SHILLONG: It was not just an abusive rant against the head of state of Manipur, N Biren Singh and the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi that National Secutiry Act NSA) booked journalist, Wangkhem Kishorechandra, broadcast in a video post that day on November 19, 2018.

What he did was far more “serious” than that.

Amidst the expletives and F words he raised an issue about the on going propaganda war and the distortion of history unleashed upon his region by the establishment, past and present, but more aggressively by the present dispensation under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has come under controversy for a while now.

Manipur and the communities and tribes of the north eastern region have their own views of their own histories that more often than not clash with the official understanding of Indian history, which is the core of conflict in the region.

Kishorechandra saw in the grand observation of Rani Lakshmibai Jayanti by the State, and the Chief Minister Biren Singh’s glowing remarks about her contribution to the freedom struggle, an attempt to warp history since the freedom struggle of Manipur is different from the freedom struggle of the country as a whole. The journalist said this in the viral video.

“When you appreciate Rani of Jhansi as a freedom fighter covering Manipur, your knowledge is null and ---- up. Rani Jhansi has nothing to do with Manipur,” he raved on the video post. He termed the CM’s attempts to twist Rani of Jhansi’s own great struggle into Manipur’s history as an “insult to the freedom fighters of Manipur.”

In the video he said he had nothing to say if the CM wanted to celebrate Rani of Jhansi’s birth anniversary as dictated by the Centre. But why interweave her into the history of the state’s own freedom struggle, he said. He fumed against the CM allegedly unquestioningly falling in line with the reported Hindutva agenda of the establishment, calling him a puppet of the Centre and the Prime Minister, a “chaiwala with no knowledge of history.” The sentences were laced with the popular four letter abusive slang words.

This is the not the first time that CM Biren Singh has been accused of taking his cues on history from the school of history of the ruling BJP and the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Last March, CM Biren Singh landed in a controversial soup for a remark he made on the on the history of the northeastern region at a fair at Madhavpur in Porbandar District in Gujarat. He said ,“During the time of Lord Krishna, there was no separate Arunachal Pradesh or Assam or Manipur. The entire Northeast was one entity. Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland are bordering China, Lord Krishna made them part of India during his time.”

He remark was condemned by Manipur Students’ Federation (MSF) who had then demanded his resignation. Even at that time the MSF president Ngariyanbam Milan had remarked that, “The statement is nothing but total ignorance of the history of Manipur on the part of N Biren. The statement was akin to completely distorting the history of Manipur and selling off the entire Manipuri Nation in his pursuit to obtain some benefits from the Government of India.”

The MSF said that by linking the history of Manipur with the history of India and Hindutva, Singh was trying to project the history of the state in the wrong light.

Observers spoken to say that it is to be noted that at the 9th triennial conference of RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Samiti, Assam (BISSA ) in November 2017 RSS-affiliated historians have advocated for a "shift" in the approach to historiography of the northeast that can inspire "rashtriya chetna" (national consciousness).

The impact of these kinds of subtle and not so subtle attempts to fabricate, distort, spread half-truths are being felt across the nation prompting no less than the President of the Indian History Congress, K M Shrimali to refer to such attempts as “terror of a different nature.”

Kishorchandra, who was first arrested on November 27, after he posted his fiery video on social media was released by the courts which found the video uncouth and vulgar but “a mere expression of opinion against the public conduct of a public figure in a street language” which did not call for heavy handed judicial steps.

But just 24 hours later the State arrested him under the draconian NSA for the same video post. The Advisory Board on National Security Act (NSA) has approved the detention Kishorchandra Wangkhem to be incarcerated under the act for the period of 12 months. He was charged with certain section under 124-A/294/500 IPC which include sedition.

According to an order issued by the deputy secretary (Home) Dr. Th. Charanjeet Singh, on behalf of the governor, said that the detention order has been approved by the state government, “After examination of the report, the detention order, grounds of detention and other relevant papers furnished by the district magistrate.

“After considering the proximate past activities of the detenu and potential danger of his activities which are prejudicial to the security of the state and maintenance of public order and there is apprehension of his continuing to act similar prejudicial activities, the moment he is released from detention, is further of the opinion that the said person should be detained for the maximum period of 12 months as provided under Section 13 of the said Act,” the order said.

Interestingly on November 25, the Chief judicial Magistrate, Imphal Imphal West, released him on bail terming Wangkhem’s video as a mere expression of opinion against the public conduct of public figure in a street language.

To quote the Court’s order: “It does not appear to me to such which is intended to create enmity between different groups of people community, sections etc nor does it appear to be one which attempts to bring hatred, contempt, dissatisfaction against the government of India or of the state. It is mere expression of opinion against the Prime Minister and chief minister of Manipur which cannot be equated with an attack to invite people to violence against the government of India or Manipur to topple it.”

He has made a representation against the detention but it was rejected by the State. An appeal is being made by his lawyer, Ch. Victor today before the Manipur High Court.

He worked for the Imphal based ISTv but was shunted out in the wake of his controversial video.

