On Thursday came news of income tax raids at the offices of one of India’s largest circulated Hindi dailies Dainik Bhaskar. The raids are learnt to have been carried out at multiple locations in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

The newspaper had published many hardhitting reports on Covid deaths and mismanagement during the second wave of the pandemic.

Several of its reports were cited by the international media to the embarrassment of the Indian government, showing people left to fend for themselves in a health emergency while top ministers were busy at the election hustings.

Did Dainik Bhaskar have any inkling of such an action from the government?

The paper’s national editor Om Gaur told The Citizen that “This is not the first time that Bhaskar has come out with stories critical of the government. Perhaps this was a time when the Corona crisis was really huge and the volume of stories was also high, and this might have led to the government believing that we are against them.

“I want to make it very clear right from the beginning that Bhaskar has no agenda at all. Our reporters are told from day one to stand by the truth and there is no additional instruction given to them. They are told to check and cross-check facts before reporting the stories.”

Gaur said the facts have spoken for themselves in the stories carried by the paper on Covid deaths.

“The government did not bring Corona to the country. We have seen a fight among states when it came to claiming who is number one. If such was the case why did this situation arise (where people died in large numbers)?” he asked.

“Only yesterday the government claimed that there were no deaths because of shortage of oxygen. Will the people not question such claims? The situation has come to a pass where asking questions is looked at with scorn. If it is not for the journalists to ask questions, who will do it?” said Gaur.

Asked whether there were any signs the government would resort to such measures, Gaur replied in the negative, saying that never in his over 25-year association with the paper had such a thing happened.

“We had no information. We are ethically right and have nothing to fear. We have an inbuilt system where if any reporter is found doing something wrong [their] team leader is hauled up,” he said.

Asked about the message that comes with such action, Gaur was succinct in his reply: “Do what we want.”

With most of the country’s wealthy mainstream media earning itself the sobriquet of Godi or lapdog Media, Gaur was emphatic about the role of a free press.

“I have never seen such times. The media is the mirror to the government, no matter who is in power.. It has always been the case over decades.

“Can you imagine a scenario where a chief secretary makes false claims on things like vaccination, and instead of taking him to task the chief minister goes after the newspaper that calls out the wrong information given to the public?”

He observed that a major change is now visible in the Indian polity. While earlier it was the political leaders who ran the government, it is now the bureaucrats who are calling the shots. Even the body language and behavior of the political leadership has undergone a sea change.

Asked how the Bhaskar Group would respond to the government action, and whether it had any hope from the embedded media houses to stand by it he reiterated, “We have done nothing wrong and are ethically in the right.

“I would quote our late chairman who used to say ‘Akhbar aapka nahin hai, na hi sarkar ka hai.. Akhbar pathakon ka hai.. Hum pathakon ke saath hain’ (The newspaper is neither yours nor the government’s. It belongs to the readers and we are with the readers).

“We are with the law and we will fight. As for the embedded media, everyone knows what people think of them and how much they are read or viewed,” Gaur told The Citizen.

Besides the series of stories on Covid deaths and authorities’ attempts to hide them, the newspaper’s Gujarati edition Divya Bhaskar made a splash in April when it published the mobile number of the state Bharatiya Janata Party chief CR Patil in a banner headline on page one.

This was done when during the countrywide Remdesivir shortage Patil reportedly announced the party would distribute 5,000 doses free of cost in Surat. He did not bother to explain how he had got such huge numbers of a medicine in short supply.

When the question was posed to Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, he responded saying, “I do not know. Ask Patil.”

The paper took his word for it and published Patil’s number. Its report said that people should ask the state BJP chief for the medicine.

“We have done thousands of stories questioning the government,” said Gaur. “If we had any agenda, why would we have done stories questioning Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot or Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar?

“I repeat we have no agenda. If BJP believes it, we can’t help it. We just want to do journalism,” he underlined.

Income Tax raids on Dainik Bhaskar offices; Opposition says it is paying  the price for exposing Modi govt