Maharashtra BJP chief's audio clip on taking journos to dhabas sparks row
The audio clip features instructions purportedly given by Chandrashekhar Bawankule in Ahmednagar, where he was addressing BJP workers on the management of poll booths
An audio clip of Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule, in which he purportedly asks party workers to take journalists to dhabas and treat them well to avoid negative publicity ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, has gone viral, inviting allegations that the BJP is trying to manage the media.
These "instructions" were purportedly given by Bawankule in Ahmednagar where he was addressing a gathering of BJP workers on the management of poll booths.
Under fire from the Opposition, Bawankule clarified that he only meant that journalists should be treated with respect and that party workers should try to understand their opinions about the allocated booths.
In the audio, Bawankule can be heard saying that "small-time video journalists running news portals and residing in your booth areas sometimes present a minor incident as if some blast has taken place".
"Prepare a list of such nuisance-creating journalists, including those from the electronic media or print, and invite them for a cup of tea to dhabas so that they would not write anything against us ahead of Maha Vijay 2024. You know what I mean by inviting them for a cup of tea,” he added.
If there are some shortcomings, Sujay Vikhe Patil, local BJP MP, is there to handle them, he added.
“Take them to dhabas. Treat them well and ensure no negative news comes out against us. There should be positive news about us. Protect your own booths first,” Bawankule said.
Reacting sharply, Maharashtra Opposition leader Vijay Wadettiwar said, “Not all journalists are sold out. Do you think journalists accept crumbs? I can understand the restlessness of your leaders, both the top level and local ones, as they could not suppress the voice of dissent. But you directly started making offers to journalists? This means you will try to offer some "crumbs" to voters as well ahead of elections." Wadettiwar also said the people will "tear apart the BJP for sure".
State Congress president Nana Patole said Bawankule's statements are insulting to the media fraternity. "The Congress has given due importance to journalists, but the BJP made them look cheap. It is a devaluation of the media fraternity," he alleged.
NCP (Sharad Pawar faction) national spokesperson Clyde Crasto posted on X: “Is BJP Maharashtra state president Chandrashekhar Bawankule asking BJP workers to treat the journalists who speak the truth or is his statement a veiled threat to true journalists?”.
NCP MP Supriya Sule said any opposition's voice is the beauty of democracy, but the BJP does not accept dissent. "Newspapers work as the opposition in a democracy, but the BJP state president is giving lessons on how to muzzle the media. It is a serious matter and condemnable action," she said, adding that the way Bawankule is giving the suggestions makes it seem as though he has past experience.
"It is the BJP's policy to not let journalists function smoothly. The BJP should either admit that it does not accept democracy or it should apologise to the people and scribes," she said.
Bawankule later clarified that he meant that journalists are so important that they can even change the opinion of the people. "Journalists are also voters and why should there be a bias against them? It is not good if you do not meet them, talk to them or seek their opinion. I gave this kind of advice to them (BJP workers)," Bawankule told reporters.
Maharashtra deputy chief minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis said what Bawankule said and how it has been perceived are two separate things.
"There is no need to interpret his comments in any other way. Sometimes, when you are talking to your party workers, certain things are said in a lighter vein. There is no need to create a controversy," he added.