Suresh Chavhanke, the CMD of Sudarshan News, said he was just three when he joined the RSS and began attending its shakhas. He was with the Sangh for the next 20 years, reporting for pro-RSS daily Tarun Bharat and holding various posts in the organisation before becoming a full-time journalist for the “nation”.
Chavhanke (45) was detained at Lucknow airport on Wednesday and taken to Sambhal district on Thursday. He was arrested for allegedly promoting religious enmity through his show Bindas Bol, which was on Sambhal becoming a “centre of terrorism” and its alleged links to al Qaeda.
While his show had “disturbed the atmosphere”, police said, the situation worsened when he announced his visit to the area on April 13 following a threat by local imam and Congress leader Itrat Hussain Babar to “behead” the editor if he went there. Over the last fortnight, the district was tense following Chavhanke’s shows, prompting the state government to replace the police superintendent. The arrest came after an FIR was filed on April 10 against Chavhanke under the new SP.
“The FIR was filed on the basis of what he showed on the channel, provoking religious fanaticism, disturbing social harmony,” SP Ravi Shankar Chhabi told The Indian Express.
From the police van while being take to Sambhal, Chavhanke told The Indian Express over phone that the arrest confirmed that “there is no coordination between the government and administration”. “Nine ministers had said on camera that I should visit Sambhal,” he said, adding that “as usual, the administration bowed before Muslims. This administration is still not of the BJP”.
About his show, he said: “Who will decide the content of a TV channel — whether it is communal or not? The broadcast authority of India or an SHO? I was arrested at the instance of an SHO. If news is analysed by an SHO, what will happen to freedom of media?”
The channel’s Editorial Consultant Rakesh Tripathi said: “We stand by our content.” Tripathi noted that Chavhanke resolved to visit Sambhal only after Babar’s “warning”. Babar was also arrested on Wednesday.
Chavhanke had visited Malegaon and Hyderabad when the situation was tense in those cities. His website mentions how he “accepted the challenge” and “registered his presence” there.
In police custody, Chavhanke continued posting on social media. “Though (I am) under arrest, my resolve is being fulfilled. Going to Sambhal on 13 today, as per the schedule,” he tweeted.
Chavhanke recalled his association with RSS and ABVP. He said he began a Marathi news portal in 1996 and conducted “sting operations”. “I am the first web journalist of India. I had a network of 1,000 stringers then,” he claimed. He launched Sudarshan News in 2005 in Pune and later shifted to Noida to make it a “national news channel” — owned by him and his family. “The channel is not a business for me. Its slogan is ‘desh (ko) number ek banana’,” he said, attributing “whatever he is” to the RSS.
Chavhanke insisted that his “news” be called “campaigns”. Foremost among them was one on artist M F Husain. “When Hussain made nude pictures of Bharat Mata and Saraswati but made a dignified painting of his own mother, properly dressed, I ran a campaign. He then faced 48 FIRs,” Chavhanke said. “Uske baad usko bhaagna pada, uski dead body bhi wapas nahi aayi (Husain had to run away from the country after that. Even his body could not return).”
Chavhanke has decided not to seek bail. “I will see how it unfolds,” he said.
He also faced a rape case by a former employee. The closure report, submitted in January, noted the charges were not proved.
While in the police van, Chavhanke shot an episode of his show Chalte Chalte and then tweeted about it. While the channel staff confirmed this, the SP said he did not know about it.