Ranjona Banerji: How the Telegraph editor took on Minister Babul Supriyo

24 Sep,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


Union minister of state for the Environment Babul Supriyo visited Jadavpur University last week to sing songs or do something at an ABVP event. The ABVP is the youth wing of the RSS. Mr Supriyo was a playback singer before he became a minister. Since you didn’t ask, the Indian environment is doing very well thank you, no climate change or global warming affects us in India, and only anti-national people feel forests should not be cut down to help “development”. That’s why ministers have so much time on their hands to visit colleges and sing songs – everything’s sorted. Across the globe last Friday students and concerned citizens held street protests demanding action against climate change but what do they know.

On the same Friday, The Telegraph, Kolkata published a photograph of Mr Supriyo, Honourable Minister of Song and Dance, grabbing a student by his shirt at Jadavpur University. Some students had objected to his presence at the university. The honourable minister was gheraoed for hours, with the vice-chancellor by his side and then finally rescued by no less than the Governor of the state because, well, BJP. There was additional arson and vandalism by the ABVP and objections from other students according to reports like these:



In the altercations between students and Mr Supriyo, there was some hair-pulling and shirt-tugging, some unsavoury comments. Some videos and photographs were made public. Mr Supriyo perhaps felt that his dignity had been damaged by these photographs. Not mind you by his actual shirt-tugging but by the fact that people knew that this is what the honourable minister was up to in his spare time because all is well with the environment in India and who does this Greta Thunberg think she is anyway. Or maybe the party high command felt his shenanigans were taking attention away from Prime Minister Howdy Modi’s own publicity stunt in Texas, who knows.

Mr Supriyo then telephoned an editor with The Telegraph and had the following conversation:


The honourable minister wanted the newspaper to apologise for claiming that the minister had elbowed someone. The editor refused to apologise for something the newspaper had not done. And the conversation ended with abuse and threats by the minister. The Telegraph says at the end of its report:

“The Telegraph is publishing this report because the phone call goes far beyond an exchange between two individuals. The call shows how a representative of the government was employing intimidation tactics, cloaked as a request for an “amicable small apology”, to make a newspaper fall in line.”

So, there’s the truth of it. Intimidation follows when any member of the BJP is shown in bad light, even if the said member of the BJP is entirely responsible for organising the lights, shadows, cameras and anything else.

Would one say that R Rajagopal, editor of the Telegraph acted with immense courage or just like a journalist should? Both you might say but in these extraordinary times when so many journalists have just become publicity agents or official retweeters for the Modi-Shah government, an editor who actually says, “You may be a central minister but I am also a citizen of this country” is a very rare bird possibly on the brink of extinction.

Fear not though. If it has not already happened, you will soon hear esteemed columnists and editors remembering how other politicians, especially those who belong to other political parties had done the exact same thing to them in the past. If that is true, one can only hope that they reacted with the same chutzpah as Mr Rajagopal.

Ya, I’m giggling too.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal


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