THE Mumbai Press Club has viewed with concern the heckling and physical roughing up of fellow journalist Rajdeep Sardesai by supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The incident took place outside the Madison Square Garden venue before the PM’s scheduled address on Monday. Since there were various versions on what led to the fracas, we examined in detail the available footage as well as eye-witness accounts of various journalists.
The facts are very clear: Rajdeep Sardesai, on duty as consulting editor for news channels Headlines Today and Aaj Tak, was interviewing groups of Modi supporters outside the New York venue. The questions he asked were sharp and direct, and were perceived to be hostile to the Prime Minister. However, as a journalist he kept within norms and continued to brave the storm of heckling and slogan-shouting. It is in the second round of interviewing later in the day that a physical attack was mounted on him, and he and his family were told to banish themselves to “Pakistan”.
A video clip posted on-line suggests as if Rajdeep perpetrated the attack. The actual picture that emerges is: Rajdeep reacted with a sharp, verbal reposte when his children were abused. This was met by a hit from the back and subsequent pushing and shoving, against which he tried to defend himself. A quick intervention by alert colleagues from other Indian channels saved him from what could have developed into a graver physical assault.
The Mumbai Press Club condemns this attack on senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai and calls upon the City of New York to take action against those who perpetrated this assault. We view this as not only an attack on Sardesai, but an assault on free speech and the right of unhindered journalism. The fact that the head of the BJP’s foreign arm, Vijay Jolly, was present on site and failed to intervene to stop the attack, makes the party complicit in this cowardly act.
The attack on Rajdeep on foreign soil has not only lowered our country’s esteem in the eyes of a foreign government and people, but also damaged the credibility of the Prime Minister’s slogan of ‘One India, One People’ he set out to establish. We urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order an investigation into this incident of violence against a senior journalist and come out with a status report.
The Mumbai Press Club is equally concerned about the inability of those who support Modi and the present government in power to face criticism. We fear this trend, which includes branding all critics as ‘anti-nationals’, will result in shrinking space for free speech and the dilution of a liberal polity we are so proud of.
We hope the Prime Minister will take the lead in addressing these concerns.