Vijay Rupan, Chief Minister of Gujarat. | Image Courtesy: Scroll.in
An editor of an online Gujarati news portal Face of the Nation was arrested by Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) on charges of sedition on May 11. Dhaval Patel, the Editor was arrested after a political article was published on the portal that speculated that Vijay Rupani, the Chief Minister of BJP-led ruling government of Gujarat might be replaced with Mansukh Mandviya, Union Minister of Shipping. The article also claimed that Mandaviya had been called by party seniors in Delhi to discuss the change in leadership as Rupani had failed to manage the situation in the wake of rapid rise of COVID-19 positive cases in the state.
The Rupani-led BJP government of Gujarat has been criticised for its inability to control the spread of the coronavirus infection in the state. As of May 11, the state had recorded 8,542 positive cases and 513 fatalities with a mortality rate of 6%, the highest in the country.
Subsequently, multiple local news organisations published the story of the failure of the government, indicating that it might lead to change of guard in the state. Following this, Mansukh Mandaviya took to Twitter to clarify that the current CM of Gujarat is not being replaced.
While no action has been taken against any other news organisations, Dhaval Patel has been booked under section 45 of Disaster Management Act, 2005 and section 124 A of Indian Penal Code (IPC), after a police constable filed an FIR against him stating that the story was “baseless and amounted to create instability and atmosphere of fear in the State amid pandemic”.
Following his arrest, Patel has been sent to a COVID-19 care centre for medical examination, stated a press release by DCB.
Notably, the Gujarat government has a history of detaining and arresting activists for protesting and writing against the government or government machinery. Activists have also been detained and put under home arrest as a ‘precautionary measure’ in the event of the prime minister of other VIPs visiting the state. However, a journalist had not been arrested in recent times in Gujarat until the incident.
Since the lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple journalists have been arrested in different states. On April 15, a journalist working with a Marathi news channel was arrested by Maharashtra police for airing a report that suggested trains would run to carry stranded migrant workers to their native states. A Tamil Nadu-based journalist, Andrew Sam Raja Pandian, was arrested on April 18 for highlighting alleged corruption in food distribution in an article published in the news portal SimpliCity. Days later, on April 27, an Andaman-based journalist Zubair Ahmad was arrested for questioning on Twitter as to why families were being placed under home quarantine for merely speaking over phone with Covid-19 positive patients.