Editors of eight newspapers in Manipur have had FIRs filed against them when it is the BJP which is responsible for the ‘error’

By Usha Rani Das

Editors of eight newspapers in Manipur have had FIRs filed against them thanks to the shenanigans of the local BJP.  Ads for polling day and the day before that were only to be released after vetting by the Election Office’s Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC). The party cleared two full front page advertisements with the MCMC and then swapped the matter before releasing these to the press. Along with the swapped matter it sent the MCMC certificate for the original. The FIRs were registered on March 3.

So what did the ads say? One was headlined “15 years of loot” and spoke of alleged misrule and plunder by the Congress during their three terms in the state.

In a letter to the Chief Electoral Officer of Manipur, EC has ordered that the FIRs be lodged against BJP state unit office-bearers and the newspapers—The Sangai Express (Manipuri and English editions), Poknapham, People’s Chronicle, Naharolgi, Thoudang, Imphal Free Press, Echel Express and Huiyen Lanpao— which carried the advertisements in violation of the 1951 Representation of the People Act. But the papers had no way of knowing that the ads had been switched and were, in fact, innocent.

The All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) strongly condemned the manner in which the state BJP misled all major newspapers. “AMWJU in particular is shocked that the state BJP fooled all major newspapers in the state with illegal advertisements, leaving these newspapers with the prospect of facing legal action by the Election Commission of India,” the union, in a release, said.

This is not the first time that the BJP has violated rules. It is because of some controversial advertisements brought out by them during the Bihar assembly polls that a rule was introduced by the Commission that says that such advertisements should be cleared by a certification committee. It is to be noted that there is no bar on the publication of election advertisements 48 hours before the polling takes place.

The media has always been embroiled in controversies during election time. While some outlets are in fact observed publishing paid news, though such instances are thankfully not too frequent, others are clearly biased in their coverage. For instance, the mainstream English media this time was seen as being unfairly biased against the BJP in defiance of ground reports and other data. Although the exit polls predicted a sweep by the party in Uttar Pradesh, most rooted for the SP-Congress combine in the state.

The exceptions were Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar of The Times Of India and Rajdeep Sardesai in Hindustan Times. In his piece titled “Blowing in the wind: A Modi victory in UP” in TOI, Aiyar wrote about the strong support the BJP has garnered in Uttar Pradesh. He wrote:  “Modi will almost certainly win in UP, paving the way for re-election as Prime Minister in 2019.”

Rajdeep Sardesai also published an opinion “BJP will win the UP elections: Rajdeep Sardesai” in Hindustan Times, positing that Modi’s BJP would win in the state. Besides cautiously praising the PM, he wrote: “This may be a big call to make. But there is reason to believe that the lotus is poised to bloom in the country’s most politically prized state… Hindutva politics based on anti-Muslim propaganda and ‘hope’ embodied in the Modi persona offer a deadly combination: The UP voter may well be intoxicated by it this time.” But then again, many interpret the latter piece as an instance of the writer changing political colours. The reader is entitled to their opinion on this one.