Justice Joseph of the Supreme Court castigated Sudarshan News on Friday over the manner in which Congress leader Udit Raj was supposedly treated by its editor Suresh Chavhanke in episode 4 of its ‘UPSC Jihad’ series. Sudarshan News was heavily criticised by the other justices of the Court for its reportage on alleged favouritism towards Muslims in recruitment into civil services.
Justice Joseph; in episode 4, Udit Raj, MP was there and see how he was treated. You did not agree with him. One of the member of the audience was interviewed and he says Muslims should not get OBC benefit. What kind of attitude are you inculcating by doing this program— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) September 18, 2020
In the episode in question, Udit Raj was invited to speak on the agenda of the Zakat Foundation and the demands that the Islamic organisation has made related to the delimitation of constituencies reserved for Schedules Castes or Dalits. When he was given an opportunity to speak, Udit Raj went into a tirade against the RSS instead.
Suresh Chavhanke implored Udit Raj to speak on the matter of concern and emphasised that the latter had not been invited as a Congress leader but as a politician who claims to speak for Dalits. The Congress leader, however, appeared unwilling to criticise the Zakat Foundation and claimed that there was nothing wrong with the demands of the Zakat Foundation and appreciated them even though conceding to their demands would mean that Dalits would lose access to seats reserved for them
When Suresh Chavhanke repeatedly insisted that Udit Raj speak on the topic of the discussion, the latter chose to leave the channel instead. The Sudarshan News editor never once used any offensive remark against the politician. No abuses were hurled at him neither was he subjected to any personal attacks. And yet, when it was insisted that he speak up for Dalits, the people Udit Raj claims to represent, he chose to leave the discussion instead.
For this reason, Justice Joseph believes that Udit Raj was mistreated. The Court seems to be taking objection to the media posing hard questions to politicians, individuals who want to represent us by seeking our votes and is opposing the media grilling politicians on the promises and speeches they claim to make. Are politicians now a protected class who cannot be questioned?
Questioning politicians is a fundamental right of the media, indeed, it is one of their sacred duties. If the media cannot grill politicians as they deem fit, then what is even the purpose of their existence? Denying journalists the right to question politicians is indeed the death of democracy.
In this particular instance, Suresh Chavhanke was questioning Udit Raj for seeking votes in the name of Dalit activism but remaining silent when the Zakat Foundation is demanding that seats reserved for Dalits be made unreserved. It is a very legitimate question to ask him the reason for his silence on the matter.
Udit Raj, on his part, has made several incendiary remarks in his pursuit of Dalit activism. A complaint was filed against him in April this year for making an anti-Brahmin statement while targeting Arnab Goswami. All India Parisangh, the Congress leader’s organisation, tweeted through its official handle in Hindi: “Itna neeche koi Brahmin hi gir sakta hain, jitna Arnab Goswami gira hain”, roughly translated as (Only a Brahmin can fall as low as Arnav Goswami has fallen).
On another occasion, the same organisation made derogatory comments against Brahmins and compared the community to pigs. After the death of Rishi Kapoor and Irfan Khan, Udit Raj asked why were not celebrities using ‘Gaumutra’ to cure cancer. This, of course, has become a regular pattern with the Congress politician.
Yet, the Court in its wisdom believes it is unfair for journalists to question Udit Raj regarding his supposed commitment towards Dalit Rights when a genuine opportunity arises to put his words to the test. If Sudarshan News is criticised for calling out a Dalit leader for not protecting the rights of Dalits, it portends very dark days for our democracy if courts start dictating the manner in which our politicians should be questioned by the media.