Can a journalist in India write against Modi or the RSS?

Published: September 2, 2015

A former RSS pracharak, BJP PM nominee Narendra Modi meets RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. PHOTO: PTI

A few days ago, a journalist friend of mine was laconically told by his editor that he would not be allowed to write against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), apparently because “we should allow the BJP government to enjoy its honeymoon for a while”.

Ironically, the very next day, I was told that the very same editor wrote a pro-Modi article, eulogising the Hindu nationalist leader to the extent that would make the bhakts (admirers) explode with delight. When he protested and entreated the powers-that-be to vent his views on critical issues plaguing the country, he was told to promote his ‘agenda’ by writing personal blogs. Pish!

Ask the Congress party, which saw 25 of its members of parliament being suspended for five days by the Lok Sabha speaker, Sumitra Mahajan for “causing repeated disruptions” over the Vyapam scam involving BJP’s Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Sushma Swaraj’s alleged help for the tainted former Indian Premiere League (IPL) commissioner, Lalit Modi, in obtaining UK travel documents.

Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi termed August 2nd as a black day for Indian democracy, slamming Modi for implementing the Gujarat model of dictatorship here.

Fascism is here.

Social media warriors from the saffron brigade are always ready to pounce on anyone like wild beasts at the drop of a hat. Any opinion criticising Modi, the BJP, and RSS elicits sharp reactions, expletives, and even threats from the uncouth Bhakts, and it’s worse if you are a woman.

Ask senior journalist Sagrika Ghose who in 2013 was threatened with things such as “gang rape and stripping” on Twitter by right-wing nationalists. Things got out of hand when her teenage daughter’s name and details of her class and school were tweeted too.

“It was very disturbing. I didn’t know what to do. So for a few days, I had her picked up and dropped off to school in our car and not via public transport, because I was really scared,” said Ghosh.

“Targeting me for my journalism is fine. But when it is sexist and foul-mouthed abuse which insults my gender identity, I get incredibly angry. In the beginning, I used to retaliate, but that would lead to more abuse,” Ghosh said, adding that, “the abusers are right-wing nationalists, angry at women speaking their mind. They have even coined a term for us – ‘sickular’.”

Furthermore, journalist Vidya Subrahmaniam filed a police complaint in 2013 claiming that she had received at least 250 calls from unknown numbers threatening to ‘bomb’ her for an article she had written on Sardar Patel. Subrahmaniam said the callers claimed affiliation with the RSS and VHP and were largely from Tamil Nadu. She said,

“The background to this is an article on the RSS which appeared today (October 15th) in the Tamil edition of The Hindu. The original appeared in The Hindu in English on October 8, 2013 under the title: The forgotten promise of 1949.” 

Today, such is the atmosphere of fear and intimidation in India that the media can be seen crawling when it has not even been asked to bend. There’s a self-imposed censorship and those who dare to speak the truth and criticise the saffron party are victims of personal attacks and usually get abused.

For instance, on July 14th, the hashtag ‘#ShameOnTOI’ started trending on Twitter after the Times of India quoted the BJP President Amit Shah as saying that it will take 25 years to realise ‘achhe din’ (good days) promised by Modi, which according to him was supposed to happen within five years.

However, Shah, who had earlier found himself in a fix over his remark referring to PM Modi’s promise that “Rs15 lakh will be deposited in the bank accounts of all Indians once black money is recovered” was just a political jumla (idiom), on this occasion sought to clear the air over achhe din. The BJP supremo was quoted as saying by the newspaper,

“Achhe din aane mein 25 saal lagenge.”

(It will take 25 years to see good days.)

In Bhopal, Shah was reported saying that in the broader perspective, achhe din meant restoring the pride which India enjoyed before the British raj.

“Desh ko duniya ke sarvochch sthan par baithana hai to paanch saal ki sarkaar kuchh nahi kar sakti.”

(Five-year rule [by BJP] cannot make India the top world power.)

Anybody who had the chance to watch Shah’s speech would agree with each and every word the newspaper reported. But apparently the truth is a bitter pill to swallow for some.

The bhakts trolled the Times of India (TOI) and the author like never before. Here’s a look at some of the condemnable tweets.

Things are not different in Bangladesh either, where several atheist and secular bloggers have been brutally murdered of late for speaking their mind.

In Pakistan, Sabeen Mahmud was killed, on April 24 this year, by na maloom afraad (unidentified men) in Karachi. It was the reaction of the people of Pakistan, especially the youth, to her unfortunate, untimely demise which made me realise what she meant to them.

