What started off as a routine soundbite after getting vaccinated turned into a PR disaster for Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. The CM was heard using an abusive term against someone in the room who was creating a disturbance. It is not clear whether the abuse was directed at the reporter of news agency ANI – which was relaying his comments live – or someone else.
A video clip of the live feed was tweeted by former IAS officer Surya Pratap Singh and quickly went viral on social media. In response, Adityanath’s media advisor, Shalab Mani Tripathi, claimed the video was fake and said FIRs will be filed against those tweeting it. A story from a random website, ‘Breaking Tube’, was used as ‘evidence’ of the video being morphed. The story merely said the video was fake but did not disclose details on how it did its fact check.
However, shortly after the claims and bluster of the chief minister’s advisors, videos of the live feed carried by News18 and ABP Ganga appeared which clearly showed the Uttar Pradesh CM using abusive language and that the video had indeed not been edited.
The problem isn’t as much Yogi’s faux pas – the fact that politicians, like ordinary citizens, use abusive language is hardly surprising – as the manner in which his advisors and the wider Sangh parivar have attempted to handle the fallout.
Instead of taking it on the chin and moving on, they have resorted to brazen attempts to silence and intimidate critics, ordinary citizens, journalists and those who have questioned Adityanath and his government.
“The state government has already ordered a forensic inquiry in the case. Shalabh Mani Tripathi, information advisor, UP CM, said that a case would be filed against those who are posting the edited video of CM Yogi,” the pro-government website ‘Op-India’ wrote.
Tripathi himself was busy retweeting tweets by others calling the video fake and threatening legal action.
Filing criminal cases or threatening legal action has been the preferred response of the Uttar Pradesh government when it comes to dealing with issues that cause it embarrassment.
The state government has misused its power on several occasions earlier. A criminal case was filed against a journalist, Pawan Jaiswal, who exposed how children were served roti and salt as part of their school midday meal in Mirzapur.
Another FIR was filed against another journalist Ravindra Saxena for reporting mismanagement at a quarantine centre in Sitapur. FIRs have also been filed against Scroll journalist Supriya Sharma and The Wire’s Siddharth Varadarajan and Ismat Ara. This journalist was also threatened with an FIR for raising the Hathras rape issue.
One of the hallmarks of the Yogi administration has been the way it has sought to muzzle the media through threats and FIRs. The latest scandal only demonstrates that his key advisors continue to remain unaccountable. That is why they can blatantly threaten members of the public with malicious or vexatious prosecutions despite being fully aware of the facts at hand.
Will the CM now act against those officials who have truly tarnished his image by cooking up a cover up that flopped spectacularly within hours? The irony is that by going into overdrive to deny a leader like Adityanath could have used the ‘C’ word, they have themselves magnified the offence.
Imagine if this wasn’t Adityanath but an Ashok Gehlot or a Hemant Soren who had uttered an expletive and whose office was then caught lying and threatening journalists for reporting the truth. Would the response of the media have been as timid? Would the Big Media have tolerated such classic fascist tactics?