An audio clip featuring Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule allegedly instructing party workers to take journalists to dhabas (roadside eateries) and treat them well to prevent negative publicity ahead of polls has sparked controversy.
Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule/ Pic/X
An audio clip featuring Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule allegedly instructing party workers to take journalists to dhabas (roadside eateries) and treat them well to prevent negative publicity ahead of polls has sparked controversy and accusations of media manipulation. The purported comments were made by Bawankule during an address to BJP workers in Ahmednagar, where he discussed the management of polling booths.
Facing criticism from the opposition, Bawankule clarified that his intention was for journalists to be treated respectfully, and party workers should understand their perspectives regarding allocated booths, reported PTI.
According to the report, in the audio recording, Bawankule can be heard saying that certain "small-time video journalists running news portals and residing in your booth areas sometimes present a minor incident as if some blast has taken place."
He suggested creating a list of such journalists, both from electronic and print media and inviting them for tea at dhabas. He explained that this approach would discourage them from writing negatively about the BJP in the run-up to the Maha Vijay 2024 elections. "Prepare a list of such nuisance-creating journalists, including those from the electronic media or print, and invite them for a cup of tea to dhabas so that they would not write anything against us ahead of Maha Vijay 2024. You know what I mean by inviting them for a cup of tea," he added.
He also mentioned the presence of Sujay Vikhe Patil, a local BJP MP, to address any shortcomings. "Take them to dhabas. Treat them well and ensure no negative news comes out against us. There should be positive news about us. Protect your own booths first," Bawankule stated.
In response, Maharashtra Opposition Leader Vijay Wadettiwar criticized Bawankule's remarks, asserting that not all journalists can be swayed by offers. He suggested that the BJP might resort to making political offers to voters as well. "Not all journalists are sold out. Do you think journalists accept crumbs? I can understand the restlessness of your leaders, both of the top level and local ones, as they could not suppress the voice of dissent. But you directly started making offers to journalists," he said.
State Congress president Nana Patole condemned Bawankule's statements, deeming them insulting to the media fraternity. He contrasted the Congress's respect for journalists with what he perceived as the BJP's devaluation of their profession. "The Congress has given due importance to journalists but the BJP made them look cheap. It is a devaluation of the media fraternity," he alleged.
NCP (Sharad Pawar faction) national spokesperson Clyde Crasto questioned whether Bawankule's comments were an attempt to intimidate true journalists who speak the truth. He said, "Is BJP Maharashtra state president Chandrashekhar Bawankule asking BJP workers to treat the journalists who speak the truth or is his statement a veiled threat to true journalists?"
NCP MP Supriya Sule emphasized the importance of opposition voices and criticized the BJP for not accepting dissent. She considered Bawankule's remarks a serious matter and condemnable. "Newspapers work as the opposition in a democracy, but the BJP state president is giving lessons on how to muzzle the media. It is a serious matter and condemnable action. It is the BJP's policy to not let journalists function smoothly. The BJP should either admit that it does not accept democracy or it should apologise to the people and scribes," Sule said.
Bawankule later clarified that he highlighted the significance of journalists as they can influence public opinion. He argued that journalists are also voters and should not face bias. He asserted that he offered this advice to BJP workers to encourage open dialogue with journalists.
"Journalists are also voters and why should there be a bias against them? It is not good if you do not meet them, talk to them or seek their opinion. I gave this kind of advice to them (BJP workers)," he said clarifying his stance.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis suggested that Bawankule's comments were taken out of context and that there was no need to interpret them differently. He viewed them as lighthearted comments made in a conversation with party workers.
With PTI inputs