Note: This story was updated at 11:36 am on March 6 with the information that ABP News has now removed the video of the show from its website.
Mumbai: What does ABP News, a leading national Hindi news channels, do when it is unable to broadcast a pro-Narendra Modi live talk show from a college?
It simply fakes it. The students too.
After broadcasting a recent show “2019 ke Joshile (enthusiasts of 2019)”, shot at the IIT- Bombay campus, the channel has been accused of having invited young men from outside campus to speak in favour of the Modi government. The show was broadcast live on March 2 between 4 and 5 pm and then at 10 am the next day with the slug “IIT Bombay supports Modi”.
While it had been uploaded on ABP News’ website as well, the video appeared to have been taken down on March 6, after this story was first published.
According to students of IIT- Bombay, they received an email on their college email ID stating that the campus would be hosting a show organised by ABP News to discuss the upcoming elections. Student participation was voluntary.
But when students reached the venue, they realised there were several new faces in the crowd that had already gathered.
“It is a big campus and we have several departments. While it is difficult to tell if a certain person is from the campus or outside, we grew suspicious when we suddenly saw several new faces participating in a talk show. More so, each of these participants spoke in support of the government,” said one of the students who took part in the show.
The issue of misrepresentation and creating fake opinions was first raised by the Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) of IIT-Bombay. The students have now identified at least 11 of the total participants (over 50 participated in the show) to be “outsiders”. Of them, at least one person has been identified as a member of the Hindu fringe group Hindu Yuva Vahini.
As the show was aired with the slug “IIT Bombay supports Modi” and “2019 ke Joshile: IIT Mumbai students favour Modi govt”, the IIT students say they have been intentionally misrepresented.
“If this show was only about IIT students, why did the channel include people from outside? And is it a coincidence that each of these people spoke in favour of the BJP?” asks a student. The students that The Wire approached were hesitant to reveal their names fearing backlash from the institute.
The talk show had invited BJP MLA and Mumbai unit head Ashish Shelar and Indian National Congress’ national spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi as participants. A range of issues like unemployment, farmer suicides, Rafale deal and the recent attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) at Pulwama were discussed at the show. In the 38-minute-long show, the first 18 minutes were primarily dedicated to the two spokesperson who stated their parties’ standpoints and periodically accused each other of not doing enough while in power.
Another student, who had participated in the talk show, said he was not allowed to speak even when he repeatedly asked the organisers to pass on the microphone to him. “The organisers had come with their own people and they were made to occupy the front seats. The anchor would walk towards them and only have them ask questions to the panelists. Two students from the campus managed to raise some important question pertaining to the newly introduced 13-point roster system in college recruitments and the agrarian crisis but were snubbed mid- way and their questions were not taken up by the panelists,” said a PhD student from the chemical engineering department.
In the discussion, the first question was posed by one Anil Yadav. He questioned Chaturvedi on the 1971 Indo-Pak war and asked why the Congress failed to get Sarabjeet Singh, sentenced to death for killing at least 14 Pakistani citizens in bomb blasts in 1990, back to India. While there was nothing odd in his question, Yadav isn’t an IIT student. According to his Facebook profile, he is an activist of the Hindu Yuva Vahini.
IIT Mumbai’s spokesperson Falguni Banerjee Naha told The Wire that the channel had approached the institute for their campus space. “We were only hosting the show and had no role to play in the decision making of the show. The institute had not given the TV channel permission to bring people from outside. I am surprised that such a thing even happened,” Naha said.
She further added that the institute has decided to write to the editors seeking changes in the show since it is misleading. “I have seen the show and they (the channel) have claimed that IIT Bombay is with Modi. How can they make such claims? Only few students from the institute had participated in the program and there were varied voices among them. We will soon be writing to the channel asking them to make necessary changes,” Naha added.
The APPSC has asked IIT’s public relations office to explain what happened but has yet to receive a response, one of the group’s members said.
Chaturvedi told The Wire that she had agreed to participate in the talk only because it was supposed to have students from IIT.
“When the channel approached me I first disagreed. I didn’t want to participate in a show that involves an audience because most often the audience has one kind of political stand and having a healthy debate becomes almost impossible. But I was told that only IIT-Bombay students would be participating and I agreed. I assumed the conversation would be meaningful but it surprisingly turned out to be one-sided,” Chaturvedi claimed.
She also agreed that a few questions were deliberately posed to her and that she had wondered about the participants’ credentials.
On March 6 morning, the video was no longer available on ABP’s website.
The Wire tried to contact ABP News’ Mumbai bureau but was told they are not authorised to speak and that the Delhi editor Rajnish Ahuja should be approached. Even after multiple attempts, Ahuja has not responded to the questionnaire sent across to him through email and messages. The story will be updated as and when the channel responds.