Akshaya Mukul, a senior journalist with The Times of India, refused to accept the prestigious Ramnath Goenka Award for his book Gita Press and The Making of Hindu India from the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who graced the event at a five-star hotel in Delhi as the chief guest.
Mukul skipped the function, saying he was honoured to have been chosen for the award, but he did not wish to be felicitated by Modi.
"I cannot live with the idea of Modi and me in the same frame, smiling at the camera even as he hands over the award to me," he told The Caravan.
For being the only journalist among the nearly two dozen awardees, Mukul became a kind of social media hero with many on Twitter and Facebook congratulating the veteran journalist for his boycott of the PM.
But for Mukul, the decision to boycott Modi was easy since his book that got him the award documents how a certain force in India - of which Modi now is the crucial lynchpin - is working to create a Hindu India.
But there is another predicament, and it comes from none other than Modi himself.
Speaking as the keynote speaker at the same event (an invite that has neither gone unnoticed nor untweeted), Modi talked of the horrors of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and the subsequent censorship of the press. He said, in emphatic terms, that those dark days should not be repeated.
The next day, his government banned NDTV India for a day over its coverage of the Pathankot terror attack, an order that, as a portal put it, brings the "press freedoms" in Kashmir and Bastar to the national capital.
The channel says it is being singled out when almost every media outlet not only reported on Pathankot, but even speculated on who the attackers were and how they gained access to one of India's most secure defence sites. In any case, no question in that space was beyond the purview of journalism.
|The channel says it is being singled out when almost every media outlet reported on Pathankot.|
Indeed, it did not take long for the Editors Guild of India to declare the unprecedented action to block NDTV India "reminiscent of Emergency".
The NDTV group and its "presstitutes" - Ravish Kumar, who did a Mukul by quitting Twitter more than a year ago, or Barkha Dutt who, like Raj Kamal Jha, Chief Editor of The Indian Express, chooses to engage - have been the targets of relentless right-wing abuse for doing their job.
Moreover, the decision to ban the channel rides on a sustained undermining of press freedom by hounding journalists questioning the government, its ministers, or even India's security apparatus, including the police.
After the Indian Army's surgical strikes, any journalist probing the operation, or reminding the BJP that it was not the first, was declared anti-national. Soldiers in Kashmir killing and blinding youngsters with impunity cannot be questioned. Cops in Madhya Pradesh killing undertrials in cold blood are not supposed to be questioned.
In fact, even Narendra Modi has been declared above scrutiny by his party, which takes offence at any question directed at the PM. Pliant journalists, who begin crawling when asked to bend, have openly declared themselves Modi fans - some even on camera.
It is no surprise that such a form of journalism has ended up legitimising a culture of extreme nationalism and faux patriotism, making them convenient whiplashes to beat any dissenter with.
Which is why, to stand with NDTV is not only a call of solidarity to save journalism as it faces another Emergency, it is also the moment history will one day hold us accountable for by asking a simple question: Did you stand up? With whom?