Questions on press freedom in West Bengal are being raised by the opposition and on social media after editor of the popular Bengali daily, Anandabazar Patrika, Anirban Chattopadhyay, stepped down from his position.
Chattopadhyay's decision to step down was taken on Sunday, 31 May. On Monday, the newspaper's print edition said that Ishani Datta Ray was taking over as the acting editor.
This comes after reports that Chattopadhyay was summoned by the Kolkata Police recently, regarding an article in the newspaper on the inadequate supply of PPE kits to the staff of a COVID-19 hospital.
'No Political Angle To My Exit'
Speaking to The Quint, however, Chattopadhyay denied any political angle to his exit.
“My decision to resign as editor of Anandabazar Patrika was taken by me a long time back. I have been trying to relieve myself of this duty for more than a year, but there were issues that needed to be sorted out first,” Chattopadhyay said.
Interestingly, news about the summon to him by the Kolkata police came to the fore after West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar tweeted on 28 May that he had sought an update from the Home Secretary of the state on the same.
Have sought update from Home Secretary @MamataOfficial as regards Summoning of Anirban Chattopadhyay, Editor @MyAnandaBazar by Kolkata Police at Hare Street police station— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) May 28, 2020
Press freedom is non negotiable. It is spine of democracy and guaranteed by Constitution. @IndEditorsGuild
According to sources, the editor was served a notice by the Hare Street Police Station in Kolkata on 25 May to appear before them for questioning.
Chattopadhyay had then sent a letter to the police station stating that he would be unable to make a physical appearance.
In the letter, which has been accessed by The Quint, he wrote that he had filed a plea for anticipatory bail at the Calcutta High Court and also that he had been advised not to venture into public places due to the COVID-19 situation and his old age.
Speaking to The Quint about the police summon, Chattopadhyay said that the legal department of Anandabazar Patrika was looking into it and that he would say nothing further.
Chatterjee took over as editor of the daily four years ago. Sources in the newspaper also told The Quint that he had been having disagreements with the ABP group, of which the newspaper is a part, on various issues like pay-cuts and staff layoffs.
'Coincidences Do Happen'
In a Facebook post made on 3 June, Madhumita Chattopadhyay, Chattopadhyay's wife, said that the issue of her husband stepping down had "nothing to do with the freedom of press".
I think it's time that I speak. The disinformation and misinformation on the social media can definitely provide content...Posted by Madhumita Chattopadhyay on Wednesday, June 3, 2020
In the post, Madhumita said that Chattopadhyay had been contemplating stepping down for sometime in order to focus on academia. Reiterating what he told The Quint, Madhumita wrote that talks were on with ABP for over a year now.
She also wrote that he was "against retrenchment as a way of consolidating any business" and that there were times when Chattopadhyay's personal principles came in conflict with that of the organisation's management.
However, "whether the exact timing of his stepping down has been influenced by any such conflict may remain a matter of conjecture", she wrote.
Writing about the police summon, she said that Chattopadhyay was never interviewed by the police and did not go to the police station.
“Coincidences do happen. And, the matter mentioned above (Chattopadhyay being summoned by the police) came to front less than a week before his final day as Editor. It was of course a little unsettling and irritating for him and the family, but I think it goes with the job,” she wrote.
Social Media & Opposition Call Out Repression Of Press Freedom
However, even as both Chattopadhyay and his wife denied political or governmental pressure in his decision to step down, many on social media, scrutinised whether it had to do with the police summon.
This conjecture was led by BJP and the opposition parties.
Talk about press freedom in West Bengal?— BJP Bengal (@BJP4Bengal) June 1, 2020
If you don't dance to Mamata Banerjee's tunes, then she will use police to intimidate and force you out of job!
Read this letter by Anirban Chattopadhyay, Chief Editor-AnandaBazar Patrika after he allowed few news critical of CM Mamata... pic.twitter.com/bTsi9WPhse
Is it true that Anirban Chattopadhyay, Editor ABP, the highest circulated Bangla daily is sought to be arrested under certain fictitious but non-bailable charges? Is it dedicated to Modi's first year 2nd term, meant to settle the score because of ABP upholding the secular values?— Surjya Kanta Mishra (@mishra_surjya) May 30, 2020
While some questioned the state, others also said that Chattopadhyay was grilled by the police for six hours, which has again, been categorically denied by his wife in her Facebook post.
So Anirban Chattopadhyay, Anandabazar editor, walks into sunset, leaving chair to Ishani Dutta Ray. Did a top politician push the change in Prafulla Sarkar Street in Kolkata? @deepscribble @Shubhm @SandipGhose @angaraian @ShubhPulok1952 @Smita_Sharma @_Ushinor @szarabi @raydeep— Shantanu Guha Ray (@ShantanuGuhaRay) June 1, 2020
Anandabazar Patrika's Editor Anirban Chattopadhyay was recently summoned in Hare St. police station. There's not even a shred of freedom of press and free speech that is left in the West Bengal. Journalists who do not toe the line of the ruling party, are to be heckled like this. https://t.co/PEKXwEoX2R— অভীক সরকার Avik Sarkar (@_aviksarkar_) May 28, 2020
Anirban Chattopadhyay, Anandabazar editor, walks into sunset, leaving chair to Ishani Dutta Ray There are rumours that Anirban Chattopadhyay was grilled at Hare Street PS for more than 6hrs last week On EID, dailies like Ei Samay and Bartaman each got 2-3 large govt ads,— Chayan Chatterjee (@Satyanewshi) June 1, 2020
The state government and the Kolkata Police are yet to officially react to the incident.
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