'Poisonous' ecosystem out to protest arrest of Teesta Setalvad, Mohammed Zubair, says BJP; Mamata hits back

BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia accused Congress of supporting and opposing judicial actions as per its convenience and asked if the opposition party has any faith in the judiciary or not.

Published: 28th June 2022 03:51 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th June 2022 08:17 PM   |  A+A-

TMC chief Mamata Banerjee

Bengal CM and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee (Photo | PTI)


NEW DELHI: The BJP on Tuesday lashed out at opposition parties, especially the Congress, for protesting against the arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad and Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking portal Alt News, alleging that they were working as part of a "poisonous ecosystem" where one offender protects another if anyone is caught.

Slamming the Congress for joining the protest against Setalvad's arrest, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia accused it of supporting and opposing judicial actions as per its convenience and asked if the opposition party has any faith in the judiciary or not.

Noting that the Gujarat Police action against her was following the Supreme Court's strong denunciation of her and others for "keeping the pot boiling" and levelling false charges against people, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, over the 2002 riots in the state, Bhatia alleged that she had been acting at the behest of the Congress to end Modi's political career.

"Setalvad was a small branch for fanning communal hate. Its headquarter was in the Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi was the CEO," he told a press conference.

Citing the recent agitation of the Congress against its leader Rahul Gandhi's questioning by the Enforcement Directorate in the National Herald case, he said for some people Gandhi is innocent until proven guilty but their standard for Modi is that he is guilty even if proven innocent.

"This hypocrisy will not be tolerated," he said.

To questions about Zubair's arrest and opposition leaders' protest against it, he said one cannot become a fact-checker only by proclaiming himself to be one.

ALSO READ | Was fact-checker Zubair arrested for being evasive, uncooperative?

He has a chequered past and has posted tweets which have hurt religious feelings of a large section of Hindu society, Bhatia said.

All major opposition parties and media organisations have condemned Zubair's arrest on Monday by the Delhi Police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments through one of his tweets, officials said.

The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday termed it "extremely disturbing" and demanded his immediate release.

Rahul Gandhi alleged that every person exposing the BJP's "hate, bigotry and lies" was a threat to them.

"Arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more. Truth always triumphs over tyranny," he had said in a tweet.

Criticising Zubair, Bhatia said if somebody is doing fact-check, then he can't be selective.

ALSO READ | Journalist Mohammed Zubair arrest: Political blame game starts; media bodies hit out at Centre

If he posts content which suits some political party or a community, then he is not objective, Bhatia claimed.

If protests against Zubair's arrest is linked with similar criticism of action against Setalvad, then it is clear that there is a "poisonous" ecosystem, the BJP spokesperson said.

He also suggested that the accused "used" foreign powers for selfish political reasons and asserted that nothing is bigger than the country's sovereignty.

"The world's strongest judicial system exists in the country, and it will do its work," he said.

Attacking Setalvad, Bhatia said she collected donations in the name of fighting for justice for riot victims but her main aim was ending Modi's political career.

ALSO READ | Arresting one voice of truth will only give rise to a thousand more: Rahul on journo Zubair's arrest

The Congress wanted her to do so and gave money and awards, including Padma Shri, in lieu, he claimed.

The protest of senior Congress leaders against her arrest shows their proximity with her, and they have shown their lack of faith in the judiciary as well, he said.

Bhatia asked if Sonia Gandhi and the opposition party will now apologise following the apex court's comments against her.

Setalvad's NGO was given Rs 1.4 crore aid despite the NCERT objection when the Congress-led UPA was in power, he said, adding that it also received USD 2,00,000 in violation of FCRA guidelines.

He accused the activist of tutoring witnesses and filing false affidavits to target politicians, including Modi.

"If law is now taking its own course why should anyone come out and cry foul, saying democracy is in danger. Every citizen should have faith in the judiciary," Bhatia said.

A group of students, teachers, activists and civil society members had staged a protest at Jantar Mantar on Monday against the arrest of Setalvad by the Gujarat Police, calling it a "pre-planned conspiracy" and an attempt to "silence" other activists.

Senior Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh and Ajay Maken had also joined the protest.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday lashed out at the BJP-led Centre over the arrest of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair and social activist Teesta Setalvad over their arrests for "trying to expose the truth" and wondered how those who spread hatred among communities are roaming free.

Addressing a party meeting in Asansol in Paschim Bardhaman district, Banerjee also attacked the Centre over the Agnipath defence recruitment scheme, calling it a “major scam and another example of Jumla politics” ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

“"Why have you arrested Mohammed Zubair and Teesta Setalvad? What wrong have they done? Does speaking out the truth or exposing the truth a crime? Those who are speaking out against this government are either harassed by using agencies or are arrested,"” Banerjee said.

ALSO READ | 'Extremely disturbing': Editor's Guild condemns journalist Muhammad Zubair's arrest

In an apparent reference to controversial remarks by suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma on Prophet Mohammad, she alleged that those who spread hatred and violence in the country are not being arrested.

"“Those who spread hatred and violence in the country are not being arrested; no action is being taken. Those who create animosity among communities are not even touched by them (BJP). But those who fight against such people are being harassed,”" she said.

Speaking on the Agnipath scheme, Banerjee said the Centre must extend the retirement age of soldiers recruited under it to 60 years, claiming that they would stare at an uncertain future at the end of the four-year contract.

"Recently I received a communication where I was requested that those Agniveers, after four years, should get the opportunity in state government jobs. It is a mess created by the Centre, and they have to clean it. We will not take the onus,"” she said.


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