india is the world's biggest and arguably noisiest democracy. newspapers, news channels and online platforms are filled with political argument 21w. but is this real media freedom or a misleading veneer? what happens to journalists who speak uncomfortable truths to power? well, my guest is rana ayyub, an investigative reporter and author who has faced threats, intimidation and legal action after digging deep into the past and present of india's prime minister, narendra modi. is freedom of expression on life support in india?
rana ayyub in mumbai, welcome to hardtalk. thank you so much for having me, stephen. it's a pleasure having you on the show. at the last count, and it's a little confusing, but the last count, i think you are now facing four different legal actions. given the legal constraints upon you right now, has your voice, in effect, been silenced? well, that's the intention, stephen, to silence my voice. unfortunately, the government has not been victorious on that count. neither has it been victorious over the last 15 years of myjournalism, when it has literally tried every tool in the book to silence my voice and myjournalism. at this point of time, four cases, two by uttar pradesh police, one by the income tax department, one by the
enforcement directorate, and i'm hoping many more to go, because that's the cost of speaking truth to power in india at a time when journalism and mainstream journalists in india are self—censoring themselves. but i've seen some reports suggesting your legal team have said that you better not leave mumbai, because if you do, you might well be detained, arrested. is that the situation you are in right now? well, unfortunately, that seems to be the situation. the first time a case was filed against me, injune, my lawyers had to get a transit anticipatory bailfor me to travel to uttar pradesh, where the case was booked against me. if you look at what's happening in india, in the last one week itself, two young journalists, a 21—year—old who just tweeted about the anti—muslim violence in the bjp—ruled state of tripura, were arrested in assam for just tweeting about that news story and commenting about
the anti—muslim violence. so if it's a bjp—ruled state, which is unfortunately most so, if it's a bjp—ruled state, which is unfortunately most of the states in india, one needs to be cautious as a journalist, one needs to tread cautiously. and i have seen what happens, because i remember i was in kashmir two years ago, where i sneaked in a journalist from the new yorker, and the cops from kashmir actually went on twitter and said, "why should rana ayyub not be arrested?", and bjp leaders going on twitter and saying that this woman should be arrested asap. so keeping that in mind, i think my lawyers have advised me to be a little low—profile. well, you're on hardtalk, so you're not that low—profile, and we're glad you're here. but let's just pick up on what you just said about two young journalists being detained for what the authorities alleged was inflammatory tweets, inflaming an inter—communal situation in one of india's states. you, too, are accused of inflammatory social media
activity and your retweeting of what you appeared to believe was the beating of a muslim man in an inter—communal incident. the indian authorities claim that you made no attempt, and i'm quoting here, to establish the truth of the case, and this fits into their contention that, increasingly, social media is being used to spread misinformation and, some would say, fake news, which in india's case is inflaming inter—communal tensions. are they right? had you done your due research when you tweeted that? well, i would agree with the part where you said that fake news is being used, but by the government of the day to spread communal violence in the country, especially by those in the right—wing ecosystem. yeah, but answer my question, if you would, rana. yes. as a journalist in the summer of 2021, i tweeted...
in fact, i co—tweeted a video which was broadcast by almost every news channel in the country the due diligence. i tweeted the video, which was shared by almost every journalist in the country, every editor in the country. the newspapers of the day had that video and the contents of the video on the front page of their daily newspapers. but uttar pradesh police conveniently picks up three muslim journalists and three muslim activists saying that they are responsible for spreading communal disharmony in the country. they are saying that there was no hate crime against a muslim man. the muslim man right now still stands by his story that his beard was cut off, that he was made to chant, "jai shri ram," which is "glory to lord ram". in this particular case, i called the people in uttar pradesh, including localjournalists, including people who were with
this elderly gentleman, and they said that he was forced to chant "jai shri ram", and he was beaten up by a mob of hindu vigilantes, after which i tweeted. so... right. ..ican... ..i can tell you confidently that i did my due diligence and that everyjournalist should do that. you are no stranger to threats, abuse, harassment and intimidation on social media. you've been living with it for years. this long predates the case that we've just discussed from 2021. in fact, i think it's true to say that you've lived with this sort of reality for at least four years. is it, in your view, because your investigative journalism for quite a long time, going back to a period of a decade and more, has dug deep into the background of the bjp and indeed the prime minister narendra modi in gujarat? events that happened
in gujarat from the beginning, frankly, of this century, you've dug deep into them and that has clearly upset a lot of people. is that your. . .the belief you have, that... ..the causation for the abuse you've received? well, stephen, the abuse that i have been receiving, the trolling, the death threats, the rape threats, only have worsened over the years from mr modi being the chief minister, the provincial minister of gujarat, where...where he was the chief minister when a thousand muslims were killed under his watch, to the...to hisjourney as the prime minister of india in 2014. the violent. . .the violent threats that are issued to me, i'll give you an example. just about two months ago, somebody posted on twitter that my father was in germany, soliciting prostitutes and abusing women on the street, and the national spokesperson of mr narendra modi's party, the bjp, says, "look
"at rana ayyub�*s father, a man of questionable character." the person who tweeted that deleted the tweet because it was mischief. but by then a meme was made and circulated all over on social media. i have a copy of your book, the gujarat files: anatomy of a cover up, in front of me. and it took you an awful long time to get it published because the magazine you were working for at the time of the commission of this undercover report, it didn't end up publishing your story. and in fact, for years and years, you couldn't get it published. and i just wonder whether that is because it was too sensitive, or whether, in fact, judged by strictly rigorous journalistic standards, while you'd got some, you know, potentially fascinating information, you hadn't actually got any, quote—unquote, "smoking gun", which pointed to the guilt of mr modi, who was chief minister of gujarat at the time of this terrible inter—communal violence.
