India Today drops noted cartoonist Satish Acharya’s cartoon showing PM Modi under China’s grip

Acharya’s controversial cartoon

Noted cartoonist Satish Acharya has launched a tirade against the India Today group alleging that one of his regular cartoons, meant to appear in the group’s Mail Today newspaper on Saturday was dropped because it appeared critical of the central government.

Taking to Facebook, Acharya, whose works have previously appeared on BBC Hindi websites too, wrote, “That’s how my cartoon column with Mail Today ended yesterday. That’s how the editor looked at a cartoon and cartoonist’s opinion. That’s how the editor chose to shut a voice!

“The cartoon he rejected was about how China is surrounding India by spreading influence in countries like Maldives and others. The editor said the cartoon is ‘Very defeatist and the China problem is being overplayed’.”

Acharya said that the illustration in his Saturday’s cartoon was a cartoonist’s take on the ‘growing influence of China around Indian interests.’ “So I said it’s debatable and cartoonist’s opinion should be valued. And in response, he (editor) asked the news desk to drop the cartoon and carry a photo.

“I have been battling to protect my freedom, to protect the sanctity of a cartoon column, for many days. May be for the editor it’s just three column space, but for a cartoonist it’s a whole world. A world where the cartoonist is free to express his opinion. A world to challenge his own creative boundaries. A world to voice protest, criticise, lament, cheer etc,” he added.

Acharya also revealed that this was not the first time the India Today Group had censored his creative work  on the current affairs.

He wrote, “First they rejected a cartoon showing cow saying ‘The editor is not too happy with the cartoon with cow.’ For a cartoon on lynching I received this message ‘There’s a bit of an issue. India Today Group has decided not to come out with any community based cartoons’.”

Acharya also alleged that India Today editorial chiefs had raised objections to one of his cartoons on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “For one cartoon on Modi, they asked ‘if I can replace Modi’s character with any general BJP character.’ And then ‘ Editor is not comfortable with Muslim angle in the cartoon.’ And ‘editor didn’t like the demonetisation link with 100% electrification’.”

Recently, three senior ABP journalists had stunned everyone by their sudden resignations. One of the journalists, Abhisar Sharma, was reportedly directed by the channel owner to not mention Modi’s name on his show strictly stick to the script of the teleprompter.

Acharya went on to add that many of the ‘rejected cartoons were used by other clients and some of them went viral, shared/retweeted by even many journalists.

“It was very difficult to do a cartoon, as too many barriers were installed around me.
Out of desperation, I approached many senior journalist friends for feedback. They sympathised with me, some asked me to wait, some asked me to stay strong.

“Giving up is easy in such situation as I’m a freelance cartoonist contributing to other clients too. I thought I need to fight for my right. I thought I need to do justice to the cartoon space that goes with my name,” the cartoonist said.

He said that the recent incidents had served him as a ‘rude’ reminder that the ‘space is owned by the editor, the paper.’ “And they could just drop my cartoon and carry a photo,” Acharya wrote.

Acharya, however, wrote that he had felt a strange relief post his encounter with the India Today editors. “Now there’s a thought that when I sit to draw a cartoon, I don’t have to worry about, what my editor thinks/says about the cow in the cartoon, lynching in the cartoon, Modi in the cartoon or a Muslim/Hindu guy in the cartoon!”

He, however, confessed that his recent experience with India Today editors had left him hurt. “But this humiliating experience is hurting. As a cartoonist I expect my editor to respect my opinion and also trust the boundaries I have drawn for myself. Cartoonists are not bound to mimic editor’s voice. Cartoonists are supposed to and expected to express independent voice.

“Of course, editor is within his right to differ with a cartoon and inform the cartoonist. But he should be open to discuss, without being dictatorial.
My cartoons used to appear in Op-ed page of Mail Today, where I thought some of the columnists enjoyed more freedom than my cartoons!”

Acharya concluded. “Ironically, the personal website of BJP chief Amit Shah carries most of my cartoons featuring him, many of them are very critical of him! As famously quoted, when they are asked to bend, they chose to crawl!”

The allegations made by Acharya evoked angry reactions from journalists and commentators on social media. Former ambassador KC Singh tweeted, “Sorry to read this. Former & late President Zail Singh would say one good cartoon equals ten editorials. If a leader cannot laugh at himself he’s already lost touch with reality.”

Journalist Harini Calamur wrote, “censoring cartoons. Indian media owners style. spineless editors. thank heavens for self hosting.” Twitter user Joy Das wrote, “Mail Today Editor didn’t want People to see this Cartoon by @satishacharya which shows a helpless Narendra Modi. So please don’t see it or share it or RT this tweet.”