In what is perhaps the most underreported news of the year, The Wire published yesterday a story revealing the mysterious goings-on and financial opacities of the India Foundation, a trust run by Shaurya Doval, the son of National Security Advisor and “Indian James Bond”, Ajit Doval. The article claims that the India Foundation “has top ministers as directors, and relies on financial support from foreign and Indian corporates, some of which have dealings with the government.” The article goes on to list several of the BJP’s top-brass as directors and patrons of the India Foundation’s many conferences, allegedly organised with unreported, untaxed funds from foreign companies and entities unknown.According to the report, directors of the India Foundation include Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Commerce & Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu, and two ministers of state – Jayant Sinha (Civil Aviation) and M. J. Akbar (External Affairs), among many others. The article alleges that the Foundation does not formally report it’s sources of revenue, and draws funds from businesses that transact with ministries run by these same officials. A conflict of interest to rival the BJP’s evergreen tu quoque – Robert Vadra.
This discovery comes hot on the heels of their last big reveal when, only a few weeks ago, The Wire uncloaked the meteoric 16,000-fold growth of a company run by Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah. The case received national and even international attention, and has become highly litigated, with an Ahmedabad High Court almost immediately gagging the portal and preventing them from further reporting on the case. The injunction was granted ex-parte and upheld by the Gujarat High Court on Thursday. No notice was served to the accused party, nor were they given an opportunity to be heard.
At the time this article was published, the only other channel to run this story is The Quint. The fact that every other mainstream news outlet has failed to report on the Shaurya Doval issue – indeed, even failed to report on the report – begs the question: is the press bereft of journalism? Have the media devolved entirely to demagoguery and servitude to the powers that be?
More likely, the story has been suppressed. A gag-order has been issued not from any court, but from the highest offices in the land, throwing a monkey-wrench into the press machinery. This won’t be the first time a story of this magnitude was stalled by the media, and if the past is any indicator of the future, it won’t be the last.
What is undeniable is that the Fourth Pillar is broken. Whether the damage be inflicted by administrative overreach, or through a dearth of journalists, or because of an absconding readership, it is evident to me that the republic is ill. And it will take more than an election and governmental change to restore.
In a profoundly distressing article published in Indus Dictum a few days ago, our staff noted that India ranks 139th in the World Press Freedom Index. “These are dangerous times for journalists in India,” she wrote, remarking that the Fourth Pillar has been suppressed and dismantled in a systematic, recklessly anti-democratic choreography. I wonder how long it will be before another ex-parte injunction is granted and the press once again barred from reporting on an issue that merits, at the very least, a formal investigation.
Prime Minister Modi is known to play his cards close to his chest, and his poker coterie has, since the very inception of his administration, been limited to three people – BJP President Amit Shah, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and Modi himself. The brain, the shield-arm, and the sword-arm (or Trishula-arm) in no particular order. This Lotus Trifecta replaced an openly nepotistic, clumsily corrupt Congress coalition with a murkily dynastic, increasingly mafia-esque administration. The Wire appears to have taken it upon themselves to uncover and report the misdeeds of all three.
In these deeply troubling times, I am reminded of the prophetic words of former US Senator Chris Dodd:
“When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the right to free press and free speech are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.”
The Wire’s resistance is inspiriting and welcome at a time when national press institutions are drawing the ire and mockery of conscientious citizens for journalistic bankruptcy.
Ankur Borwankar is an author, lawyer, motivational speaker & entrepreneur. He is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Indus Dictum.
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This article first appeared in Indus Dictum.