New Delhi: In what appears to be an example of an unofficial gag order from the Modi government, Indian journalist Rana Ayyub was prevented from addressing a public gathering in Doha on October 22 by the Indian embassy in Qatar. Ayyub is the author of the recently released book, Gujarat Files – Anatomy of a Cover Up, which indicts many top officials and politicians, including BJP’s current party president Amit Shah, for the role they played in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots.
Ayyub, who was invited to be the chief speaker at an event organised by the Indian Association of Bihar and Jharkhand (IABJ) in Doha, Qatar, was told by the organisers that they were instructed to either cancel the event or drop her from the list of speakers. Along with Ayyub, Kashif-Ul-Huda, founder of the news website twocircles.net, was also supposed to speak at the same event that was planned as a commemorative programme celebrating the 85th birth anniversary of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
IABJ functions as an affiliate body of the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC), which works under the “aegis of the Embassy of India, Doha,” according to the organisation’s website. Buckling under pressure, the organisers cancelled the meeting, which was scheduled to be held at the Ashoka hall of the ICC. After the abrupt cancellation, a part of the audience that had already gathered in the hall decided to meet and talk with Ayyub at a nearby restaurant instead.
Speaking to The Wire, Ayyub said: “The moment I tweeted that I will be speaking at the event, I got a call from the organisers who told me that the ICC will not give them permission to use the venue if Ayyub speaks there and that they were asked to look for an alternate venue.”
“The organisers were also told that if I was removed as a speaker, the ICC would let them proceed with the event. However, the IABJ told the ICC that it could not do so as it had specially invited me for the event,” Ayyub added. She said that she had been asked to speak on “Kalam, empowerment of minorities, Dalits and on the findings of her book.”
The IABJ, in its official invitation, described Ayyub as ‘an investigative journalist, writer, and columnist’ who would pay tribute to Kalam at the event and also speak about her book Gujarat Files.
One of the event’s organisers who spoke to The Wire on the condition of anonymity, said: “We were doing a programme on A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. So, we invited her to speak. But the ICC objected to her speaking at the event. It did not ask us to cancel the event but asked us to drop Ayyub’s name.”
“We mostly do cultural programmes under the patronage of the embassy of India. We stay away from political events as far as possible as we are registered under the embassy. Frankly, we did not know much about Ayyub’s book but when some people we know recommended her as [a] speaker, we invited her. But when we got the instructions, we had no option but to cancel the event. You must understand that we are migrants and do not want to get into trouble. Our Muslim names will only add fuel to the fire in [the] present circumstances,” he said, sounding worried about the repercussions.
Although the IABJ members refused to divulge any more information about the ICC’s intervention in the matter, government sources indicated to The Wire that the instructions to scuttle the event came from New Delhi and that the local Indian mission did not issue the order independently.
Independent inquiries to a few government officials revealed that after receiving instructions from New Delhi, the first secretary for press and education and the Indian embassy’s commercial representative at Doha, Dinesh Udenia, called up ICC president Girish Kumar to convey the Modi government’s thoughts about the event’s chief speaker.
Udenia and other officials from the Indian embassy were not available for comment.