According to those who knew her, she was a beacon of hope, the best of Pakistan, the light at the end of the tunnel, a wonderful human being and a woman on a mission; to reunite hearts that have been torn apart. She was indeed the change we wished to see and needed in the world.

As per her close friend and BBC journalist, Ziad Zafar,

“She was the bravest woman in the world, she really was, she was a brave heart; my God, she was a brave, brave girl.”

This is why it appals me when people like Saif Ali Khan say that they have lost faith in Pakistan. No sir, you just cannot lose faith in a country that can produce a gem like Sabeen. I, however, want to take this opportunity to let Saif Ali Khan know that like many Indians, I lost faith in his acting skills a long time ago. This is the dilemma faced by ‘minorities’ in India and Pakistan. They have to prove their ‘patriotism’ by bashing others.

The appalling murder of Sabeen brings to the fore the challenges that human rights defenders and journalists face in Pakistan. TV anchor Raza Rumi was attacked in Lahore in March 2014. His driver was shot dead and a guard was injured by unknown assailants in an attempt on Rumi’s life.

“I was lucky to escape alive,” Rumi wrote in an article in the New York Times, adding that, “The police later claimed that Islamic extremists were responsible.”

In May 2011, investigative reporter Saleem Shahzad was murdered following his allegations of links between the Pakistani military and al Qaeda. Moreover, there have also been multiple attacks on the offices and staff of The Express Tribune in the last two years.

According to a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), since 2010 as many as 16 Pakistani journalists fled their homeland due to work-related persecution. Three out of those 16 journalists have been able to return to the country.

Among those still unable to return include journalist Rumi, who had to flee after he was attacked in Lahore. Therefore, things as they stand are pretty bad in Pakistan, but are they any better in India?

You see, it is scary when you realise that the fascism you abhor is not limited to the corridors of power anymore and the government that is destined to rule you slowly creeps into your workplace, educational institutes, and family surroundings.

When efforts are made to muzzle one’s voice, when one is bullied in person and on social media for speaking his mind, when one’s articles against a particular ideology are disregarded on unjustifiable grounds, it dawns upon us how precious freedom really is. The fact of the matter is that only insecure people with weak ideologies resort to such tactics such as trying to suppress the voices of dissent.

The big question is why is this happening? Why have we become so intolerant? Why is there so much aggression in our words, thoughts and actions?

In Mahatma Gandhi’s words,

“We have to look within and cleanse our hearts.”

The RSS aka BJP seem to be promoting mediocrity which can be seen in its attempt to impose a run-of-the-mill TV actor Gajendra Chauhan as chairman of the prestigious Films and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. For the last two months, the FTII students have been protesting over their legitimate demand of Chauhan’s removal. The government should pay heed to their valid concerns.

Verily, mediocrity runs rampant in the RSS, which is adorned with the great sages and sadhvis, in other words, the jewels of India. I do not have the gumption to write a word against the holy ones, lest their one curse should at once turn me into an ebony stone and send me directly to hell, heaven or even Mars, for their powers know no bound, their knowledge is unsurpassable, their divinity unquestionable.

Let’s not invite their wrath on our poor souls.

Sapan Kapoor

Sapan Kapoor

A history buff and India-based journalist, the author has worked with the Press Trust of India. He blogs at and tweets as @dRaconteur.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Maverick_NZ

    Oh Indian trolls, where art thou?Recommend

  • moksh

    Do I read the same newspapers as you do? I have seen all kinds of anti-modi or RSS article. It is absolutely no surprise that there are political elements within Indian media houses. e.g. Times of India did not allow reporters to unearth builder frauds. So don’t get into Modi bashing in a manner that portrays this is a new thing in India. There are media houses that are pro congress unless you believe Congress has no money left to feed media which is what this comes down toRecommend

  • someone

    Sapan Kapoor, you are hilarious. Were you hibernating for past decade? Or may be you were just writing for Pakistani news papers and did not get a chance to read Indian news papers. There has not been a single day where there has not been a Modi/RSS bashing in Indian news papers. The reason? Well Modi has stopped taking you guys for government sponsored foreign trips.Recommend

  • harkol

    Ofcourse. Aakar Patel does it all the time. There are many others as well.Recommend

  • Bana Post

    The author seems to be living in Pakistan. His writing questions the basic of Indian freedom of speech.I do read very ordinary anti RSS comments Ex OWASI & co strongly criticising RSS in public. What else he want .In India,press are doing stupid role thank to people like KAPOOR.example press giving more importance to individual murder case than 1965 war homageRecommend

  • Bana Post

    Sapan Kapoor, Sanjay kumar and one person called Puri. . ET hats off for finding these outstanding scholars.Recommend

  • Bana Post

    Sapan Kapoor, Sanjay kumar and one person called Puri. We Indians are proud of your service to our nationRecommend

  • Swaadhin

    “Can a journalist in India write against Modi or the RSS?”

