Chhattisgarh Congress president Bhupesh Baghel has written to the Press Council of India (PCI) alleging that five Hindi newspapers — he did not name them — in the state refused, under pressure from the government, to print full-page advertisements issued by the party.
The advertisements were meant to appear on Thursday — the day BJP president Amit Shah flew to state capital Raipur. Shah has 22 meetings lined up over three days to strengthen the party organisation in Chhattisgarh, where elections are due in late 2018. Across newspapers on Thursday, there were front-page advertisements welcoming Shah.
In his letter to the PCI chairperson, Baghel wrote, “The BJP National President Amit Shah is in Chhattisgarh between 8 and 10 June, and being an opposition party we wanted to ask some questions regarding issues of Chief Minister Raman Singh’s corruption to Amit Shah. With that in mind, the state Congress committee decided to print advertisements on June 7, so that they could be published on June 8. Five prominent dailies refused to print our ads. While they did not give any official reason, internal discussions with those in charge of advertisements revealed that if they were to print the ads, they would face trouble from the government. I want to bring to your notice that the government has begun exerting pressure on the fourth pillar of democracy, so much so that an opposition party cannot even spend money and raise their issues.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Baghel said, “We wanted to publish advertisements regarding issues of corruption against this government. However, on Wednesday, one after the other, the five papers pulled out. Only one newspaper published the advertisement. When we tried to approach the newspapers, they said they could not publish the ads or they would face pressure from the government.”
A government official said the allegation was baseless. “This is not something that the government gets into at all…. We were not aware of any Congress advertisements, and the newspapers may have taken the decision on their own. We had no part in it,” a senior official said.
Shah on Thursday held meetings with booth workers to cabinet ministers, reviewing the party’s performance in the state. The BJP chief also had lunch with some spiritual leaders.