Open Magazine, edited by Manu Joseph, has responded to allegations of bias and falsifications from Team Anna by coming out with a clarification of its own.
India Against Corruption (IAC), the coalition of activists led by Anna Hazare that organized the Jan Lokpal bill agitation last year, had come out with a press statement attacking Open’s latest article criticizing the movement and calling it ‘Team RSS’. According to Open’s article, some of the members behind the movement had RSS sympathies or affiliations, or otherwise held ‘Hindutva’ beliefs.
IAC took exception to the article’s characterization of the movement as “BJP’s Team B” and the insinuation that Team Anna’s anti-corruption campaign was intended at benefiting the opposition parties, particularly the BJP.
The Open article named some of the people who were associated with the movement at local levels, such as Rakesh Kumar Premil and Harishchandra Pratap Singh, as those who held right-of-centre ideologies, particularly Hindutva.
The article also alleged that some of the foot-soldiers and participants in Team Anna’s rallies also had right-wing ideologies and were members of associations such as Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Rashtra Bhakta Vichar Manch and Jai Kali Kalyan Samiti. The magazine also claimed that some people used Team Anna’s rallies to distribute Hindutva literature. Some others in the movement — which it called ‘BJP’s Team B’ — were supporters of “Left and Dalit politics,” the article had alleged.
For example, the Magazine article said:
“..the public meeting at Fatehpur was a typical RSS show. Rakesh Kumar Premil, the man who led the local group organising the entire event, has been a prominent member of the local unit of the Sangh Parivar…
“Premil is known in Fatehpur for his aggressive Hindutva ideology. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was president of the Shiv Sena’s Fatehpur unit. Later, he formed an NGO, Manav Utkarsha Sewa Sansthan, and started working under this banner…
“Ably assisting Premil was Ram Kumar Yadav, a local quack who is also the president of the Fatehpur unit of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the farmers’ wing of the RSS.
According to Premil, about 50 volunteers from outfits like the Manav Utkarsha Sewa Sansthan, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Rashtra Bhakta Vichar Manch, with known if not professed leanings towards the RSS, worked day and night for almost a week to make this event a success. Some of the volunteers, who had come all the way from Agra, belonged to Jai Kali Kalyan Samiti, another NGO with professed Hindutva leanings.”
IAC soon sent out a release claiming “Premil has no association with the RSS or the BJP.”
In its new response, Open magazine’s correspondent reiterated that “Premil, indeed, is a prominent member of the local unit of the Sangh Parivar.” The reporter tried to drive home Premil’s Sangh Parivar leanings by pointing out that that Premil told him that “Hindus must be roused to fight against corruption.”
As further proof of the fact that he was a “prominent member” of the Sangh Parivar, the correspondent pointed out that Premil was president of the Shiv Sena’s Fatehpur unit in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Open magazine also pointed out that another activist who helps Anna’s movement, Dilip Shukla, a lecturer at Lal Bahadur Degree College, Gonda “is also a known RSS face in town.”
It further reiterated that Harishchandra Pratap Singh, an advocate and a key figure in a local committee at Basti town, was the district convener of the Shri Rama Janmabhoomi Mukti Sewa Samiti formed in late 1980s and a well-known “Hindutva face.”
Open’s letter also pointed out that in the Faizabad area, team Anna’s rally was organised by those who have for long been associated with the Left and Dalit politics.
Ram Kumar Yadav
The second point of dispute was Open magazine’s statement that “Ably assisting Premil was Ram Kumar Yadav, a local quack who is also the president of the Fatehpur unit of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the farmers’ wing of the RSS.”
While in the case of Premil, the Anna Hazare group said he was not associated with BJP or RSS, in case of Ram Kumar Yadav, the IAC said it did not know of such a person as one of the co-ordinators or assistants of Premil.
Open, however, maintained that Ram Kumar Yadav was assisting Premil as Yadav was present when Premil was issuing instructions to Premil’s followers.
“he [Premil] made his way round the Mahadev Talab ground together with the local unit president of the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Ram Kumar Yadav, issuing instructions to volunteers,” the reporter said. The article had said “..ably assisting Premil was Ram Kumar Yadav,” raising objections from Team Anna.
In addition, the Open reporter also said that right wing groups were distributing a “communal” letter of oath to people who had gathered at team Anna’s rallies.
Open’s rejoinder further asked why Team Anna was “silent” about the role played by volunteers of other organizations in organizing its rallies, including those of groups like Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Rashtra Bhakta Vichar Manch and the Jai Kali Kalyan Samiti.
Open magazine and its editor have been among the fiercest critics of the movement ever since it burst on to the national scene after Anna Hazare’s successful popular movement and fast in August.