The Washington Post has published a full-page advertisement, more a movie poster, really, declaring “The Free Press is Under Attack in India”. More than half the ad is a suitably edited and tinted profile photograph of alleged ‘journalist’ Rana Ayyub who has furthered her ‘career’ by constantly remaining in the eye of ceaseless self-generated controversies over the past two decades.
Her language is that of a shrill heckler who hurls accusations with little or no regard to truth, a soapbox polemicist who uses fevered opinion as a substitute for absent facts, a charlatan who intentionally controverts reality on an industrial scale to stitch a cloak of Muslim insecurity and Muslim persecution in India, a propagandist who has relentlessly targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the single-minded determination of a character assassin stalking her prey, a bigot whose pen drips acid every time it scratches the word ‘Hindu’ on paper, a poseur who has successfully crafted for herself the image of a helpless, harassed, harmed Muslim woman, a ‘journalist’ who battles a fictional authoritarian state and barely survives daily attacks.
In all this, Rana Ayyub has never been short of patrons and allies – there was a time when a now discredited magazine, edited by a person accused of sexually assaulting his junior colleague, offered her a platform. That was the first of many stepping stones. She now writes for the ‘Opinion Section’ of The Washington Post, manages to inveigle herself into interviews with the Western media which is constantly looking for a Muslim voice that is raucous and vitriolic, a voice that will denounce Mr Modi, denigrate the BJP, deprecate Hindus, deplore ‘Hindu nationalism’, and paint a fact-free ominous present and dreadful future for India’s millions of Muslims to shock and awe readers and viewers, and give interviewers and anchors what they are looking for: Something, anything, to make ‘Modi’s India’ look bad, terribly bad.
Her self-published book, Gujarat Files, on the 2002 post-Godhra violence and alleged ‘encounter killings’ (lurid allegations that were never proved in a court of law) in Gujarat, and purportedly based on secretly recorded conversations whose tapes nobody has either seen or heard because she has refused to place them in the public domain, has mysteriously ‘sold’ a large number of copies. Who buys them is as much a mystery as the basis of her presumptions.
It’s a mystery similar to the mystery that shrouded book deals signed by Chief Justice AM Bhattacharjee of Bombay High Court: He was to be paid $80,000 for the publishing rights of his book on Muslim Personal Law and another $75,000 for his book on Hindu Personal Law by a London-based ‘publisher’ nobody had heard of. The imputations were obvious. Justice Bhattacharjee tried to brazen it out but had to resign in ignominy. The Bar held him to account; sadly, there is no bar on transgressions by ‘journalists’ of a certain persuasion.
The Supreme Court, urged to treat Rana Ayyub’s book as ‘evidence’ in a case pertaining to the murder of Gujarat politician Haren Pandya, had said, “The book is of no utility. It is based upon surmises, conjectures, and suppositions and has no evidentiary value… The opinion of a person is not in the realm of the evidence.”
Yet that book became her meal ticket for times to come, her identity tag as a ‘journalist of repute’, her calling card when she goes knocking on the doors of Western media houses. It found resonance with Islamists at home and abroad; left-liberals loved it. It connected her with those who share her bleak view of Mr Modi, the BJP, Hindus and Hindu nationalism.
From ‘journalist’ to ‘activist’ to ‘crusader’ was a game of hop, skip and jump for Rana Ayyub. The Washigton Post found her a perfect ally, equally bereft of integrity, in its crusade against ‘Hindu nationalism’; she gave the paper’s Left-Liberal agenda a shine that had long been tarnished. Pandering to imagined Muslim grievances and make-believe victimhood is profitable at a time when rank Islamism finds increasing approval within and beyond America as a demonstration of ‘tolerance’, ‘diversity’ and fashionable ‘woke’ politics. This is not about principles and least of all about democracy.
Rana Ayyub’s outrageous falsities, her proclivity for inflammatory fake news and her tub-thumping assertion of brazen lies are of a piece with the ‘new journalism’ of The Washington Post—and Western media by and large—with grandiose mottos like ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’. That this ‘new journalism’ wallows in darkness while pretending to shed light on others is of little or no consequence. Pre-determined headlines with retrofitted stories are the order of the day and the screed which Rana Ayyub churns out fits the bill.
Just how credible is her ‘journalism’ is demonstrated by her story on the nun who was raped in West Bengal. Even before the police could begin its investigations, she declared that the nun had been raped by Hindus. As it turned out, the rapist was a Bangladeshi Muslim, an illegal immigrant.
That story of hers remains enshrined in the tomb of journalism, uncorrected, un-withdrawn. As does her attempt to manipulate a story out of Uttar Pradesh, claiming a Muslim man had been assaulted by Hindus whereas the facts, known to her, were to the contrary: those who assaulted the man were Muslims too. And when the police lodged a complaint against her for trying to instigate communal enmity, she played her victim card with practised ease, pretending she was being harassed and intimidated for being an upright journalist. Examples abound of Rana Ayyub playing the victim card once too often.
