Why did Times Now flash photos of JNU students Shehla Rashid and Kanhaiya Kumar in a story about ISIS?

Is the news channel turning into the Indian version of the notorious Rwandan hate radio?

 |  6-minute read |   21-09-2017
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“Terrorist groups are, in fact, brainwashing, trapping these young innocent minds. And actually making them take up arms against their own country. And the bigger question here is, will the apologists now realise how grave this situation is?” asked a Times Now anchor on their show “Morning Newshour” on September 21.

Who are the apologists she is referring to? Unsurprisingly, all faces from the Left. Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala, Sitaram Yechury, former Rajya Sabha MP and the general secretary the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Shehla Rashid, the former vice-president of JNUSU and member of the All India Students Association (AISA), and Kanhaiya Kumar, All India Students Federation (AISF).

The story

According to a report in The Indian Express from August 30, 24-year-old Najeeb, an MTech student from Malappuram in Kerala, weeks after he went missing, sent a message on Telegram (an instant messaging app) to his family, saying that he has escaped from among the kafirs (unbelievers) and soon would become "shaheed" (martyr). The message said: “There is no meaning in living with kafirs and I have escaped from the world of kafirs.”

The report adds that intelligence sources said they suspect the youth might have joined the Islamic State, going by the nature of his message. The Times Now report added more details to this story. They reported that Najeeb had left Kerala on August 16. A week later, he called his mother and asked her to install Telegram on her phone. Najeeb sent these messages to his mother on August 26.

The propaganda

This incident is not new. And there is little new information to be found when one compares the August 30 Indian Express report with the one Times Now is running under a hashtag called “ISIS Terror Trap”. What is different, however, is the added insinuation, and sensational subheads like “Najeeb rejects mother and motherland” and “A nation loses its ‘future’”.

Why did Times Now flash videos of Pinarayi Vijayan, Sitaram Yechury, Shehla Rashid and Kanhaiya Kumar, under a decidedly disingenuous caption “they look away”, somehow implying that these four faces from the Left are somehow answerable to national security threats?

Holding Pinarayi Vijayan and Sitaram Yechury responsible for a possible national security threat – something joining ISIS falls under – would make sense; after all one is the chief minister of the state, and the other the general secretary of his party. But assuming their absolute culpability in case of growing Islamic radicalisation in the state is ridiculous, to say the least.

rashid_092117105224.jpgPhoto: Screengrab/Times Now

But the realm of the truly bizarre comes into the picture when one finds photographs of student leaders from a premier central university located in Delhi. Yes, we are talking about familiar names like Kanhaiya Kumar and Shehla Rashid, both students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Rashid tweeted about this misleading television grab, emphasising the deliberate and extremely unsettling insinuation that Times Now is trying to project by suggesting that the JNU students were somehow affiliated with ISIS. In doing so, Times Now is "putting [their] lives in danger".

“This news is deliberately meant to create confusion, feeding into RSS narrative about Najeeb and continuing with Times of India's false report on Najeeb,” she said.

Rashid’s beef with the two channels

Rashid, over a phone call, recalled how she was targeted by Times Now on a previous occasion. When the India Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) decided to anchor the London arm of the “Not in My Name" protests against mob lynchings in India, Times Now aired a segment titled "Protests Defame India in London". In that segment, Times Now informed everyone that Shehla Rashid had "orchestrated" these protests and organised them.

Times Now and Republic’s assertions that Rashid is anti-national is something she finds ludicrous. “Why am I an apologist and anti-national? Just because I am Kashmiri and from JNU? Also, have they seen my cover photo? It says ‘Hindu Rastra’ and ‘Islamic State’ is the same thing!”

rashid-photo_092117105057.jpgPhoto: Facebook/Shehla Rashid

Rashid, earlier this month, had blasted at a Republic TV journalist, when she was addressing reporters and activists outside the Press Club of India, New Delhi, post Gauri Lankesh’s murder. Rashid, in her tirade, accused Republic TV of painting a skewed portrait of the slain editor. In light of how she is being treated by Times Now, one can see that she has a point.

In addition, the Times Group has been guilty of something similar before. On March 21, Times of India carried a report insinuating that the missing JNU student Najeeb Ahmed could be an ISIS sympathiser – a charge Delhi police officials have denied. The report authored by journalist Raj Shekhar Jha only added to the narrative of JNU being “anti-national”, a tag they have struggled to shrug off since February 2016.

Rwandan hate radio

As she has done multiple times before on social media, Rashid compared Times Now and Republic – two television channels that have often been accused of spreading propaganda and acting like government mouthpieces – to Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC) a Rwandan radio channel that aired from 1993 to 1994, that had regularly broadcasted racist propaganda against the Tutsi ethnic group. It was this pernicious propaganda that had played a significant role in the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutu people.

The radio station played a crucial role in creating the atmosphere of charged racial hostility that allowed the genocide to occur. In fact, a Harvard University researcher found that approximately 9.9 per cent of the overall violence during the Rwandan genocide can be attributed to this radio station and its propaganda.

Rashid’s comparison may have some, if not complete validity. Manisha Pande in Newslaundry pointed out in June, how Times Now in a “Super Exclusive”, passed off a year-old WhatsApp message and an even older conspiracy theory as an investigative report. What was the report about? Alleged religious conversions and Islamic radicalisation. What is the point of such a report? Creating hysteria and paranoia.

Republic TV, on the other hand, has lesser subtlety still. Arnab Goswami, since the inception of Republic TV, has done his best to create an ecosystem of taking on the Opposition, which for the better part of Narendra Modi’s rule, has been toothless, and on the “pseudos” who call out BJP propaganda.

In that context, Rashid added, “God forbid, if Umar [Khalid] gets lynched tomorrow, who is to be blamed? The people who are creating this image for us.” 

Also read: How a defiant Mamata Banerjee let Gorkhaland protests go out of hand

Writer

Pathikrit Sanyal Pathikrit Sanyal @bucketheadcase

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