Update - Siddharth Varadarajan's response to Rajeev Chandrasekhar, "Chandrasekhar's comment about a 'nexus' with the Congress is laughable. I am tempted to call it 'defamatory' but I think 'delusional' may be a more accurate description."
Earlier this week, Rajeev Chandrasekhar secured a temporary injunction from a civil court in Bengaluru, forcing online publication The Wire to take down two articles, which pointed to a conflict of interest between his membership of the Parliamentary standing committee on defence, his business interests in the defence sector and his hawkish anti-Pakistan stance. These articles also questioned whether his political and business interests shaped the narrative of the media channels which he owns.
Chandrasekhar, who founded Bengaluru-based Jupiter Capital, a firm which claims to manage a portfolio of investments worth $1 billion, is among the largest investors in Republic, the widely-anticipated channel to be fronted by Arnab Goswami, the former Editor-in-Chief of Times Now.
In his first comments following the temporary injunction, Chandrasekhar said that the entire matter was a conspiracy against him by the Congress Party working in cahoots with the media. "This is not the first time that I have been targeted by elements in the Congress working with some in the media--it happened in 2009 during the 2G scam and many times thereafter including the recent Steel Flyover Issue when I took on the vested Interests in Karnataka," the entrepreneur and Rajya Sabha member told HuffPost India.
"I was always prepared for these kinds of attack coming, as this did, from those close to the top leadership of Congress. I am prepared and determined to fight, defend myself against this nexus of elements of the Congress and some in media--and expose their intellectual dishonesty with legal means," he said in an email. "That explains my court action that is the beginning of this process. This court action is not about a takedown, it is about holding those who did this, accountable for their actions."
The legal notice served to The Wire on the basis of which the articles were taken down does not mention the specific objections that Chandrasekhar has to the assertions in the stories which point out that he is Rajya Sabha member, a member of the parliamentary Standing Committee on defence 2015-2016, and that he has invested in defence companies.
The legal notice only warns against providing "access to anything" that is "derogatory, false and defamatory" or which could hurt Chandrasekhar's reputation. Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of The Wire, told HuffPost India that he is yet to receive a copy of the temporary injunction.
In response to a query by HuffPost India on his specific objections to the claims made in the story, Chandrasekhar's political office said that he had no further comment since the matter is sub judice.
Following the injunction, The Wire has taken down the two articles on Chandrasekhar - Arnab's Republic, Modi's Ideologyand In Whose Interests Do Our Soldiers March? - published over the past two months. The following note now appears on its site:
This article has been taken down in compliance with an ex-parte order of temporary injunction in respect of an interlocutory application filed by Rajeev Chandrasekhar before the Hon'ble City Civil Court at Bengaluru on March 2, 2017 restraining us from providing access to its contents. The injunction dated March 2, 2017, was received by us on March 6, 2017. The Foundation for Independent Journalism will be challenging the injunction.
Varadarajan told HuffPost India, "It is highly unusual for a take down order to be issued ex parte, i.e. without hearing our side, and we intend to challenge the injunction that Rajeev Chandrasekhar has obtained."If left unchallenged, it will open the door for similar efforts by politicians and other powerful people, and undermine media freedom," he said.
In Arnab's Republic, Modi's Ideology, published on 25 January, former television journalist Sandeep Bhushan discussed the possible right-wing bias which the channel might have given Chandrasekhar's proximity to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the lawmaker's stand on issues relating to the army and national security.
Bhushan pointed out that Chandrasekhar was elected for a second term to the Rajya Sabha in 2012 with the backing of the BJP, he is the vice chairman of National Democratic Alliance in Karnataka, and a member of the Parliament's Standing Committee on Defence 2015-16.
A great deal of Chandrasekhar's activism has revolved around the armed forces and he has come out strongly in support of the One Rank One Pension (OROP) issue. Chandrasekhar has introduced a bill declaring Pakistan a "state sponsor of terrorism," calling for cutting off trade and economic ties. The bill has been opposed by the Modi government.
Bhushan also highlighted that the chief operating officer of Jupiter Capital had sent out an email to its media outlets asking them to hire people with "right-of-centre editorial tonality," "pro-India and pro-military" leanings, and who were aligned to "Chairman's (Rajeev Chandrashekhar's) ideology."
The News Laundry was the first to report on this email which was sent out September 21, 2016, one week before the Modi government authorized surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC), and it was retracted a day later due to pushback from senior editors.
The News Laundry,however, had pointed out that Jupiter Capital's media outlets such as Asianet News, is a trusted as centrist news network in the Malayalam TV news space, and its Suvarna News and Kannada Prabha in Karnataka are widely regarded as neutral. In fact, the BJP had boycottedAsianet News in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections over "negative" coverage.
The Wire article also questioned the implications of Chandrasekhar's investments in defence-related companies on his media outlets. The Indian Express has previously reported that Axiscades Engineering Technology Limited, a subsidiary of Jupiter, has "signed contracts with the Defence Ministry for supplying Aircraft Recognition Training Systems to the Army and the Indian Air Force for 18 months and a multi-year annual maintenance contract in March 2016."
The fact that Chandrasekhar has been on the parliamentary Standing Committee on defence and on the Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Defence since the Modi government came to power represents a conflict of interest since these bodies influence polices.
The second article, InWhose Interests Do Our Soldiers March?, questioned whether Chandrasekhar's commercial interests were served by his access to privileged information, his influence in the policy making circles, and his ability to shape public opinion through his media outlets. "He finds himself in a situation where the positions he advocates as a parliamentarian, the decisions he supports in the standing committee and the narrative crafted by his media investments could be used to further his commercial interests," it said.
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