it was fascinating, but it wasn't journalistically rigorous. well, the home secretary of gujarat when mr narendra modi was the chief minister said that mr modi did not allow forces in gujarat on time and allowed the riots to continue unabated. if you read the book, you will see damning revelations. the reason why indian media did not cover it, and i have... well, you've got a lot of hearsay in the book, but i'm absolutely duty bound to point out that courts have looked at the information, not just from you, but from other sources as well, and they have never, everfound grounds to put mr modi into a courtroom to face charges. never. and he, of course, has always utterly denied the allegations that you and others have made about his involvement in that violence. first things first, stephen, the courts have still not read my book. they have still not asked me to place the records and the transcripts of my...
..the tape records on record, despite me asking the supreme court of india to take suo motu cognisance and take these tapes on record. the reason i had to go undercover is because those officers who spoke to me while i was undercover pleaded amnesia when they were questioned by commissions of inquiry that were initiated into the investigation of gujarat 2002 riots and the judicial encounters after. i will also point out to you the supreme court order in an open court where the supreme court of india said that narendra modi is like the modern day nero who looked the other way when innocent women and children were burning and being killed. that's not my observation. that's the observation of the supreme court of india in 200a. the bottom line is, mr modi has never faced any charge. that's the truth. you know it. i know it.
and i just wonder whether, in the end, yourjournalism, going way back and till the current day, is it...is it perhaps too driven by your personal story? you once talked about the advice a colleague gave you, i think back in 2007, that a good journalist should learn the art of detaching herself from the story, be pragmatic. maybe you haven't been as detached as you needed to be. you have, in a sense, turned it into something of a personal crusade against mr modi and the senior leadership of the bjp. you know what, stephen? when i was injournalism college, they said, whatjournalist needs to be objective when reporting the truth? how do you be...how are you objective when you go...? i mean, i was 19. i was...i was a relief worker when the gujarat riots happened, and i have seen women who have been raped and children who have been butchered and their fathers who have been orphaned. and it is not a crusade.
