India Today channel on the 10th of January 2020 aired a sting operation that they called a stupendous work of investigative journalism. The sting operation by India Today was to do with the JNU violence that had erupted in the campus on the intervening days and nights of 3rd, 4th and 5th of January. In the sting operation, India Today claimed to unmask 2 ABVP activists who had supposedly indulged in retaliatory violence on the 5th in the Sabarmati hostel after they said that the Leftists had attacked the Periyar hostel. It now appears that India Today tried to pass off a JNUSU activist as an ABVP member simply to further a narrative.
The sting operation was aired by India Today right after the Delhi police had held a press conference and implicated several Left students, including the JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh as suspects in the JNU violence.
During the airing of the sting operation, ABVP had come out to issue a statement saying that Akshat Awasthi, the man being identified as an ABVP activist is not associated with ABVP in any manner. To this, Rahul Kanwal had claimed that he has proof of Akshat attending an ABVP rally. Though this was a flimsy reason to associate someone with a political outfit since thousands of unrelated and unconnected people might turn up for a political event, Kanwal stuck to his guns.
After the sting operation was aired, Rahul Kanwal took to Twitter to publish the “proof” of Akshat Awasthi attending an “ABVP rally”.
It is here that Rahul Kanwal and India Today’s “sting operation” started unravelling.
Rahul Kanwal claimed that though Akshat Awasthi has now changed his stance and said that he is in no way associated with the ABVP, there is a photo of him at an ABVP rally holding the Indian flag. The picture he offered as proof is as follows.
According to Rahul Kanwal, the man in the picture holding the Indian flag is Akshat Awasthi and this is an ABVP rally.
First, to ensure that we have the right information, we tried to search other publications that had used with the very picture and the picture credits thereof. This was done to ascertain whether this was an ABVP rally and what the rally was about.
The picture used by Manorama says that the picture is from the 11th of November 2019 when the police stopped JNU students who were staging a protest over the hostel fee-hike issue. The picture was taken by Kamal Singh of PTI.
To confirm it is indeed the same picture, we tried to spot Akshat in both.
We had now established that the rally Rahul Kanwal was calling an ‘ABVP rally’ was held on 11th November 2019 in protest against the JNU hostel fee-hike issue.
We found a corresponding article on India Today itself about the 11th November protest which Rahul Kanwal and India Today have now claimed was an ABVP rally.
The India Today article, in its first paragraph, said, “Shouting slogans and raising banners, thousands of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students clashed with police on Monday as their protest over steep fee hike escalated. The students of the varsity, which has seen several such agitations in the recent years, were protesting outside the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) premises, the venue for the varsity’s third convocation, which was addressed by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu”.
We had now established that the protest on 11th November was one outside the AICTE, the venue for JNU’s third convocation, which was addressed by Vice President Venkataiah Naidu. In fact, during this protest, HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ was also stranded for over six hours at the venue of the varsity’s convocation.
The India Today article in the question itself spoke about who organised the protest and the other parties that were supporting the protest.
The India Today article mentions that the 11th November protests were organised by JNUSU. The current President of JNUSU is Aishe Ghosh, who has been named by the Dehli police as a suspect in the JNU violence and is from Leftist organisation SFI.
This protest was in turn supported by parties like BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association), Kshatra RJD (the student wing of RJD, Lalu’s party) and Congress’ NSUI.
The chants in the protest were ‘Humein Chahiye Azadi”.
Further, the India Today article says, that the situation, of the minister being stuck in the AICTE premises, was only brought under control after the HRD minister spoke to the JNUSU president (Aishe Ghosh).
The India Today article itself does not mention ABVP even once.
Here is a video report by the India Today about the JNUSU protest outside AICTE on 11th November 2019.
Interestingly, there is no mention of ABVP even in the video report.
The fact that this was not a protest by ABVP or an “ABVP rally” as claimed by Rahul Kanwal is further proved by the fact that even the second page of the Jansatta article shared by Rahul Kanwal mentions Aishe Ghosh and JNUSU, but not ABVP.
OpIndia also acquired the JNUSU pamphlet of the 11th November protest.
Thus, by every account, the “proof” shared by Rahul Kanwal does not hold. The protest march, which is being claimed as an “ABVP rally” by Rahul Kanwal of India Today was clearly a protest by JNUSU, dominated by the Left and supported by other Left organisations including the Congress’ student wing NSUI. Thus, it is only reasonable to assume that Akshat Awasthi was a JNUSU activist at the very least and not an ABVP member.
This begs several important questions that Rahul Kanwal and India Today must answer:
1. If India Today’s had only this to prove that Akshat Awasthi was an ABVP member, how was this sting operation allowed to air?
2. Even after the Delhi police had categorically named the initial suspects, India Today aired this clearly erroneous sting operation and went on to question the credibility of the Delhi police. Will India Today now apologise?
3. What was the motive behind India Today deliberately trying to pass off what looks like a Left student activist as an ABVP member who was involved in the JNU violence?
4. Who is this first-year student who seems to have clearly lied on camera when he said that he had organised the violence in Sabarmati hostel and called several ABVP activists?
5. Is there an ulterior motive of muddying the water as far as the JNU violence investigation is concerned in order to shield Left parties?
The questions only grow stronger after this one shocking aspect that came to light. While the excess of graphics in India Today hid the timestamp, on Aaj Tak, in the second segment of Akshat Awasthi speaking, a strange timestamp is revealed.
The timestamp that is on the second segment of the video showing Akshat Awasthi shockingly has the date stamped as 22nd October 2019. The violence in JNU happened on 5th January 2020.
In this segment, Akshat Awasthi was making generic statements about how ABVP activists got the idea of masking their face, Interestingly, there were no details specific to the 5th January violence were revealed by Akshat Awasthi in this segment.
The specific details of the attack on Sabarmati hostel and Periyar hostel were only revealed in the first segment of the India Today sting on JNU violence where Akshat is wearing a blue blazer and sitting supposedly in the canteen.
While this could possibly be a technical glitch, with the credibility of India Today being extremely low with respect to this sting operation, there are certain questions that the channel and Rahul Kanwal must answer:
1. Was this segment indeed recorded in October?
2. If this segment was recorded in October, was there some sort of conspiracy by the investigators of India Today to implicate ABVP falsely and that plan was postponed till yesterday?
3. If this was a technical glitch, why was a disclaimer not added either in India Today or Aaj Tak?
There are several questions that India Today must answer about its JNU sting operation and explain why they tried to pass off what looks like a Left student as an ABVP student even after Delhi police made those revelations implicating the Left for JNU violence.
Tweets of grandstanding where Rahul Kanwal alleges that his channel did their job without “fear or favour” does not hold water as far as the India Today sting on JNU violence is concerned and to tarnish the image of Delhi police based on a shoddy investigation ridden with lies does not bode well for the channel or Rahul Kanwal either.
Update: OpIndia reached out to India Today journalist Rahul Kanwal to get a comment on this fact-check. Rahul Kanwal said, “We do not speak to other publications so I won’t be able to comment”.
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017
This post was last modified on January 11, 2020 12:09 pm