At 10 am on Tuesday, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation of the way ahead following the 21 day lockdown, Siddarth Varadarajan, founder editor of the TheWire and a trenchant critic of the establishment is supposed to find ways to get around the lockdown and present himself in a court in Ayodhya following a warrant issued against him by the Uttar Pradesh police.
On April 10, A group of policemen served a notice on the journalist at his residence in Delhi. The national lockdown is on until April 14 and there are reports that it could be extended. Movements have been severely restricted during this period. The notice cites an FIR registered by the Faizabad police claiming that Varadarajan had made an “objectionable” comment about Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. This is one of two FIRs registered on the basis of private complaints by individuals described as residents of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh
The reason for the summons is an article published in TheWire on March 31 wherein a report attributed to Varadarajan drew parallels between the Tablighi event and a supposed Ram Navami event in Ayodhya at the Ram Janmabhoomi site. Varadaran reported that during the ceremony, the CM told the faithful that Lord Ram will take care of Coronavirus. Varadarajan had also made similar comments on twitter alleging that Yogi had made the comment. UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s media advisor Mrityunjay Kumar had taken to Twitter and said that ‘despite the warning, Vardarajan had neither deleted the tweet nor apologised’.
On April 1, Vardarajan had tweeted: “I should clarify that it was Acharya Paramhans, Hindutva stalwart and head of the official Ayodhya temple trust, who said Ram would protect devotees from coronavirus, and not Adityanath, though he allowed a public event on 25/3 in defiance of the lockdown and took part himself.”
Incidentally, Paramhans – the one to whom the quote is attributed – isn’t head of the Ayodhya temple trust either.
Two FIRs were subsequently field against The Wire, both in Ayodhya district. While one of them was by the officer-in-charge of Faizabad Kotwali. The cases were booked under Section 188 (disobedience to order), 505 (2) (statements creating enmity or ill-will) and Section 66 D of the IT Act!
The FIR was condemned by several including the Editor’s Guild of India which called it ‘an overreaction and an act of intimidation’.
The Guild said: “Any such intimidation of the media or blaming the media for mass migration of workers will be counterproductive. Such actions will be tantamount to disabling the messenger. The Guild believes for sure that the media must be responsible, free and fair. But such interference can only undermine those goals.”