Marginalia: On NewsClick, NYT, toolkits, etc.

The Bharatiya Janata Party in power in India knows that the process is the punishment, that the amount of punishment imposed depends on the law invoked in the chargesheet, and that no law is as ripe for misuse in this regard as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 1967. In fact, simply invoking the law and using the police to intimidate, arrest, and harass may be the state’s goal, rather than the eventual verdict itself, which is also unlikely to be in the state’s favour.

The latest recipients of this form of the state’s justice have been the news organisation NewsClick and its employees, including editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha. Even getting bail under (UAPA) is difficult because the Act locks away the conditions that need to be met to secure bail in a cage of vague statements, all of which a committed state can interpret to suit its agenda.

NewsClick has been accused of funding terror and its editor of conspiring to redraw India’s sovereign borders. During the police raids of NewsClick‘s employees and office that preceded the arrests, journalists also said that they were asked if they had covered and/or commented on social media platforms on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and the three farm laws in 2020-2021.

So using the excuse of the The New York Times article, whose careless journalism opened a big hole for the Indian government to crawl through, the state initiated the raids; using the UAPA’s repurposable provisions, the state arrested NewsClick‘s journalists, seized their phones, laptops, and whatever other records were kept at its office, and kept them in the dark; and using the opportunity to deploy the police as an excuse, the state intimidated the journalists into sharing something – anything – that would allow the police to build even a minimally legitimate case.

This is the same template the police followed after BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya filed cheating and defamation cases against The Wire for its Meta reports, based on which the police raided the houses of people not even named on the FIR and seized The Wire‘s human-resources and financial records and its employees’ personal information.

This is the toolkit: Find a hole, crawl in, seize everything, try to build a case, and extend police custody.

Kavita Krishnan had an insightful article in Scroll yesterday about how the The New York Times wished to quote her on its original story – casting suspicion on the business and political ties of Neville Roy Singham, whose company is NewsClick‘s chief investor – and why she declined, followed by the newspaper quoting her in a story about the raids without sufficient context.

Importantly, Krishnan wrote that The New York Times construed her having written for NewsClick as her having “links to NewsClick” (the sort of clandestine leap we’ve been accustomed to hearing only from establishment devotees in India so far); that it chose to name only NewsClick among all the news organisations it claimed could have been compromised by Singham’s investment; and the fact that it implied that NewsClick could be kowtowing to Chinese interests because it published a video about how China’s working class continues to be inspired by the country’s history.

The frailty of the threads holding together the NewsClick parts of the The New York Times report became more apparent when Neville’s investing company’s lawyer told The Hindu the following: “The New York Times failed to include PSF’s categorical denial of foreign funding, and instead left readers to believe that the source of PSF’s funding (or Mr. Singham’s for that matter) might have come from China, rather than from the sale of ThoughtWorks.”

Whatever the merits of the rest of the article, the parts that affected NewsClick show parachute journalism at its worst. That the BJP weaponised the article is not the The New York Times‘s fault; it was that the report was weaponisable at all. And it’s the latest in a line of objectionable work by the newspaper, including during the pandemic and vis-à-vis ISRO: see here, here, here, here, here, and here, among others.