i think a job ofjournalists is to be a witness, and that's what i was taught in myjournalism college. that's what i was taught by my journalist father, that a job of journalists is to be a witness and not to dilute the truth, irrespective of the consequence, irrespective whether the person, the accused in concern, is declared an accused or not. as a journalist, my truth does not change because a person has not been incarcerated. i cannot develop amnesia. that's not detaching, i think. i also believe that i will not develop amnesia over a leader's pastjust because he has become the prime minister of the country, because those who were killed under his watch have still not been given justice, and a criminal does not cease to be a criminal because the media around that time is trying to gloss over the person's past. so, that's me as a journalist, stephen. yeah. powerful words. i think anyjournalist around the world watching this would echo your thoughts
about the importance of bearing witness and truth telling. ijust wonder why it is that so manyjournalists and media outlets in india do not appear to share your interest in digging deep into the past of mr modi in gujarat, and indeed digging deep into the... ..the way the government has handled certain challenges in the...in the present day, including the covid challenge. if you look at the indian media, manyjournalists are pursuing a very, very different path from yours. why? well, i'd...| would point your attention to the fact that many in the regional media, the hindi newspapers in india, on their front page had images of the ganga, the ganges river, with dead bodies floating on it. so, if i could.... ..i could say that there was a bit of a change with covid in india, that i could see journalists
and editors doing due diligence, possibly because death was also happening right at their doorstep. i would say that there are many, many unsung journalists in india who are doing an extremely unpopular journalism right now. i cannot say that about the gatekeepers and the mainstream editors who believe...who actually have not been... ..have not written anything critical about him or published any critical investigation about narendra modi in the last couple of years. when covid was ravaging india, narendra modi and amit shah, his home minister, were taking election rallies with millions of people in the rallies. i wonder why that was not on the front page of the newspapers in india, where he was questioned, where mr modi was questioned for his complicity in soaring the number of covid deaths. it was devastation. and i remember when i wrote the cover of time magazine,
which called out narendra modi's complicity, one of his spokespersons went on a television channel saying that i was funded by the cia. so, as bizarre as it may be, that's the unfortunate truth. there is, of course, i will not deny that, there is a section of indian journalists — independent journalists, i must say — who want to do theirjournalism but are being censored by their publication. i can do that because i'm not writing for an indian publication. i haven't written for an indian publication in a long time. i write for the washington post, i write for new york times and other publications. i now have my substack, but... well... yes, you still have a high profile... ..that i wrote in time magazine in an indian newspaper, i don't think that would have been possible. you still have a high profile in india, and ijust wonder what impact all of the threats and intimidation you've talked about with me, what impact they have upon you personally. i'm just looking at a quote here from rebecca vincent, the director of international
campaigns at reporters without borders, who says, "of all the cases of "journalists we work on around the world at the moment, rana "is one of my top concerns. "we have a history of journalists being killed "with impunity in india, and it's very possible "that could be repeated. "when i receive an urgent call from rana, my immediate "instinct is concern for her life." how frightened are you, rana? i'm not frightened, stephen, at all. if i was frightened then i would not be doing the journalism that i do. i am worried. i am anxious. yes, i do pop pills. i do pop an anti—anxiety and antidepressant pill every day. i worry for my family with whom i stay. i worry for my nephews and nieces. i know that i'm being tailed. i know that my family is being surveilled upon. i don't want you to worry for me, because this has been happening for more than a decade now, and if the gov... i have been, i have been followed in places where i least expected, especially even away
from the country. i worry for my family. i did almost give up when my image was moved on a porn video and circulated all over the country. and many in the bjp, especially top leaders, shared that video on their facebook page and the twitter headlines saying, "this is rana ayyub." and that really, as much as i call myself a feminist, that really broke me and i said, "ok, i'm giving up." but then i realised that's exactly what they want. they want to silence me because there are very few voices left in the indian media, especially with a global audience, who still can speak the unadulterated truth without ifs and buts, without a false equivalence, without trying to balance things out. so that's where i stand, stephen. i don't think i'm frightened. and i don't think this man can frighten me, this government can frighten me. although, yes, like rebecca
said, there have been many sos calls when i see a car tailing me or people, strange people, hovering around me and my house, hovering around, probably when i'm eating food at a restaurant. it's happened way too often. so i'm not scared. i just want the government of the day to know that it should stop intimidating journalists, because it's not yielding. it is interesting to me that you say you no longer write for indian publications, you write for publications overseas. ijust wonder if that is one sign of your disillusion, notjust with the government of india but with the people of india, because i look at the approval ratings of mr modi — today, they are still high. i think, hovering around the 55 to 60% mark. every political analyst in the country seems to believe he has a very, very strong chance of getting re—elected in 202a. this man, india's strong man, is still, in global terms,
profoundly successful and popular as an electoral politician. does that leave you disillusioned with your own country? i myself see mr modi as a very strong contender for 2024 as being re—elected as the prime minister of the country because i see hate on the ground, stephen, and hate has reaped very well, has reaped rich dividends for mr narendra modi, where he has pitted the hindu majority against the muslim minority, where the muslim minority has been projected as the evil that has been appeased over the years by the congress party and by secular leaders, and that secularism is such a bad word that we need to do away with it. so in a way, yes, i'm disillusioned. having said that, if a leading newspaper in india, any publication says, "rana, right the front page," or, "rana, write the middle
page," i'm happy to write. having said that, there are publications, there are independent publications — like the scroll wire, article 1a, caravan — that are doing stunning journalism but, again, with a very niche audience. by and large, the majority of the mainstream media is still publishing newspapers that is palatable for an audience that is riding high on hate — the hate wave in india that is all pervasive. this hate that has taken almost every sector, almost every class, caste, which has actually resulted in mr modi's popularity. at a very recent rally, mr modi's home minister, amit shah, and one of his chief ministers, yogi adityanath, said that hindus should be proud and happy that after mr modi came to power, the appeasement of those who used to offer namaz has stopped. and you see the crowds cheering for it. india, as you've indicated, does, right now, have a significant problem
with inter—communal mistrust, which leads to, on occasion, violence. now, the indian government has responded to that by saying that it needs new powers, and it has taken new powers to oversee and regulate social media platforms, to ensure that internet content gets taken down if it is deemed to be inflammatory. for you, as a journalist, somebody who has always regarded social media as actually an important outlet, do you believe it is right that india tries to regulate out the inflammatory rhetoric that is seen on the internet in your country? well, stephen, the inflammatory rhetoric is actually stemming from the ministers in the government and the spokespersons of this government, and by a right—wing ecosystem which is systematically churning out fake news which is disseminated all over the country via whatsapp, facebook, twitter.
