The Times of India (Ahmedabad edition) story which vanished from the newspaper’s websites on Saturday.
In the latest instance of the media’s self-censorship in these times of the BJP/RSS, news about the dramatically increasing assets of BJP President Amit Shah and the diminishing educational status of Union Minister, Smriti Irani, was posted on the websites of Times of India, Economic Times, Navbharat Times and DNA on Saturday but they mysteriously disappeared within hours.
The original report, published under the joint bylines of Himanshu Kaushik and Kapil Dave in the Ahmedabad edition of the Times of India, was based on the affidavits submitted by Shah and Irani while filing their nominations to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.
According to the news report, “Shah’s movable and immovable (including his wife’s) assets which were worth Rs 8.54 crore in 2012 are now worth Rs 34.31 crore.” This amounts to a sharp increase of 300% in 5 years.
The reports pulled down by the websites had also said, “the movable and immovable (including her husband’s) properties of Smiti Irani in 2014 were worth Rs 4.91 crore but the value of her self-declared assets increased to Rs 8.88 crore, an 80 per cent increase during the same period.”
More interestingly in her case as pointed out by the National Herald, “the report also revealed that Smriti Irani for the first time appeared to have acknowledged that her sworn affidavit in 2004 about her educational qualification was false. While unsuccessfully contesting for the Lok Sabha in 2004, she had claimed to have done her B.A. in 1996 from Delhi University. But when she filed her nomination for the Rajya Sabha in 2012, she claimed that she had done her B.Com part-I in 1994”.
In her 2014 election affidavit for the Lok Sabha seat, when she contested against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at Amethi, she had entered, under the education qualifications column, ‘B. Com. Part 1, School of Correspondence, Delhi University, 1994’.
Furnishing wrong information in an affidavit is an offense under the law. A petition is already pending in the court against Irani who currently is in-charge of ministry of Information & Broadcasting as also Textiles. The moot point is: If she has now set the record straight on her educational status, it still leaves the issue of her having provided different information at different times in different affidavits.
The affidavits filed by Shah and Irani have yet to be posted on the official website of the Gujarat Election Commission.
The question being asked in political and media circles is about the mystery surrounding the pulling out of these stories from the websites of both the Times group and the DNA. Attempts by correspondents from The Wire to speak to the editorial and the top managerial team drew a blank. The fact that the stories were simultaneously pulled down from the websites of two different publications lends credence to the suspicion that this was prompted by someone outside the publications.
Even though the original links of the stories still show up in Google search, upon clicking the link, one comes across error reports suggesting that the story pages have been taken down without any explanation. A click on the original link to the TOI report says: “We're sorry, we seem to have lost this page, but we don't want to lose you.” Similarly, the DNA page denies access, saying that: “you’re not authorised to access this page.” But one can still access the report in DNA’s e-paper which is available on its website.
As observed by the National Herald, “this has further cemented public perception about Modi government’s control over mainstream media and its double talk over propriety, transparency and accountability in public life. On twitter, hashtags like #ShahControlsMedia have been dominating the trend with many heaving a sigh of relief that ‘only stories had disappeared online and not the journalists who reported them’.”
Here below are a few examples of responses to the mystery of the stories that suddenly went missing.