Despite no conclusive proof, AltNews declares journalist’s account ‘false’ to suit a narrative

News surfaced yesterday that Umar Khalid, the rusticated student who is charged with sedition, had been shot and escaped unhurt. As soon as Media broke the news, several people, including journalists and left propagandists started blaming Republic TV, Times Now and its anchors like Arnab Goswami for the attack. As bizarre it may sound, a bunch of journalists got together on social media, and squarely blamed the alleged attack on Umar Khalid on journalists who had expressed their opinions on national television, at the same time, they hailed Umar Khalid as a freedom of expression warrior whose voice was being stifled. Some portals then proceeded to discredit eyewitness account because it didn’t suit their narrative.

As the day progressed, while the propaganda remained the same, conflicting versions of the episode started emerging. First, Rajdeep Sardesai, a senior journalist from India Today tweeted that the police had confirmed the India Today that no such firing incident had taken place. Rajdeep also tweeted that two people were apprehended with guns in the vicinity of constitution club. One wonders why Rajdeep wasn’t attacked and discredited then.

Then, ANI tweeted another version claiming that the police were investigating the matter and trying to confirm the veracity of Umar Khalid’s claims. Khalid had claimed that assailants jumped him and tried to shoot him when their gun jammed and they couldn’t fire. In the meantime, his friends overpowered the assailants, and they ran, later, firing shots in the air.

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Within minutes of the assault news, minutes, Quint published a report where Umar was saying that he thought his Gauri Lankesh moment was here.

Soon, an ABP journalist released a video of another journalist from Dainik Bhaskar who claimed that he was an eyewitness. He said on the video, that he saw some boys get into a scuffle. In the process, one man fell down and the other tried to shoot him but couldn’t. Later, the assailant ran and fired a shot in the air. The clincher was, however, when he claimed that Umar Khalid was not present at the sight of the altercation at all and that he saw Khalid later come out of the constitution club.

The journalist whose statement was recorded and the one who shared the video were subjected to abuse and attack. Some even tagged him on Twitter.

After a while and after being subjected to abuse, the journalist recanted his story partially and said “he wasn’t sure” if the man who was pinned to the ground was Umar Khalid. He could be Khalid or he couldn’t be Khalid.

Interestingly, there was another eyewitness account of a man who has now been revealed to be close to Aam Aadmi Party. His version as well was similar, but he asserted that the attack actually happened on Umar Khalid. His version too changed over a period of time. He first said the bullet missed Umar Khalid and then shared a news clip that said the pistol jammed and couldn’t fire. 

Now, just as every other portal including AltNews is working towards discrediting the journalist, should this witness then also be completely dismissed considering his version has changed dramatically and the journalist only expressed doubt?

In all of this, there is absolutely no clarity about what happened. It is being reported that there is CCTV footage and the police have filed a case against unknown assailants. The contents of the CCTV footage have not been revealed yet and the perpetrators have not been apprehended, though, a suspect photograph captured from CCTV footage has been released. Umar Khalid is not in the photograph.

The truth, at this point of time, cannot be ascertained by any journalist or commentator. Maybe Umar was genuinely attacked. Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe the eyewitness who was quoted by ANI is right and it was indeed him who was attacked. Or maybe, the Dainik Bhaskar journalist got it right the first time around and Umar wasn’t even present.

It certainly isn’t beyond the realms of reasonability that Umar is capable of lying. After all, Umar’s buddy and comrade Kanhaiya Kumar had alleged that he was strangulated in an aeroplane by a Modi supporter and then, it turned out it was only a petty fight of two people pushing each other like school children.

After all, Umar’s second and third buddy, Shehla Rashid and Jignesh Mevani too lied about the police assaulting Mevani when it was, in fact, him who abused officers. An entire narrative was spun around how Mevani was abducted, assaulted and abused. The truth? The police had politely asked him to not enter a restricted road and he, in turn, abused. Called the police “Lakhota” (testicle) and asked the police whether Gujarat belongs to his father.

The victim card is indeed played multiple times, often laden with lies, simply to further a narrative. Umar Khalid even took to Facebook to talk about how he doesn’t blame the alleged assailants but TV anchors and BJP spokespersons. On the face of it, the narrative looks wholly coordinated to silent people who don’t agree with Umar or his comrades. To ensure that a line is toed. After all, who would dare to criticise anyone if any future attack on them (heaven forbid) can be blamed on the one who dares to criticise?

When Shujaat Bukhaari was brutally murdered by terrorists, the blame didn’t lie with the terrorists for slaughtering a journalist. The blame, however, rested with scientist Anand Ranganathan who had a few days prior to Shujaat’s murder dared to criticise him. Everyone who is often criticised piggybacked on Shujaat’s not-even-cold murdered body, to ensure nobody ever dares to criticise them again.

There is, for now, absolutely no conclusive proof that Umar Khalid was attacked in some pre-planned manner by someone driven by any political or ideological reasons. Right now, all journalists have are conflicting reports, varied versions and a hanging question – was Umar there at all? Considering what AltNews and so many others choose to call “fake eyewitness testimony” wasn’t “fake necessarily”. The U-Turn was of unsurety and not of surety that Umar was indeed there. There was no 100% backtrack or denial or disassociation with the testimony.

Maybe Umar was attacked. Maybe he wasn’t. The only thing that will prove what happened is a thorough police investigation and the patience by everyone to know the truth sans agenda. However, using this incident, using this narrative, to shut down criticism is diabolical. Using this to target journalists whose opinions are starkly against you is fascism. Nazi-like fascism. That it is done by impunity, shows the strength of the establishment even when out of power.

Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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