Sadly, the Western media, which has arrogated to itself the White man’s burden of shining a light in areas of darkness, glosses over the mendacity and malignancy of Rana Ayyub and her ilk, as well as the malfeasance which they have now come to represent. The hate-Modi, anti-Hindu agenda shared by media organisations like The Washington Post with the likes of Rana Ayyub overrides the most basic of journalistic integrity. It would seem the lower the integrity quotient, the higher the commitment to ‘Press Freedom’.
Which explains why The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership chose to put out the full-page advertisement – or poster, to be more precise – in The Washington Post, adorned by a photograph of Rana Ayyub and claiming “The Free Press is Under Attack in India”. The immediate provocation is two-fold. Rana Ayyub’s declaration of support for Houthi malcontents and denunciation of the House of Saud, and the stream of online criticism by Arabs, admittedly not all of it pleasant, that followed. Inexplicably, she blames ‘Hindu nationalists’ (or ‘Saffron Terrorists’ as she called them in a recent interview to BBC) for the flood that descended upon her on social media platforms.
Second, the fact that prima facie the Enforcement Directorate has caught her indulging in financial fiddle-diddle with money she had crowd-sourced via Ketto for alleged charitable work during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the inevitable criticism of Rana Ayyub that followed. Soon after the advertisement appeared in The Washington Post, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s Office issued a statement by its special rapporteur Irene Khan, demanding the Government of India immediately halt its inquiry into Rana Ayyub’s alleged financial misdeeds.
So, we can logically presume that The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership, the Coalition Against Online Violence and other sundry busybodies seeking to preserve White privilege of policing and punishing democracies like India are extremely upset that their sepoy Rana Ayyub should be denied the freedom to be above and beyond the law of the land. Hence the investigations into the financial affairs of a malicious activist who masquerades as a ‘journalist’, first by the Income Tax Department and then by the Enforcement Directorate, which has temporarily attached her bank accounts, strictly per extant law, are being projected as an attack on Press freedom and an assault on human rights. We do live in strange times.
The facts are simple. Starting 2020 Rana Ayyub raised close to Rs 2.75 crore from ‘donors’ by using the services of the fund-raising platform Ketto. She raised the money to provide assistance to those impacted by the pandemic and floods in Assam through three separate appeals. The ‘donations’ included foreign currency for which she needed prior permission under Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA), a permission which she did not have. It remains unclear how and why Ketto agreed to raise foreign funds for an Indian national without FCRA approval. Or why the money was deposited by Ketto not into a dedicated bank account but the bank accounts of Rana Ayyub’s father and sister (who does not live in India). Her claim that she did not have her PAN card handy to use her account does not wash.
According to details provided by ED in its Provisional Attachment Order only a fraction (14 per cent) of the money which was collected by Rana Ayyub was spent on relief work. Most of it remained unused till the Income Tax Department got wind of it, upon which she offered to pay income tax on the collection. She also agreed to return the foreign currency donations after details began to leak into the public domain of gross violation.
It was not a voluntary decision, but a pre-emptive move upon being found out to have accepted foreign currency ‘donations’ without FCRA approval. Interestingly, to cover her tracks she also contributed money from the funds collected by her to the PM Cares Fund and a CM’s Fund, although the ‘donations’ were neither collected nor meant for this purpose. Worse, she shuffled the money from one account to another and routed it to her own account and then invested Rs 50 lakh in a fixed deposit – in her father’s name.
The manner in which Rana Ayyub went about collecting and shuffling money raises valid questions and invites scrutiny under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The ED has provisionally attached her accounts to prevent any book-fixing and further misuse of the ‘donations’. This is a standard procedure and applies equally to all citizens of India. There is no reason why a ‘journalist’ should be treated separately.
So, how is this an attack on Press freedom? Or an assault on human rights? Because Rana Ayyub says so? Or because The Washington Post’s bogus front organisation thinks so? Or, because a former Amnesty International (also charged with financial fraud in India) official and currently UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur believes so? Let it be said and said unequivocally: This is not well-intentioned intervention; it is an attempt to bully the Government of India, scare Mr Modi, and cast aspersions not only on the laws of India framed by its democratically elected Parliament but also the open and transparent legal process guided by courts.
These interventions raise important questions of institutional ethics and professional integrity. The Washington Post, it cannot be overstressed, is found abysmally lacking in both, as is the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s Office in Geneva. The ‘darkness’ that The Washington Post wants to dispel for democracy to survive has only got darker by such egregious abuse of facts and support for a fraud. The ‘human rights’ the UN in Geneva wishes to protect are a mockery of the rights of those who are impacted by the insidious falsehoods of devious individuals like Rana Ayyub who fetishise their malicious intent to deface facts and disfigure the truth.
This is neither journalism nor activism. It is malevolent targeting of India and its elected Government, which ensures the supremacy of the rule of law, just because one of their own has been caught, though not for the first time, in breach of the law. Bias distorts perception. In this case, it is not only bias at play but blinkers which blind The Washington Post and others to reality.
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