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Under fire after arrest of midflight ‘heckler’, TN BJP chief says, ‘Check her Facebook’

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Indian politicians’ tiff with free speech is here to stay! Lois Sofia, a 28-year-old Tamil Nadu student arrested for chanting a slogan (“fascist BJP down, down”) against the BJP on a flight, was granted bail Tuesday, reports The Indian Express. She was arrested Monday on a complaint filed by state BJP chief Tamilisai Soundararajan, who was on the flight and reportedly the target of the sloganeering.

The state BJP chief said, “No innocent girl will use that word. I questioned her. She replied that she has the right to freedom of expression.”

“She shouted that slogan and used the word ‘fascist’, raising her fist and all. I thought I shouldn’t ignore a terrorist, so I filed a petition,” she added.

The arrest of Sofia, who was charged with IPC sections 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 290 (public nuisance), triggered outrage against the AIADMK-led state government and police.

“The Tamil Nadu government’s anti-democratic actions, against the right to free speech, are highly condemnable. She must be released immediately. How many people will be imprisoned if you arrest everyone who says that? I will also say it. ‘BJP’s fascist government down, down’,” tweeted opposition leader and DMK chief M.K. Stalin.

The Hindu, in its Chennai edition, provided an illustrated description of the sequence of events that led to Sofia’s arrest. The state BJP chief said she was offended over a word, reported The Hindu. She added, “You go to her [Ms. Sofia’s] Facebook account. Through her posts, you will know what her background is.”

Twitter exploded with comments from politicians and netizens condemning the arrest.

The Indian Express, in an editorial, condemned Sofia’s arrest and the Tamil Nadu chief’s complaint as “absurd drama at its political best”.

“In isolation, this would have been a mere absurdity, a stray case of political bullying and justice gone wrong,” the paper wrote.

“But the context makes it serious and sobering: The recent arrests of ‘urban Naxals’ and their media trial by the Maharashtra police seems to have sharpened an atmosphere in which both ruling party politicians and the agencies of justice find it natural to arrest someone for protesting against the government in office, and designate her a terrorist,” it added.

Sofia’s arrest was the topic of discussion on prime time as well. Rajdeep Sardesai of India Today TV was not pleased about the action taken and, with a finger pointed at her, reprimanded Tamil Nadu BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan for “misusing her right” and abusing her power. When Supreme Court lawyer Aryama Sundaram called the BJP a fascist regime, Sardesai made sure to tell him not to throw around big words.

Not anymore, Mr Goswami! Republic TV must apologise, said the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), a body that looks into complaints against television news channels, reports The Economic Times.

The channel must issue a “full-screen apology” for certain remarks made by editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami on a prime-time show titled Jignesh Flop Show in January this year.

The complaint was made by a man named A. Singh, who said he was wrongly identified by the channel as one of the men who harassed a woman reporter of Republic TV at Mevani’s rally.

The complainant took objection to the use of words like “lewd, sexist, pervert and anti-Indian” by the channel.

The NBSA stated that Goswami’s comments were “unwarranted, unjustified and in violation of broadcasting standards”.

Several commentators on Twitter had this to say about Goswami and the NBSA order:


Business Class

Amazon has also made the trillion-dollar club, a month after Apple, reports Reuters. While Apple Inc took 38 years to achieve the milestone, Amazon did so in just 21 years. The question now is: Which will be the third company to join the league?

Opening up about another crisis in the family business, former Ranbaxy promoter Shivinder Singh wrote in a letter Tuesday that he had filed “a case against his brother Malvinder and former head of Religare Sunil Godhwani in the NCLT for oppression and mismanagement of RHC Holding, Religare and Fortis”, reports Business Standard.

Point of View

Who is an ‘urban Naxal’? Journalist Amulya Gopalakrishanan writes in a column in The Times of India that it’s a phrase used to “discredit middle-class Left-liberals”. “To call for universal health or education is not to bring state-led tyranny, it is to widen opportunity, make ‘aspiration’ meaningful for everyone,” she writes.

Does the opposition have a credible rationale to unite against the BJP? Journalist T.K. Arun thinks so. In a column in The Economic Times, he writes, “By holding elections every now and then, Indians imagine that they practise democracy. That reducing democracy to elections is a big mistake is brought home by popular experience over the decades and particularly under the present government.”

Prime Time

Fuel prices, demonetisation, and the crackdown on dissent continued to dominate newsroom debates.

On CNN News 18, Sambit Patra told Bhupendra Chaubey that the Congress derived “sadistic pleasure” from demeaning the BJP’s 8.2 per cent growth rate. Chaubey responded, “Since you are talking about sadistic pleasure, our friends in Mumbai are paying 85 rupees for a litre of petrol, what about that?”

And so the burning question — why doesn’t the Centre cut fuel prices? — remains. Congress spokesperson Rajiv Gowda said on NDTV that “the Centre could have, during the good years, created a stabilisation fund and used the profits from those oil prices for a rainy day, like what we are experiencing now”.

News it’s just kinda cool to know

Scientists have figured out how to convert water to hydrogen and oxygen through natural sunlight. IANS reports that the experiment, conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge, offers “new ways to produce and store solar energy, a finding that could now be used to revolutionise the systems used for renewable energy production”.

(With inputs from Simrin Sirur)

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