but curbing down on this is not the solution, because when we're talking about curbing down these voices, what ends up happening is the voices that are independent and are actually criticising the anti—muslim hate on social media — because, let's face it, had it not been for twitter and other social media platforms, a lot of hate crimes against muslims, including the lynching of muslims and accusations of eating beef or other hate crimes would not be reported, because our mainstream media is looking the other way. so, in a way, twitter has democratised that space for us to publish the unadulterated truth of what the government really wants, which is exactly why the government of the day wants to come heavily on social media and especially on platforms like twitter, because it is the only space left where some of us are expressing ourselves without fear of being censored. and if this is taken down, i don't know how many
voices will be left. if the government is really concerned about communalisation and polarisation, it should start censoring its own spokespersons and ministers who are at the forefront of spreading fake news in india. and every day you see them spewing hate and venom and fake numbers, talking about, for instance, talking about how the muslim population of india will explode by 2050, how muslims are taking over various states. that is at the core. if mr modi — who has since 2014 not taken a single press conference and addressed questions of the media — if he could silence those in his government from hate mongering, we would be in a much better place. rana ayyub, we have to end there. i thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. thank you. thank you so much, stephen, for having me.
hello. the first named storm of the season is approaching, and it's set to bring us some fairly disruptive weather over the next couple of days. storm arwen, as named by the met office, will be developing particularly later friday into saturday, bringing not only widespread gales, some sleet and snow mainly over the high ground in the north — and it is likely to cause a bit of disruption because of that combination of the strong winds, the cold weather, and the sleet and snow we'll see over the higher ground. so, for friday morning, then, we've got the cloud and patchy rain across much of england and wales, which pushes its way southeastwards. then we're left with sunshine and blustery showers in from the north — and across the north of scotland, those showers will merge into longer spells of fairly heavy snow over the higher ground,
some sleet and snow, too, across parts of northern ireland. mainly rain showers further south — it will feel chilly, about 7—11 celsius — but when you add on the wind—chill, it will feel colder than that. the winds will be a real feature of the weather. we've got an amber warning in force for eastern scotland and northeast england, could see gusts between about 65—70 mph here, particularly later on friday and overnight into saturday morning. so, through the overnight period, then, this area of sleet and snow, and rain at low levels pushes its way southwards and eastwards, followed by more wintry showers packing in from the north. 0vernight temperatures for most of our cities above freezing, but colder than that in the countryside. so, as this storm arwen pushes just out towards the southeast, we'll start to draw in these strong, cold northerly winds as we head through into saturday morning — gusts, infact, quite widely 30—40 mph, around the coast, 50—60, or even higher than that. so, we've got this area of rain, perhaps some sleet and snow over the highest ground, pushing eastwards
across parts of eastern england on saturday. more of those wintry showers coming in across scotland, too. something a little bit drier for central and western areas, and it is turning colder — so temperatures about 4—9 celsius, but when you add on the effect of that wind—chill, it will feel subzero for many of us through the day on saturday. so, cold and windy with wintry showers, too. heading into sunday, as storm arwen starts to clear to the east, things will settle down a little bit — so not quite as windy on sunday, but still more of those wintry showers packing in across the higher ground of the north of scotland, down the east coast of england, too. and quite a bit of dry weather elsewhere, but it certainly will feel cold throughout the weekend.