The Indian government’s crackdown on NewsClick, a non-profit news organization known for its critical reporting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda, may have been prompted by a New York Times report. The report highlighted a global network receiving funding from US tech billionaire Neville Roy Singham, some of which allegedly went to NewsClick.
During the crackdown, NewsClick’s founder-editor, staff, past employees, freelancers, and non-journalist contributors were interrogated, and laptops, cell phones, and papers were seized. Two individuals, including the founder-editor, were detained under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), an “anti-terror law” in India.
India’s press freedom rankings have declined significantly since Modi took office in 2014, with India currently ranked 161 out of 180 nations by Reporters Without Borders. However, many instances of media repression go unnoticed outside of human rights groups.
The New York Times report detailed a network allegedly propagating Chinese government talking points by funding left-leaning organizations worldwide through US NGOs. NewsClick was mentioned as a recipient of funds but denied publishing news or material at the request of any Chinese entity or following Singham’s editorial guidelines.
The Indian government’s approach to press repression and left-wing intimidation differs significantly from the methods highlighted in the New York Times report. The Indian government has been using rhetoric that demonizes dissenters as “anti-nationals,” leading to attacks on liberal democratic norms.
Dissidents are often detained under restrictive anti-terror legislation without basic protections. These issues have largely gone unnoticed in the West, which views India as a counterweight to China.
There are concerns that, as Modi seeks a third term in the 2024 Indian elections, his campaign may use deteriorating relations with a neighboring country to fuel nationalist sentiment. The Modi government’s use of a report by a prominent US newspaper is now putting press freedoms and democratic ideals at risk.
Anti-China sentiment is on the rise in India, sparking a Hindu nationalist base that supports a strong foreign policy stance. The Indian government’s actions highlight the challenges to press freedom and democracy in the country as it prepares for critical elections in the coming years.