‘Communally inflammatory, malicious’: What Karnataka police FIR against Aaj Tak anchor Sudhir Chaudhary says

While BJP leaders raised questions of press freedom, Karnataka IT Minister Priyank Kharge asked Editors Guild to help stop journalists from deliberately misleading the public.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Sep 13, 2023 | 7:23 PMUpdatedSep 13, 2023 | 7:24 PM

Aaj-Tak television news channel booked for spreading false & communally inflammatory news

The Karnataka police have filed an FIR against Sudhir Chaudhary, the consulting editor of Aaj Tak, for promoting communal enmity, in a show he hosted on the television news channel.

The Seshadripuram police in Bengaluru on Tuesday, 12 September, registered the FIR against the channel, Chaudhary, and the organiser of the news programme for allegedly spreading false and communally inflammatory news.

The complaint was filed after the channel ran a show with alleged misleading and communally inflammatory claims about a scheme under the Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation (KMDC).

The case was registered based on a complaint by Shivakumar, an assistant administrative officer with the KMDC, who accused the channel of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and for acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.

Related: BJP slams scheme for minorities; fact-checkers say BJP had same scheme

Bouquets and brickbats

While the Karnataka government’s move to crackdown on alleged misleading and communally inflammatory news by a popular channel is being lauded by some sections, concerns have also been raised about press freedom, especially by BJP leaders.

Bangalore South MP Tejasvi Surya tweeted: “For asking legitimate questions about implementation of a government scheme, Congress State Govt of Karnataka is going on a witch-hunt against @aajtak and Sri @sudhirchaudhary by filing FIRs. This state led witch-hunt is a direct assault on the freedom of press. Whether it’s political opponents or independent media that asks uncomfortable questions, the Congress Govt is going after everyone by abusing the law. It’s important for conscientious citizens to raise their voice against such blatant abuse of state power.”

Related: K’taka fact-checking unit to target fake news: How will it work?

Deliberate and malicious: Minister Kharge

The KMDC official, in his complaint stated that the Corporation had recently announced a scheme for religious minorities and unemployed youth from the SC/ST communities to avail a subsidy of 50 percent on vehicle value or up to a maximum of ₹3 lakh for buying commercial vehicles within that range on bank loans.

The KMDC advertised it in a leading newspaper recently, as it did every year, to uplift religious minorities and the Dalit communities, Shivakumar said in his complaint.

However, on 11 September, Aaj Tak in a news broadcast, stated that the benefit of the scheme was extended only to religious minorities in Karnataka and not to the Hindu community.

Karnataka’s IT/BT Minister Priyank Kharge, tagging an Aaj Tak tweet, stated the anchor was deliberately spreading misinformation on Government schemes. Following the FIR on Chaudhary, Kharge urged the Editors’ guild of India to help address the issue of journalists “intentionally misleading public”.

Also read: K’taka to take all measures, including use of AI, to curb fake news

The complaint

The same day, the KMDC officials decided to proceed legally against the television news channel and complained to the Seshadripuram police.

In his complaint, Shivakumar stated that on 11 September around 9.55 pm, the consulting editor of Aaj Tak, Chowdhury, went on air saying that the benefit of the scheme was being given only to the religious minorities in Karnataka and not to “Hindu minorities”.

“This news on the scheme has caused unrest and incitement among the minority Hindus including the Dalit sections and creating an atmosphere of hatred and communal disharmony,” he stated in his complaint.

The KMDC official further urged the Seshadripuram police to initiate legal proceedings against Aaj Tak, Chaudhary and the organiser of news for spreading false and communally inflammatory news about the state government and minority development corporation’s scheme.

In his show — the video has hence been taken down — Chaudhary purportedly said, “After hearing about the scheme, the poor people from majority community in Karnataka must be wondering why they weren’t born in a minority community. If the poor person is a Hindu, irrespective of how poor they are, they will not get the benefits.”

After learning about the FIR registered against him in Bengaluru, Chaudhary tweeted in Hindi: “Got information about an FIR against me by the Congress government in Karnataka. The answer to my question is FIR? That too with non-bailable sections. That means complete preparation for arrest. My question was why the Hindu community is not included in the self-reliant Sarathi scheme? I am ready for this fight also. Now meet in court.”

Also read: Free bus ride for women scheme hit by smear campaigns, fake news

South First on Monday, 11 September, reported that social media posts shared by BJP’s Union Minister of State for Information Technology (IT) Rajeev Chandrasekhar and BJP Yuva Morcha president and MP Tejasvi Surya were in bad taste, making a mockery of the scheme for the minorities in Karnataka. Their tweets also drew harsh criticism from netizens, including activists.

The two BJP leaders shared the image of a newspaper advertisement put out by the Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation Limited on X and took potshots at the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government calling the welfare scheme for religious minorities an example of “shameless, lazy, appeasement politics”.

Chandrasekhar also termed it a violation under Article 14 of the Constitution while Surya said that the grand-old party would stoop to any level to consolidate its minority vote bank.

Chief of Alt News and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair explained that the scheme was named “Karnataka Swawalambi Sarathi Scheme” and a similar scheme was available under the previous BJP government.

Further, posting a screenshot of the scheme from districtsinfo.com, Zubair stated that unemployed youth from SC/ST and minority communities (Muslims, Christians, Jains, Parsi, Buddhists) were qualified for the scheme. SC/ST could get 75 percent or a max subsidy amount of up to ₹4 lakh. Minorities were eligible for 50 percent or a max subsidy amount up to ₹3 lakh.

Earlier, the Karnataka’s Health and Family Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao reminded Union Minister Chandrasekhar that he was forgetting that the same scheme existed under the previous BJP government.

Minister Gundu Rao had tweeted, “@Rajeev_GoI you’re forgetting that this scheme was there even during your BJP govt. Don’t let your blind hatred for the minorities make you look like a fool. Correct your stupid tweet.”