On April 14, reports of a mass gathering of migrants near Mumbai’s Bandra station dominated the news cycle throughout the day. Marathi news channel ABP Majha’s reporter Rahul Kulkarni was among the 11 people arrested by Mumbai police for their alleged role in “rumour-mongering” that is believed to have led nearly 2,000 migrant workers to gather near the station. The reporter had cited an internal railways document to claim that special trains would transport stranded migrants back home. The channel has defended their reporter and said that there should be due verification of facts and circumstances before arresting a journalist. He was granted bail by a court in Mumbai. On Twitter, ABP News is trending #AttackOnFreePress.
ABP Group’s Hindi channel ABP News also broadcasted the visuals and raised a question on how migrants in such huge numbers could assemble outside the station. The channel dubbed the gathering as a “conspiracy” and also indicated that there could be a possible religious angle to the incident.
In the video posted below, anchor Shobhna Yadav says, “The conspiracy that you are talking about, Prem Shukla. ABP News is raising questions about it. Were people provoked from the mosque to assemble? Big question. Did Muslim leaders provoke the people by giving a speech and gather the crowd? Is Jama Masjid responsible for this crowd of people? People in thousands have been gathered by the mosque. Were this crowd brought together with a WhatsApp message or phone call? Why did the Mumbai police keep sleeping? What did the intelligence do?”
The five questions raised by ABP News are as follows:
- Were people provoked from the mosque to assemble?
- Did a speech given by Muslim leaders provoke the people to gather?
- Was Jama Masjid responsible for this crowd of people?
- Was this crowd brought together with messages sent on WhatsApp or via phone calls?
- Was the Mumbai police sleeping?
The top band of the news screen during the broadcast read, “Was the Jama Masjid responsible for assembling the crowd?”
Yadav subsequently switched over to channel correspondent Ajay Dubey who present at the spot, “Ajay Dubey, ABP News is raising big questions. What is your information saying, did the people from mosque provoke them to gather here?”
The reporter evades the question and says, “Police will investigate this thing. But primarily the police has dispersed the crowd. ” However, Dubey also said that it is difficult to believe that a crowd had gathered at the location without any planning. During the course of the broadcast, the channel kept highlighting the ‘point’ that the crowd had gathered near the mosque.
ABP News v/s ABP anchor Rubika Liyaquat
Later in the day, ABP News journalist Rubika Liyaquat did a Facebook live from the official Facebook page of ABP News and rubbished the rumour that the Muslim community had gathered at the station. She says, “The people, who are trying to say that Muslim people had assembled there, are liars. I’ll make it clear to you. These people are liars who are saying that there was an announcement from the mosque asking people to gather and [people thought] now we will have to go and how will we be able to work. How will we get our roti, gather our food, these are all lies, this is a rumour that is circulating, there was no such thing like this. While taking responsibility, I can inform you that this issue is not a Jamaatwala, or the Hindu-Muslim issue. Not at all. This is an issue of distressed migrants who didn’t know what to do.” The relevant portion starts at 4:00 minutes in the video posted below.
While speaking to fact-checking outlet BOOM, Mumbai police denied any communal angle to the gathering of migrants defying the lockdown.
These two videos from ABP News show a 180-degree turn by the channel – from giving the incident a communal angle and raising “big questions” against the mosque to completely dismissing them as rumours. While the allegations of rumour-mongering against ABP Majha is a matter of investigation, ABP Group’s Hindi channel ABP News certainly needs to be called out for giving a communal narrative and outrightly blaming the minority community for the incident.
The Indian mainstream media has played an active role in communalising the outbreak of coronavirus in India after a large number of COVID-19 positive cases were traced back to a religious congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin in mid-March. Since the congregation was identified as a hotspot, not only have the channels outrightly targeted the Muslim community for the rise in the number of cases but have also resorted to misinformation with impunity. It is highly irresponsible and unbecoming of a mainstream TV news channel to concoct a baseless conspiracy theory and question the role of the mosque when there wasn’t any.