    The answer is yes and if you disagree, may I know when did you renounce your Indian citizenship.

    One does not even need to read Sapan’s blogs anymore, all you need to do is guess how many times he must have used the word “Modi” in his master piece.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Were you missing me mate!!Recommend

  • Suresh

    We Indians are proud of the service of people like Sajay Kumarji,Sapan Kapoorji and one PurijiRecommend

  • Irony

    Seriously, i see a lot of anti modi articles everyday in Indian media. I can post all the links if u want to also. Recommend

  • Fahimuddin

    Common Journalist can’t even survive after writing against RSS and living in Mumbai. Yea power journalist having a lot backing would be a difficult but they could put them in ignore modeRecommend

  • abhi

    I don’t know how so may anti RSS articles are written daily, if what you say is correct?Recommend

  • Vinod

    I’m worried for his safety. I hope RSS don’t get hold of him.Recommend

  • Vinod

    Yes he is a brave Hindu writer. it seems the pen is mightier than the sword.Recommend

  • Anil Kumar


    I understand ,Mr.Modi has been nightmare for 5-star activists like you. So such kind of baffling is not at all surprise for us . However, rationalists like me do believe in constructive criticism and don’t criticize for the sake of criticizing . Millions of Indians like me voted him to become PM of India for a reason And I don’t go into such crappy articles to defend anyone.Recommend

  • N.S

    Verily, mediocrity runs rampant in the RSS, Modi has spent 31 years in RSS…no wonder.Recommend

  • Cool Henry

    Well not a boo on Niira Radia tapes. Wonder why? Is it because the pressitutes have completely lost their main source of income (by fixing Ministries)?Recommend

  • Gullu

    Article par excellence from the author. it takes courage to
    write something like this. Surprised that author is not hanging
    by the thumbs in some RSS or Shiv Sena dungeon.
    Look at the Blog photograph. Looks like they are doing a
    Hindu Nazi type salute. They all look Dravidian.
    When you hear Modi, ‘Butcher of Gujrat’ comes to mind automatically.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Look behind.Recommend

  • N.S

    Just the other day, A
    renowned Kannada scholar and a former Hampi University vice-chancellor,
    Kalburgi was shot dead by an unidentified assailant at his residence on
    Sunday, for his progressive thoughts. All fingers ae pointing to Bajrang Dal and other fascist Hindutva groups. Media freedom is at the lowest level now in India in last very many years…Modi-fication here. This is the reason Sapan has to write this blog on a foreign news site and not IndianRecommend

  • N.S

    He is not writing this on an Indian mainstream media for the very reasons he has spoken about.Recommend

  • Thinking Idiot

    There are more than 3000 newspapers in India and almost each one of them has written against Modi or RSS. Almost each one of the newspapers have praised Modi or RSS at one point of the time or the other. Writing against or for on a particular date may be restricted for many considerations – but Truth Prevails In the Long Run – That is freedomRecommend

  • Aftab Riaz

    Mr. Akhand, if my country has the right to write for Pakistan then why can a Pakistani paper write for our issues. I am as much an indian as you are that should not stop me for discussing the dark side as well. Please be open for such criticism as much as you are open to discuss Pakistan like all of us. PeaceRecommend

  • Parvez

    If objective criticism is disallowed then the State would lean towards becoming a fascist state….is that what is happening ?…is it as bad as make it sound ?Recommend

  • Milind A

    “A few days ago, a journalist friend of mine was laconically told by his editor that he would not be allowed to write against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),”

    Well dear its not rocket science as you think and doesn’t need an entire article.
    Reason is simple – You & your journalist friends have been running a Modi-bashing industry for the last 10 years, refused to acknowledge or credit him (or his govt) wherever they deserve it (e.g. Yemen crisis handling etc). People saw through your perfidy and you lost your credibility. Add insult to injury Modi continues to ignore you and there go your foreign trips, perks out of the window… Given all this, your journalist friend has grown wiser and seen the light.. Hope you do, some day and get reasonable… I’m not asking you to praise Modi to the skies, but some sort of objectivity would be welcome.Recommend

  • Milind A

    RSS doesn’t have time for such lone losers.. He’s hardly a name in India.. All the world’s losers & invalids (terrorists, obtuse journos like this author) find following in Pakistan as Pakistanis greedily lap up anything they dish out.Recommend

  • chinpin ginpin

    Expression through speech is one of the basic guarantees provided by
    civil society. However in modern world Right to freedom of speech and
    expression is not limited to express ones’ view through words but it
    also includes circulating one’s views in writing or through any other communication channel. India the so called democracy find it hard to listen any thing against the government. What lse can be expected from a state like India which is still backward in practicing the democratic values.Recommend

  • harkol

    You don’t have to be brave to write against RSS or Modi. Many do. In fact, majority of Leftist Intelligensia in India is against Modi and RSS. Rajdeep Sardesai is a known Modi baiter, yet he is most powerful Media personality. Same goes for Karan Thapar, Kumar Ketkar, N Ram, Siddharth Varadarajan and so many others.

