New Delhi: Civil servant Ashish Joshi, suspended by the Narendra Modi government a day after he sought action against a former AAP MLA’s “incendiary” Twitter post, has no regrets.
“I did not commit any crime,” Joshi told ThePrint Wednesday, a day after the Department of Telecom (DoT) suspended him for allegedly violating civil service conduct rules. He was posted as the DoT controller of communications in Uttarakhand.
On Monday, Joshi had filed a complaint with the Delhi Police commissioner against a controversial video uploaded by rebel AAP MLA Kapil Mishra on Twitter, where he emphasised the need to attack India’s “internal enemies” like journalist Barkha Dutt, and activists Prashant Bhushan, Kavita Krishnan and Shehla Rashid.
“The matter that indecent messages were doing the rounds on social media was brought to my notice by my college junior Barkha Dutt, who tagged me on Twitter,” Joshi, an alumnus of Delhi University’s St. Stephen’s College, told ThePrint.
“As a public servant, I was just doing my job of informing the authorities concerned,” he said about the complaint. “I don’t regret what I did.”
He was, however, shocked about the lack of explanation. The suspension order, which ThePrint has accessed, just said that the DoT was contemplating disciplinary proceedings against Joshi, and that he would be placed under suspension with immediate effect.
According to sources in the DoT, no formal reason was given for the decision.
“It was shocking to receive the suspension letter, because no explanation was sought from me, no summon was issued to me. The natural justice demands that I be told why I am being suspended,” he said.
The DoT sources told ThePrint that Joshi was suspended for sending the complaint on his official letter head, which constituted a “misuse” of his official position. However, Joshi dismissed the argument outright.
“As a public servant, if I’m communicating with another public servant, of course it would be on an official letter head,” he said.
Social media star
In the wake of his suspension, Joshi had briefly deactivated his Twitter account but he was back on the website Wednesday with an updated bio that identified him as a “civil servant | In suspended animation”.
A rare outspoken civil servant, the 1992-batch Indian Post and Telecommunication Accounts and Finance Service officer has become a social media star with his frequent face-offs with trolls.
While it may be the first time such severe action has been taken against him, Joshi has never been one to keep quiet about what he views as transgressions.
Last year, when Zee News telecast a purported video of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supporters chanting “Bharat tere tukde honge” and “Pakistan zindabad” after the BJP lost the Araria by-election in Bihar, Joshi promptly lodged a complaint against the news channel for “running communal headlines repeatedly”.
Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai had tweeted at the time, “You are a brave, good man Ashish!”
You are a brave, good man Ashish! https://t.co/NGphorpNYu
— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) July 19, 2018
More recently, he reported several mobile phone users who had been sending obscene messages to journalists Abhisar Sharma and Ravish Kumar.
Following his complaint against Mishra, Joshi was trolled online for being “unpatriotic”, but he was far from daunted.
“All those calling me names, pl remember that I am a son of an Army Veteran (2/8 Gorkha Rifles) My family has had 5 members in Armed forces -Major General, Brigadier, 2 Colonels & 1 Vice Admiral.And my fufa got Kirti Chakra So do not pontificate me on patriotism & nationalism [sic],” he tweeted.
Columnist Prasanto K. Roy, who was Joshi’s junior at St. Stephen’s, said he had “always been a little anti-establishment in a positive way – taking a stance and sticking to it”.
“So he often jumps in to call out abuse, or support someone being trolled, tending to report abuse, often with the weight of his office behind him, without worrying about who he was reporting,” he said.
Plenty of critics
Yet, it is not as though Joshi does not have critics outside of social media’s Right-wing circles.
Once believed to have been close to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Joshi fell out with them in 2015 over differences with former party leader and journalist Ashish Khetan, and was forced to resign as member secretary of the Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC).
Following his resignation, he lodged a written complaint against Rajendra Kumar, former principal secretary to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, with Delhi’s Anti-Corruption Branch, fuelling suspicion among AAP leaders that he was targeting the Delhi government at the BJP’s behest.
“He ruined Rajendra Kumar’s career because he was playing the BJP’s game…” said a senior AAP leader about Joshi’s suspension. “Now, in the same game, he is caught on the government’s wrong side… It is poetic justice.”
Taking a dig at Joshi’s alma mater, the AAP leader said, “He’s a part of the cosy club of Lutyens’ Delhi, which refuses to realise that Stephen’s does not run the country.”
However, Joshi, who has a reputation of antagonising political bosses, said his allegiance lay with the Indian Constitution alone.
“My allegiance is only and only to the Constitution of India and I have been doing and will do things as envisaged by [former home minister] Sardar Patel [who is known as the father of Indian civil services] for the civil servants in India,” he added.