Mumbai: The Mumbai Police’s investigation into the alleged manipulation of Television Rating Points has turned into another political slugfest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in Maharashtra.
With the MVA parties — Shiv Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — and the Mumbai Police having had recent stand-offs with Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV, including over the many in the BJP are calling the alleged fake TRP investigation “vendetta politics”.
The Shiv Sena and the Congress say the BJP is protecting Republic TV because it has always suited the party’s narrative like in the Sushant Singh Rajput death probe.
The Mumbai Police has alleged that Republic TV and two other television channels, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema, were gaming TRPs to boost their advertising revenue. The police have already arrested four people in the case, including the two owners of Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema.
Republic TV has claimed that the Mumbai Police’s investigation of the Sushant Singh Rajput case is under a cloud, and the police is levelling allegations against it as a “desperate measure” because of its reportage on the Palghar lynching case, the Rajput case and many others.
The BJP and the MVA, particularly its former ally Shiv Sena, have clashed on several issues in the last few months. For instance, the BJP bitterly criticised the Shiv Sena’s war of words with actor Kangna Ranaut last month, as well as the Shiv Sena-led Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s partial demolition of her Bandra office bungalow. The Shiv Sena had alleged that the BJP was using Ranaut to malign it.
Similarly, the mob lynching of three persons, including two sadhus, in Maharashtra’s Palghar district in April had also prompted the BJP to target CM Thackeray, while MVA parties alleged that the BJP was politicising the issue.
More recently, the two sides locked horns over actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death probe, with the BJP alleging that the Mumbai Police wasn’t doing an efficient job and was trying to protect someone from within the state government, hinting at State Minister Aaditya Thackeray. The Shiv Sena and other MVA parties criticised the BJP alleging that it was using Rajput’s death as a political agenda for poll-bound Bihar and defaming the Mumbai Police, while trying to destabilise the MVA government.
‘Mumbai Police investigation out of vengeance’
BJP President J.P. Nadda slammed the Mumbai Police’s investigation as a case of a “witch hunt”.
“Shooting the messenger is an art the Congress, their allies and eco-system have mastered. They’ve been unapologetic about it since the Emergency. Their assaults on @republic and trampling over media freedom will never be tolerated by the people of India,” he tweeted Thursday night.
Shooting the messenger is an art the Congress, their allies and eco-system have mastered. They’ve been unapologetic about it since the Emergency.
Their assaults on @republic and trampling over media freedom will never be tolerated by the people of India.
— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) October 8, 2020
“If the Congress, their allies and eco-system feel their incompetence and inefficiency can be hidden by whimsical witch-hunts against media, they are mistaken. Instead, they should learn what democracy is and practice a democratic temperament,” he added.
If the Congress, their allies and eco-system feel their incompetence and inefficiency can be hidden by whimsical witch-hunts against media, they are mistaken. Instead, they should learn what democracy is and practice a democratic temperament.
— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) October 8, 2020
Similarly, Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar, tweeted, “Free press is a defining feature of our democracy and a cherished ideal of the Constitution. Trampling on media freedom will not be tolerated by people of India. Targeting of the media by Congress and its allies is against all principles of democracy and is unacceptable.”
Free press is a defining feature of our democracy and a cherished ideal of the Constitution. Trampling on media freedom will not be tolerated by people of India.
Targeting of the media by #Congress and its allies is against all principles of democracy and is unacceptable.
— Prakash Javadekar (@PrakashJavdekar) October 8, 2020
The BJP’s Maharashtra spokesperson Keshav Upadhye told ThePrint that there are sufficient grounds to think that the Mumbai Police’s action is out of vengeance.
“It is natural for people to think that this is vendetta politics considering what has happened over not just the Sushant Singh Rajput probe, but also other issues such as the Palghar case. The FIR filed has a different channel’s name, but that channel wasn’t named,” he said.
“If the police have evidence, let them investigate, but there are a lot more serious issues in Maharashtra such as women’s safety and farmers’ issues that need the government’s attention.”
The original FIR filed with the Mumbai Police by an employee of Hansa Research Private Limited, which was in charge of installing Bar-O-meters that record TRPs, named India Today as one of the channels that allegedly tried to manipulate TRPs. Milind Bharambe, joint commissioner of police, however, issued a statement saying that none of the witnesses or accused substantiated India Today’s involvement, while they mentioned the names of Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema.
‘TRP manipulation BJP’s political conspiracy’
Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said the gaming of TRPs is part of the BJP’s conspiracy to peddle its narrative, and now that it has been exposed, the party is worried.
“…this has come to the fore in case of the Sushant Singh Rajput death probe. The way this channel (Republic TV) defamed the case by calling it ‘murder,’ and then showing that it has the highest TRPs and then trying to show that whatever it says is the truth. This also creates a sort of competition for other channels to think that people are liking whatever is being told to them,” Sawant said.
“This creates a public narrative and a political direction… Then the BJP tries to bake its bread with the heat of such political conspiracies,” he added.
“There is no doubt that these channels have been useful for the BJP’s campaign. If this very model is in danger, the BJP will not be able to afford it. That’s why you can see J.P. Nadda and Prakash Javadekar running to their (Republic TV’s) aid,” he added.
Shiv Sena MLC Manisha Kayande said the BJP terming the Mumbai Police’s investigation as politics of vengeance is just another attempt to target the MVA government.
“Why is the BJP in such a hurry to protect Republic TV without even knowing the facts? Simply because this channel keeps targeting the Shiv Sena and its leaders. The Mumbai Police has just made a statement as of now,” Kayande said.
“Over the past eight months, the BJP has not let slip any opportunity to disturb the MVA government slip,” she added. “Telling people that this probe is out of a vendetta is just the party’s latest attempt to defame our government.”