations had recently prompted the activist group Legal Rights Observatory to file a legal complaint against television journalist Rajdeep Sardesai for inviting her on his show to discuss the Sukma attack.

Even Bela Bhatia, who also has been named by Panda, is a very prominent activist who according to reports currently lives in Bastar. Bela, a PhD from Cambridge University was also reportedly on the panel of the now defunct Planning Commission to ironically look at challenges posed by Maoists to governance.

Both Bela Bhatia and Nandini Sundar are also related to prominent members of the society. Nandini is the wife of Siddharth Varadarajan, the former editor of The Hindu and the founding editor of left-leaning propaganda website The Wire. Bela Bhatia’s partner Jean Dreze had formerly been a member of the National Advisory Council, which was chaired by Sonia Gandhi.

What makes this whole story more intriguing is the fact that hours after publishing the report, Times of India chose to considerably tone down the headline of their article.

Initially it was published under the headline that gave prominence to the expose by the surrendered Maoist:

which was later changed to give prominence to the rebuttal by the accused DU professor:

Even though the heading was changed to indicate that Nandini Sundar had reacted to the story, during the compilation of this OpIndia.com report the content of the TOI article did not contain a single direct or indirect quote from Sundar.

Did the ‘influential’ members of the ‘civil’ society call up top honchos at Times of India warning them not to digress from the accepted narrative? After all, we know what happens to someone in media when they try to break away from the left-dominated narrative. Establishment media’s ganging up against Arnab Goswami is one such recent example. And the same media then cries about ‘freedom of expression’.

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