As his detention under NSA for the video post sends shock waves across the country as an example of an intolerant despotic nature of the BJP led State Government out to muzzle freedom of expression and an assault on journalistic rights, fellow journalists under the banner of the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) has disowned him and virtually thrown him to the wolves.

AMWJU, Brozendra Ningomba said that Kishorechandra acted in ‘utter disregard’ of AMWJU’s resolutions adopted at its Standing Committee meeting held in August last. Kishorechandra’s video post has nothing to do with journalism. He said also pointing out that that as per the resolution any person working in a media houses of Manipur as journalist/non journalist must face on his/her own consequences of posting/ uploading derogatory, defamatory, illegal, unconstitutional, etc. comment/video on social media that is not connected with the profession of journalism in whatsoever manner, and that AMWJU will not be responsible for it at all.

“Freedom of press doesn’t mean you can spew all kinds of expletives and profanes against any person, not to speak of CM or PM,” he asserted accusing him of blatantly demonstrating his political leanings.

Ningombam is also the Editor-in-Chief of the ISTV network where Kishorchandra had worked.

Following his detention under NSA, various civil organizations demanded the release of the scribe. The arrest was condemned as arbitrary and clamping down on freedom of speech and expression. Manipur Students Association, Delhi (MSAD) organized a protest at Kangla gate in Imphal on December 8. The protest condemned the silence of the local media.

MSAD again organised a protest at Sardar Patel Marg, Manipur Bhawan New Delhi on December 16 last but the protest was again foiled by Delhi police and many students were detained. The arrested students also included members of Delhi Association of Manipuri Muslim Students (DAMMS). The students were later released on the same day late evening.

Condemnation to this incident came from All Manipur Students Union (AMSU) stating that the government is being oppressive as peaceful protests are not being allowed and that the freedom of expression has been culled.

The Indian Journalist Union in a release said ‘ While we do not approve of the vulgar and indecent terms used by Wangkhem Kishorchandra against the highest functionaries of central and state government ,we want to point out that the freedom of expression includes the right to offend,” it said further that the IJU demands the revocation order under NSA and ensure unconditional release.

Former Justice of the Supreme Court, Markandey Katju in a tweet had questioned the incident and asked if there is democracy in Manipur, calling chief minister N Biren Singh ‘a little dictator.’

The Manipur State Congress spokesperson, Kh Joykishan on similar lines said that there is an undeclared emergency in the state and the BJP led government is infringing on the constitutional rights of the public. BJP is all out to oppress anyone who comes out against their policies and are simply slapping false charges on people who don’t agree with them as they have done to Kishorechandra, he told reporters in a press meet.

THE CITIZEN BUREAU ADDS FROM NEW DELHI: Journalist organisations have condemned the arrest of Manipur journalist Kishorechand Wangkhemcha under the National Security Act but stopped short of demanding his immediate release.

The Editors Guild of India has maintained silence on the scribe’s arrest under NSA, invoked after a magistrate cleared him of sedition charges after his first arrest on November 21. The magistrate had noted that Wangkhemcha’s statements did not seem to be an attempt to disturb the peace, and were a “mere expression of opinion” against the PM and CM of Manipur.

In a joint statement issued today the Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Club of India, Press Association and Federation of Press Clubs in India have questioned Wangkhemcha’s arrest under the National Security Act where he reportedly criticised the Prime Minister and Chief Minister. The organisations noted that the journalist was booked for sedition but released following a magesterial order that did not find anything seditious in his remarks last month.

He has been arrested again under the NSA for 12 months despite the earlier release order where the magistrate had noted, “his statements do not seem an attempt to disturb was a mere expression of opinion against the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Manipur which cannot be equated with an attack to invite people to violence against the Government of India or Manipur to topple it..."

The journalists have demanded that the “harsh provisions under which Mr Wangkhem has been booked be dropped in the interests of justice and the right to freedom of speech and expression.”

The full text of the statement reads:

We, the undersigned journalist organisations express deep concern at the twelve month detention of a Manipur journalist, Mr Kishorechand Wangkhem, under the National Security Act. Mr Wangkhem who is employed as an anchor-reporter with a news channel ISTV, was arrested earlier on November 21 by the Manipur police for uploading a video where he reportedly criticized the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister. He was booked for sedition and later released following a magisterial order that did not find anything seditious in his remarks, only to be booked again under the NSA. The magistrate in his release order said that "his statements do not seem an attempt to disturb was a mere expression of opinion against the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Manipur which cannot be equated with an attack to invite people to violence against the Government of India or Manipur to topple it..."

The preventive detention under the NSA for twelve months more so after the court did not find anything seditious in his remarks is totally uncalled for and deserving of condemnation.There are judicial pronouncements on what may constitute seditious language and action. To book individuals under non-bailable and harsh laws for using allegedly intemperate language to criticize government's decisions or individuals in government, is a measure of governmental overreach apart from being a violation of the fundamental right to free speech.

We demand that the harsh provisions under which Mr Wangkhem has been booked be dropped in the interests of justice and the right to freedom of speech and expression.