Srinagar: The controversial BJP leader and former minister Choudhary Lal Singh has warned Kashmiri journalists to “mend their ways” while reporting the Kathua rape and murder case, or face fatal consequences, invoking the assassination of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari.
Singh, who was ousted from the previous PDP-BJP government as forest minister for rallying in support of the accused in the horrifying crime that evoked global condemnation, made the shocking remarks during a press conference in Jammu on Friday.
The open threat
“These Kashmiri journalists created a wrong narrative about it (the Kathua rape and murder).Now I will tell Kashmiri journalists to draw a line on the journalism you do and how you have to live. Do you have to live like what happened to Basharat, so that such a situation emerges?” Singh issued the threat to Kashmiri journalist.
Basharat Bukhari is Shujaat Bukhari’s brother. Basharat was law minister in the PDP-BJP government before BJP the pulled the plug on the alliance and the state came under governor’s rule.
Shujaat, who was editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir newspaper, was brutally assassinated by unknown gunmen outside his office on June 14, along with his two security guards.
The killing of 50-year-old Shujaat, who also edited two other papers Buland Kashmir and Sangermal, sent shock waves through the media community and attracted global condemnation.
“To avoid such a situation, manage yourself and draw a line (on reporting) and decide if you have to work the way he (Shujaat) was working,” Singh can be heard saying in a video that has gone viral on social media.
Watch BJP’s LalSingh warning: #Kashmir journalists created a wrong atmosphere. I want them to draw line in journalism on how to live. Do you want to be like Basharat ( #ShujaatBukhari )@sambitswaraj @OmarAbdullah @tariqkarra @republic @TimesNow @RShivshankar @saikatd pic.twitter.com/79zGfWVYvu
— Majid Hyderi (@Majid_Hyderi) June 23, 2018
Singh and another BJP minister, Chandra Prakash Ganga, were sacked from the previous state cabinet led by former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti for their controversial support for the accused in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from Rasana village in Jammu’s Kathua district in January this year.
After his sacking, Singh continued with his diatribe against the government and even his own party, demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the gruesome crime in which eight persons, including a father-son duo and four police personnel, were arrested.
In the past, Singh has attracted bad press for his open threats to Gujjars in Jammu, reminding them of the massacre of Muslims after Partition. As forest minister, he was accused of a selective drive against Gujjars to remove them from the forests in different areas of Jammu, where they had been living for decades.
A day after his controversial statement, Singh, who represents Jammu’s Basholi constituency in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, defended his open threat to Kashmiri journalists. Singh tweeted,
There is need to draw a line between reporting facts and supporting terrorists and their sympathisers. Misinterpretation has become a norm and reporting facts a rarity. Journalistic freedom is absolute but not at the cost of nation and nationalism.
— Choudhary Lal Singh (@LalSinghChBJP) June 23, 2018
Last month Singh’s brother, Choudhary Rajinder Singh alias Babby, was embroiled in a controversy after making derogatory remarks about Mehbooba and repeatedly calling her a “dog” during a rally seeking a CBI probe in the Kathua case. He then went into hiding and was later arrested from Udaipur in Rajasthan on June 10.
‘Investigate Singh in Shujaat’s murder’
In a statement, Kashmir Editor’s Guild (KEG) said Singh’s remarks indicate that he holds some information about Shujaat’s murder and demanded that the BJP leader be investigated.
“He has issued direct threat to media and invoked Shujaat’s murder at a time when police is investigating the case. The Guild reserves the right to lodge a police case against the lawmaker who, earlier as well, named a number of reporters for his fall from grace in wake of Kathua probe, now in a trial stage. The Congress-turned-BJP politician has seemingly talked on Kashmir media from a point of strength and possible information about the recent killing (of Shujaat) in Srinagar,” the KEG said.
Condemning the threatening remarks, the Kashmir Working Journalists Association (KWJA) demanded the immediate arrest of the BJP leader and investigation into his remarks in which he had referred to Shujaat’s assassination.
“This threat can’t be taken lightly. He should be arrested immediately and an investigation should be ordered to probe his threatening remarks including his mention of Shujaat’s killing,” demanded the KWJA, which is planning a protest against the BJP leader.
At the same time the BJP leader’s threatening remarks evoked massive condemnation from political circles. Omar Abdullah tweeted,
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) June 23, 2018
His party, National Conference, demanded that the J&K police take cognisance of the “outrageous and threatening” remarks by Singh and initiate action against him. “We hope the law isn’t subverted,” the party spokesperson said.
The BJP’s erstwhile ally PDP said Singh’s threat to Kashmiri journalists was a direct attack on democracy, and demanded that the police take suo moto cognisance in the case.
“His utterances are a direct attack on the press, which is the fourth pillar of democracy. The journalists in Kashmir are already working in trying and difficult circumstances and statements like these make them more vulnerable,” said PDP’s chief spokesperson Muhammad Rafi Mir.
The BJP, however, maintained a complete silence on the controversial remarks of its leader at a time when the party’s national president, Amit Shah, is in Jammu to address a public rally.
“We will talk about it later,” said the party’s general secretary (organisation), Ashok Koul.
Mudasir Ahmad is a Srinagar-based reporter.