The JNU row that erupted a few days ago has thrown up a number of unexpected fallouts. A group of JNU students was booked on sedition charges when they allegedly raised anti-national slogans during an event held to mark the third death anniversary of Afzal Guru, the militant convicted for the Parliament attacks of 2001. JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested and the entire country seemed to be polarised over the issue. While the government and many others seemed to take a staunch view of the situation and keen on weeding out any form of anti-national activities, others, including some media houses, took the view that the government was out to curb free speech and any form of dissent.
On 15 February, even as Kanhaiya Kumar was scheduled to appear before a metropolitan magistrate at Patiala House, a number of JNU students started to protest his arrest and raised slogans demanding his release. A group of people wearing lawyers’ robes attacked them and chased anyone who possibly looked like a student. The incident once again sparked a media and social media row.
Barkha’s Open Letter To PM Modi
In response to the incident at Patiala House, renowned journalist Barkha Dutt, published her highly caustic opinion editorial on 20 February 2016, called “A Letter To PM Modi From ‘Anti-National Sickular Presstitute’ ”.
Starting off with accusations directed against the PM dating back to the 2002 Gujarat riots, Barkha talks about her own experience with reporting from the war-inflicted zones of India (1999 Kargil War ) and her subsequent affections for the “Fauj”. She then moves on to contemporary issues such as OROP and the death of military personnel in Siachen to scathingly pick apart the government’s (rather BJP’s) stance and handling of the JNU issue, in a very political context. In her letter, Barkha seemingly espouses the view that the youth of the country are being policed by the government into conformity.
Barkha Dutt is quite active on the microblogging site Twitter, and in an effort to promote her editorial, on 22 February she tweeted a quote from her letter with a critique of the union HRD Minister Smriti Irani, “Minister @smritiirani says JNU insulted Mother India. But what of compassionate, gentler side of Mothers?”
Smriti Irani’s Twitter Challenge
Those who follow Twitter are aware that most of the leading BJP politicians are quite active and quick to respond to important Twitter posts. Not willing to let the reference and the personally tagged post go, HRD Minister Smriti Irani replied to Barkha Dutt with a blistering tweet in which she accused the journalist of peddling lies. In what seemed to be a challenge. She tweeted, “@BDUTT Madam find me 1 quote where I have named JNU else let it be known to the world once again u peddle lies”.
An open challenge on a public forum such as Twitter where any celebrity is keenly watched is hard to pass up, isn’t it? More so, when the challenge comes from the likes of a much talked about union minister. Barkha Dutt soon found links to and quoted a bunch of news articles that pointed to Irani’s quote “Today is the day of worship of Goddess Saraswati. Saraswati blesses every family that whatever they speak is for progress and strengthening the nation. Let Mother India be praised. The nation will never tolerate an insult to mother India“. Barkha quoted DNA and Business Standard and said there were a number of other newspapers that put Irani’s quote in the context of the JNU row.
Twitter War Over JNU
Despite faced with newspaper reports that Barkha forwarded as evidence to support her statements, Smriti Irani seemed to be in no mood to back down. The Minister retorted, “@BDUTT Apne jhooth ke liye doosro ka sahara mat lijiye. Maine aaj tak issue pe JNU ke naam se newspaper aur TV channel ko quote nahi diya”.
What Ms. Irani possibly meant is that she had not mentioned JNU, its students, and the controversy in her quote. Now, having been accused of lying again, Dutt directly lashed out at the minister. She tweeted, “@smritiirani so ma’am are you accusing almost the entire print media of “jhhooth”? And just curious whom were your comments directed at then“.
The HRD Minister, however, seem far from backing out. She tweeted, “@BDUTT u point out to certain journos and their reports to help ur cause but ur claim itself shows a systematic attempt to derail facts“.
The veteran journalist seemed to have momentarily forgotten that she had ‘personally’ mentioned and tagged Smriti Irani as she said: “@smritiirani no idea why you needlessly personalise. However if I am a “liar” so are BS, DNA & 10 newspapers that wrote this. Agreed?”
As Political Opinions Go
As these two Twitter celebrities battled over the issue, the political observers were left in the dark over who is right and who is not. Barkha was right to the extent that the news reports did suggest Smriti’s quote to be in context of the JNU row while Smriti was right about not having personally mentioned JNU or the controversy. While both the BJP and AAP enthusiasts actively took sides, the vast majority of Twitterati enthusiastically indulged in banter. Some suggested that Smriti, perhaps, had Yale and not JNU, in mind, while others thought this was yet another victory scored by the minister over paid media.
Others seemed to think it was a confession that media often lies and quotes facts out of context to make news. The Twitter battle also sparked another ‘open letter’, this time to Barkha in support of the government’s move to weed out anti-nationals. Both Barkha and Smriti create news when they battle anyone on Twitter but this sparring against each other was nothing short of epic news.
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