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Swarajya in the dock for spreading fake news once again. Will Smriti Irani act?

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 9 April 2018, 22:10 IST

Right-wing leaning Swarajya and its associate editor Jaideep Mazumdar have yet again found themselves in the middle of a controversy after they were accused of peddling fake news on former Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang. On Sunday, the magazine was forced to issue an apology for publishing a story on Zeliang and the Church wherein Mazumdar accused them of collecting funds for Naga nationalist group NSCN (K).

Earlier, Zeliang's press secretary had warned the magazine to remove the article titled 'NIA's Naga Terror Funding Probe Reveals Insidious Role of Top Bureaucrats, Politicians and Church Leaders' and issue an apology before 6 pm on Sunday. Under pressure, Swarajya withdrew the article on Sunday claiming that “while checking and verifying the sources, we found that much of what was stated in the article was not true”.

Further, in its apology, the magazine stated, “Swarajya sincerely apologises to T.R. Zeliang, leader of the Opposition in the Nagaland Legislative Assembly, for any aspersions that the article may have cast on his honour and integrity.” The magazine was forced to issue an apology after Zeliang threatened them with legal action.

Though the magazine has removed the article and asked Google to remove it from the cache, the article can still be found online. In fact, Catch found the story on a website and it can be read on the following link: http://www.terrorismwatch.org/2018/04/nias-naga-terror-funding-probe-reveals.html.

In this article, Mazumdar claimed that Zeliang “on whose behalf the Christian church and clergy campaigned vigorously for the Assembly elections held last month, is likely to be arrested by National Investigating Agency (NIA) for his role in funding Naga terror outfits like the SS Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K)”.

Quoting several unnamed army officers, Mazumdar in his report made some extraordinary claims including how everyone in the state has to pay taxes to millitant outfits. One of these army officers went on to claim how “the church collects money on behalf of the terror outfits and routes the amount collected to them, but also benefits from the extortion since it gets to retain a part of the sum collected for its activities, including evangelization”.

In the same report, an NIA officer is quoted as saying, “We suspect that the NSCN(K) wanted Zeliang to retain power since he (Zeliang) is their man and they would have been able to grow stronger with him as the chief minister. The NSCN(K) thus asked the Baptist Church to launch a campaign against Zeliang’s Opposition (the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP-NDPP combine, which won the polls nonetheless).”

The author further made some bizarre allegations claiming that Zeliang’s links with the terror outfits came to light in 2017 and the NIA probe reportedly revealed that he (Zeliang) was in close touch with the NSCN(K). “A central intelligence agency endorsed this finding. This, say many, was the reason behind the BJP breaking its alliance with Zeliang and the NPF and deciding to join hands with the newly-launched Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). Zeliang, if arrested, would set the ignominious record of being the first person who held the post of chief minister to be arrested in a terror funding case,” wrote Mazumdar.

The NPF strongly reacted to these “outrageous and unsubstantiated claims” made by Mazumdar and released a statement wherein it lamented the author for attempting to chargesheet an innocent even before the investigations are over. Responding to Mazumdar's claims that Zeliang's close links with NSCN (K) was the reason for BJP breaking alliance with NPF before the Assembly polls, the statement read: “It is obvious that the author and the Swarajyamag.com news portal have political interests in projecting the NPF and its leaders in a poor light, and this, in itself, is lamentable. But it is most loathsome and reprehensible when the author and the news portal make a clumsy attempt to polarize the society and nation on cultural and religious lines by casting aspersions on the Churches in Nagaland as involved in collecting taxes for proscribed outfits and pocketing hefty amounts for evangelization!”

Calling it a ridiculous allegation, NPF claimed that it is as absurd as to claim that all tribals are insurgents; all Muslims are terrorists; all Hindus are right-wing fundamentalists! Taking digs at Mazumdar, NPF pointed: “The fact that a news portal could have such a poorly informed person as its Associate Editor, and the fact that the news portal publishes such outlandish articles, speaks volumes about the intellectual poverty of the news group.”

Even the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) on Saturday accused Mazumdar of stooping so low to drag the sanctity of the court and issued a statement claiming that the language used in the article is degrading and provocative which is very unbecoming of a senior journalist. “Nagas have lived under the threat of guns and power to divide us for a very long time but we have withstood the test. Now this write up seems to have taken another path to pull us down and divide us further,” read the statement.

Meanwhile, Morung Express contacted the 3 Corps, who the author had quoted extensively, and they claimed that no such information was provided to the author and that all claims made in the article are incorrect. This further pressured Swarajya to remove the article and offer an apology.

However, Swarajya and Mazumdar are not new to controversies considering it had published an article, “It’s A Crying Shame That ‘The Butcher Of Bengal’ Has A Road Named After Him In Kolkata” in 0217 which was proved to be false by Altnews.in. An anti-propaganda site that acts as an antidote to fake propagandists in social media as well as mainstream media, Altnews had highlighted that Mazumdar had claimed that Suhrawardy Avenue in Kolkata was named after Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy while it was actually named after Sir Hassan Suhrawardy.

Once this information became public, Swarajya had to issue an apology and change certain parts of the article. However, this time around the allegations were not only baseless but also defamatory which led to Swarajya withdrawing the article and issuing an apology yet again. Will the Union I&B minister Smriti Irani take note?

First published: 9 April 2018, 22:10 IST