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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Amit Shah should act against Param Bir Singh

The Yogi Adityanath regime’s decision to handover a case against unknown persons to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the Television Rating Point (TRP) scam has turned on its head the Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh’s relentless efforts to target Republic TV (RTV) and its nationalist editor-in-chief and managing director, Arnab Goswami.

Though the case pertains to an FIR lodged at a police station in Lucknow, there is every chance that a similar FIR lodged against the India Today group in Mumbai may get subsumed to conduct a nationwide inquiry in TRP manipulation. Param Bir, who has a long record of venality dating back to 26/11, used the FIR to falsely implicate RTV. He crossed the professional lakshman-rekha by holding a presser on October 8 to announce the channel’s involvement in the scam without a shred of evidence at his disposal.

Param Bir also lied that the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) had submitted that Republic TV was suspected of rigging TRPs to boost its ratings when the council’s report procured by RTV mentioned India Today instead. The body later confirmed the non-involvement of the channel in a formal email to Arnab. In fact, the council’s ‘submission’ was based on the findings of Hansa Research whose report also made exclusive mention of India Today for which iniquity it coughed out a fine of Rs 5 lakh as recently as July.

The police commissioner has obviously been acting at the behest of his political masters in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government which was enraged at the channel’s expose on the state police’s inaction in the lynching of sadhus at Palghar, the Sushant Singh Rajput murder probe, and more recently, the Congress’ efforts to stir communal riots at Hathras. Revelation of the tendentious role played by an India Today group reporter in the incident also aroused the Congress’ ire. However, Param Bir’s act of convening a press conference specifically aimed at tarnishing the reputation of Bharat’s number one TRP rated TV channel on a foundation of falsehood smacked of open collusion with the state. Such conduct contravenes the express provisions of the All-India Services Conduct Rules (AISR), 1968.

The rules enjoin government officers to maintain absolute integrity, devotion to duty, and do nothing unbecoming of a member of the service. Under the rules it is incumbent on officers to conform to the highest ethical standards, ensure political neutrality, further the principles of merit, fairness, impartiality, accountability, and transparency in the discharge of their duties. Param Bir’s prejudiced actions violate virtually every norm in the rule book. RTV’s counsel Harish Salve apprised the Bombay High Court of Param Bir’s mala fide in the October 19 hearing of the case challenging the mendacious assertions of the Mumbai Police. A separate case of criminal defamation has also been preferred by Arnab against Param Bir.

Why then has the Union Home Ministry avoided or restrained itself from acting against the iniquities of Param Bir? Especially since his partisan conduct has a history. He was accused by his former boss, Hasan Ghafoor, the Director General of Police, of dragging his feet over acting against the terrorists on 26/11; he was among the prime peddlers of the fake “Hindu terror” theory; blamed by Malegaon blast (2008) accused Lt. Col. Shrikant Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya of torturing them in custody during his days with the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS). Small wonder he was called a “bad cop” by Julio Ribiero, one of the most upright police officers of his time. It is not as if the ministry has never acted against IPS officers who violate service rules though it has to be done in tandem with the state government.

This March the Union Home ministry confirmed the suspension of former Additional DGP (Intelligence) A B Venkateswara Rao in accordance with the Rule 3 (1) of the AISR for committing fiscal improprieties under the modernization of police service scheme. A more appropriate example is that of the former Kolkata Commissioner Rajeev Kumar whose arrest and custodial interrogation was sought by the CBI in November 2019 on the charge that he connived with crooked and corrupt persons accused of suppressing evidence in the Sarada chit fund scam. Kumar was a virtual factotum of Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee just as Param Bir is of her counterpart in Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray. He was the functional head of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the West Bengal government to probe the case. The court in its wisdom transferred the probe from the SIT to the CBI in 2014.

Preliminary action against Param Bir should have been initiated by the home ministry’s Department of Personnel and Training even if the government wanted to keep an arm’s distance from a TV channel many regard a BJP cheerleader. The impression has much to do with RTV’s funding. BJP MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar was the channel’s main promotor. Rajiv has since shuffled off the better part of his stake.

There are serious reasons why the Centre must caution the rogue officer: his slack probe in the alleged murder of Sushant Singh Rajput, his assorted sins of omission and commission to save the Sena’s face, and refusal to probe Bollywood’s dangerous links with the drug mafia whose tentacles extend to Dubai and the dubious D-Company. Going by the newest sting conducted by RTV on a Muslim minister (Nawab Malik) of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Arnab’s life may well be under threat. The minister said on camera that Arnab would be subjected to such severe harassment that committing suicide would be his only option. The remark may have been a slanted threat. After all, it was RTV’s probe of an actor’s faux suicide that first raised the hackles of the MVA. Should Arnab come in harm’s way, Amit Shah would only have himself to blame.

Love him or hate him, Arnab is impossible to ignore. Why? Because even his enemies know he is not a humbug, fixer, opportunist, or wheeler-dealer angling for a Rajya Sabha ticket or some other position. He is self-made, self-reliant, and owns the channel he runs. He can afford to be his own master unlike his compatriots in the mainstream media who have no option but toe the line of their proprietors to save their jobs. Arnab’s daily 9 pm #FoxNews like harangues replete with gesticulations, finger-pointing, interjections, and table thumping assertions, can annoy and disgust even his foremost admirers and fellow panelists in TV debates, but they willingly put up with his idiosyncrasies because he speaks the unvarnished, untwisted truth.

Even when Arnab takes an unpalatable stand on sensitive issues (eg. Sabrimala) which fly in the face of conservative notions, it is because he genuinely feels he is right. He pushes no agendas per se. He takes Rightist positions on political issues because he thinks they are in the national interest, not because it is in alignment with the BJP. This is the secret of his large viewership. Panelists on his show admit being recognized in public because they are seen on Arnab’s show. Repeated efforts to label him a BJP flunkey have come unstuck. Party insiders admit in private that they are reluctant to openly defend Arnab since he has taken stands at variance with theirs in the past. What they oppose and condemn are efforts to “finish” his channel, something they would not do to their worst critics in the media.

The irrepressible RTV editor has over the years exposed dozens of scams since his days with #TimesNow, a channel he built from scratch, and made it number one. It takes exemplary courage can do an encore and single-handedly take on the combined might of a vicious state government, and business rivals with receding bottom lines. Leading the latter are his former employers who use the group’s own newspaper to spread a welter of lies, and another desperate to establish its questionable credentials as the “gold standard” of journalism. Both stand exposed.

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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.



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