    The guys who are brave – those who take on religious fundamentalists by talking against religions. People who have spoken about pissing on Hindu idols or people who spoke against prophet in India have either been threatened, had fatwa issued or even murdered (like Mr. Kalburgi recently).


  • manzoor

    lukily in Pakistan the things are getting better here now minorities not only have freedom of expression but they have right to cricize the rulling party as well…….

    Just for reference

  • hp kumar

    He will never be treated like sabeen no matter what subject he prefers to writeRecommend

  • hp kumar

    ha ha ha..this gem is coming from an army ruled stateRecommend

  • Stealthy

    I could only see “Modi Bashing” in the comments section where ordinary people can be seen bashing Indian PM and nothing else. No writer can dare to go against Modi and I really doubt whether india is still a democracy by western standards or not.Recommend

  • Stealthy

    Those articles aren’t really anti-modi but the comments section in those newspaper gives sign of ordinary people bashing Indian PM whose voice must be heard..Recommend

  • Stealthy

    Just like the butcher of thousands of Muslims found his huge following in Hindu-dominated India?Recommend

  • Limpkisar

    Unfortunately, there is no any other political or social power in India that could challenge this ideology which is so destructive for India’s secular fabric and cultural diversity. The ideology of Hindutva has deeply penetrated in every sector of current Indian life through its various organizations and groups such as Bharatiya Janata Party (Political wing); Vishwa Hindu Parishad (cultural mobilization wing); Bajrang Dal (para-military group); and Shiv Sena (violent fascist group). The irony lies in the fact that a major portion of western media still ignores the growing issue of Hindutva that leads South Asian region towards perpetual instability.Recommend

  • abhi

    Just pointing finger is not enough, the crime happened in Congress rule state they should be able to catch the culprits as Police is state subject.Recommend

  • someone

    Let us know if you have a living Hindu in Pakistan just like we have an Owaisi in India.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Is he a journalist from India?
    Is he living in India?
    Is he writing against Modi?
    Is ET available to Indians?

  • Guest

    He is still alive. Please read the following article published in Dawn.
    ‘More journalists are killed in Pakistan than any other democracy.’ published on 28 January 2015.Recommend

  • Gullu

    It is a well fact that Hindians are mentally challenged.
    Now, then, need to add only one thing to the list.
    Is ET an Hindian mainstream newspaper?
    Is ET available to Hindians
    ET is also available to Eskimos, Sri Lankans, Burmese, Nepalese, Bhutanese, Zulus, Nigerians, Swedes, Ladhakis
    Papua/New Guineans and Keralites.
    Now, then, do you understand? If not, we can draw little pictures,….to explain more thoroughly.Recommend

  • Bana Post

    Pakistani’s butchered thousands of Palestinians(zia -ul-huq),East Benglis (1971),and now lots of shias are being targeted in Pakistan.We at least have minorities in India Just see how minorities intentionally reduced in our holy sate.The wolf is crying for the sheepRecommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Who is Lefitst in India? Is it one who identifies oneself with everything left of Indian map, if you are facing it? Seems one needs to reject nativity and become Islamist, Christist and Marxist to be Leftist. Since its independence India has been Leftist ruled with economic growth rate of 2-4%, it is in recent decade or two it found its civilizational core. About those murders, Indian core does not kill the people for their views, but Christist (remember Galileo, genocides of natives of Americas, Australia & Africa), Islamists (today’s ISIS, 3 Million deaths in East Pakistan in ’71, Taliban etc) and Marxist (Stalin’s purge, Mao’s killings in millions) indulge in such activities. By birth Kalburgi is Lingayat, a wealthy community. Dabholkar and Pansare are Bramhins by birth. They are most probably killed my Marxists themselves or Evangelical Christians.Recommend

  • vivek

    Can ET talk against ISI -no
    Can ET talk against Army – NO
    Can Et talk against Rangers-no
    But India you can
    Thats called democracyRecommend

  • Alok Joshi

    Sir you are the most uniformed journalist I have ever read. Specially your observation that journalists that speak against the government are dying!!Recommend