On Friday, the Uttar Pradesh police served a notice to The Wire’s Founding Editor Siddharth Varadarajan, for allegedly making an “objectionable comment” against chief minister Yogi Adityanath. The notice asked Varadarajan to appear at the Ayodhya police station on the morning of April 14.
That’s the day the 21-day lockdown announced by the Narendra Modi government to deal with the coronavirus pandemic is officially supposed to end. Reports have said that the lockdown may be extended in some form or another. As it stands, there are severe restrictions on travel.
The Indian Express reported on Monday that the Station House Officer at Ayodhya Police Station, Suresh Pandey, had asked Varadarajan on Sunday to send his statement through email instead.
Varadarajan tweeted on Monday that amid the lockdown, “there can be no question” of his appearing in Ayodhya as directed. He also asked for a copy of the FIR in response to which his statement was sought.
The Adityanath-led administration should have its hands full with the health emergency—the state has reported around 500 Covid-19 cases and five deaths so far. It is also dealing with the fallout of the return of migrant workers from Delhi to their hometowns.
In a series of tweets, sociologist Nandini Sundar, Varadarajan’s wife, said that “when it comes to the gross abuse of police power by the Adityanath administration in UP and its intolerance of press freedom, it is clear that COVID-19, the lockdown and social distancing make no difference whatsoever.”
She then recounted what happened on Friday when seven-eight uniformed men came to their residence to serve the notice:
The matter relates to an article published in The Wire on March 31. In a tweet, Varadarajan had mistakenly claimed that Adityanath said, “Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus,” Scroll pointed out. The next day, he posted a clarification, noting that the statement had been made by Acharya Paramhans, an Ayodhya-based sadhu, not by Adityanath. The Wire article was also corrected.
Mritunjay Kumar, the media adviser to Adityanath, said that action was taken against Varadarajan since he had neither deleted the tweet nor apologised, according to Scroll.
The FIR was lodged on a complaint by Nitish Kumar Shrivastav.
The Editors Guild of India mentioned the incident in a statement issued on 2 April, saying that “a police action in the form of an FIR under criminal laws at this stage is an overreaction and an act of intimidation.”
Over 100 journalists also issued a statement on Saturday, condemning the UP Police’s action.