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No Tolerance For Criticism

Journalists in Uttar Pradesh, as in other states, live in perennial threat of attack from politicians who want no reporting or commentary adverse to their interests to appear in the media. The latest victim was Jagendra Singh of Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, who succumbed to his injuries on June 8 a week after he was set aflame by local policemen allegedly at the instance of the state’s Backward Classes Welfare Minister Ram Murti Verma. Jagendra Singh paid with his life for posting reports and comments on Facebook about the cases of alleged corruption, illegal mining and land grab by Verma. Jagendra was not a professional journalist working for a newspaper or television channel. He was one of the many ‘citizen journalists’ who today use the social media platform to write about and publish the stuff they want. He was based in Shahjahanpur and published a Facebook page called ‘Shahjahanpur Samachar’ which had slowly grown to have 5,000 followers, largely residents of the city.

Jagendra Singh’s posts were about crime and accidents that happened in Shahjahanpur, along with reports on heritage of the city. He faced no threats and suffered no attack until he invited the ire of Verma when he posted allegations of land encroachment, illegal mining and cases of alleged corruption against him. There might be many issues with the truthfulness of Singh’s posts, but that did not give Verma any right to ‘punish’ him by himself instead of making his side of the story known to the media or of taking legal recourse. This only points to growing criminalization of politicians. And Jagendra Singh is not the first victim of this dangerous trend.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s track record of handling his ministers with criminal records has been abysmal. He has shown little regard for public opinion. He has several ministers with criminal records in his cabinet. He has allowed these ministers to openly indulge in illegal activities to make illicit money on a large scale. Jagendra’s posts actually pointed only to the tip of the iceberg of corruption in the Akhilesh Yadav government. Instead of removing or reining in his corrupt and criminal ministers, Akhilesh Yadav is shielding and patronizing them when they resort to gross intolerance or violence. Some time back, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan had a young man arrested for a Facebook post critical of him. Ram Murti Verma turned even more brutal. The media and the country look to Akhilesh Yadav to remove Verma from his ministry and arrest him for hatching conspiracy with policemen to burn Jagendra with an intention to take his life. It is nothing short of a murder. While Verma and his co-conspirators are prosecuted for their savagery, we trust politicians not only in UP but across India would learn a lesson from the gruesome case: that lesson is tolerance. Democracy is all about tolerance. Allegations must be responded with explanations. Critics are bumped off by dictators. Not by democrats.

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