The Supreme Court’s bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph on Monday dealt a severe blow to the Centre’s BJP-led government while announcing that the decision on the date of Ayodhya hearing will be taken in January 2019. This came as a rude shock to the BJP and other Hindutva sympathisers, who were expecting the highest court of the country to announce a date for preferably day-to-day hearing on the contentious Babri Masjid-Ram Temple row much sooner than January.
No sooner had the top court announced its decision, the usual suspects in the India media, particularly TV, went ballistic in explicitly announcing which side of the fence they were on. Times Now, a channel notorious for its pro-Hindutva pandering, moved in with lightning speed in expressing its angst at the Supreme Court’s order.
Its managing editor, Navika Kumar, launched a tirade of sorts when she thundered, “Ladies and gentlemen, before I begin my debate on the Ram Mandir verdict being held up, today let me give you some facts. And that is going to be the case I present to you.”
An unstoppable Kumar continued with her rant, “For 170 years, Hindus across the country have been waiting, waiting and waiting. Yet the Supreme Court today ruled that the matter is not a priority and the wait would only have to be little bit long. This report will encapsulate what our take on this verdict, on this order of the Supreme Court is.”
She then played a recorded report on Monday’s development. The report, among others, also carried the reaction from Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Suprisingly, despite being a tall BJP leader, Prasad displayed more sanity in his response than Navika Kumar and her channel.
Prasad minced no words when he said, “For us, the Ram Mandir issue is not a poll plank. We wanted it to be settled through talks. Hope you know that I was the lawyer for the Ram Lalla ( one of the three stakeholders of the Babri Masjid case) in the Allahabad High Court. We won there. The Allahabad High Court had ruled that where Ram Lalla is sitting should be handed over to Hindus. The other party went to the Supreme Court. Others also went there. Many people expect the early hearing of the case.”
During Navika Kumar’s nonstop rant on the Supreme Court’s decision on the Ayodhya issue, the Times Now screen continued to flash an incredibly provocative headline that read, “Should Hindu astha not be a priority?” If this was not dangerous enough provocation, Kumar’s reporter ended her report by demonising the opposition for allegedly being ‘apathetic to Hindu astha (faith).’
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) October 29, 2018
Kumar’s channel has always been under fire for throwing basic principles of journalism out of the window. One allegation against her by members of her own fraternity is that she and her bosses often received diktats from the Centre’s BJP government, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in particular, to decide her editorial agenda.
Journalist MK Venue angrily asked if Times Now was ‘putting pressure on the Supreme Court’ for quicker proceedings. Tagging the Times Group boss Vineet Jain, Venu asked, “Is this the editorial line of Times Group?”
Shocking that of Times Now anchor/editor should say “Hindus have waited 170 years for Ram Temple and yet SC saying it is not a matter of priority”. Is Times Now putting pressure on SC for quicker proceedings? Is this the editorial line of Times Group? @vineetjaintimes
— M K Venu (@mkvenu1) October 29, 2018
Most journalists may have been kind to detect only the deterioration of Time Now’s editorial integrity in Navika Kumar’s incessant rant seemingly challenging India’s highest court on the Ayodhya dispute. But the legal experts found her rant and the subsequent report aired on Times Now as a blatant attempt to incite violence through hate speech.
Speaking to Janta Ka Reporter, Supreme Court lawyer Sarim Naved said that while Times Now may have bordered on contempt of court, what was beyond doubt was that the channel had committed a crime under Sections 124A, 153A, 153B, 292, 293 and 295A of the Indian Penal Code.
Naved said, “While you can debate whether what was broadcast on Times Now on Navika Kumar’s show on Monday night amounted to contempt of court. What was clear from watching her show was that she and her channel have committed a crime related to hate speech. Her words, religiously provocative headlines and the language of the voiceover used in the report all were capable of inciting one religious group to commit large-scale violence if the Supreme Court did not act to their whims and fancies. This is dangerous, to say the least.”
The BJP and its sympathisers including those in the media are worried that Monday’s Supreme Court order may pose a huge stumbling block in their attempts to fulfill the saffron party’s election promise on the Ram Temple. The BJP has always promised to build a temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Faced with poor governance and huge corruption allegations (read Rafale), the Centre’s Narendra Modi government has been hoping a favourable judgement from the Supreme Court so that it is able to cash in on the religious polarisation to win next year’s parliamentary elections.