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Kerala: Congress candidate calls journalist ‘communalist’ over question on CAA; Journalist body files complaint with District Congress Committee

Rajmohan Unnithan

The Kasargod district committee of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) has complained to the Indian National Congress Kasargod district committee president PK Faisal and Kallatra Mahin Haji, chairman of the United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition against Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha elections, Rajmohan Unnithan, over his remarks against a journalist.

The complaint, dated April 3, was regarding the remarks made against Siju Kannan, a journalist by the incumbent Member of Parliament of Kasargod Unnithan over a question on the policy of the Congress party on the Hindutva policy of Bharatiya Janata Party, Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The incident took place on March 27 at the Kasargod Press Club during the ‘Meet the Press’ in the wake of the 2024 India general election. During the interactive session, Siju, a senior reporter with Kairali News Channel’s Kasaragod district bureau was called communalist after he questioned Unnithan on the stance of Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and All India Congress Committee (AICC) president Mallikarjun Kharge regarding the CAA.

The complaint accessed by The Observer Post condemns the behaviour of Unnithan, and KUWJ has also emphasised that though there was a feeling of public protest in this regard, the district committee assessed that such actions should not be resorted to since Unnithan is a candidate.

Speaking to the reporter, Siju said, “Before I asked questions to Unnithan, two other journalists asked him about CAA. He answered vaguely. Following that, I asked about his stance regarding the statement made by the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, concerning the silence of Rahul and Kharge on CAA. For this question, he gave another vague answer, mentioning about the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). Then I repeated my question on Rahul Gandhi’s opinion on CAA. To this, Unnithan who became frustrated told me that he is not interested in talking to me, and called me a separatist, labelled my question as communal, and called me a communalist.”

“People are anxious and tense after the rules of CAA were notified by the central government. Since this is an election period, no politicians or candidates can move ahead without answering questions on CAA. But Congress is still in the dark when it comes to questions on CAA. Their national leadership also doesn’t have concrete opinions against CAA. So obviously when questions are posed on this, they get disturbed. So in a way, their silence on this topic means that they are agreeing with CAA,” recounted Siju.

Agreeing that it was a verbal attack on press freedom, Siju said, “Through remarks like communalist, anti-national, and threats, these politicians are aiming to suppress the questions they don’t like or can’t answer. I will keep on questioning because that is my job.”

Siju also told the reporter that he didn’t see any other media outlets or newspapers reporting on this.

The live news report telecasted by Karaili on this incident was accessed by the reporter. In the video, Unnithan can be heard saying, “You (Siju) don’t have to come here and ask me the questions which are meant for Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge. I am speaking to the journalists of Kasargod. I am a Member of Parliament of Kasargod district. You can ask me any questions on Kasargod”.

Unnithan can be seen saying that Siju has come here to fuel separatism and communalism and he is not interested in talking about CAA. Unnithan concluded by asking the journalists who questioned the remarks by saying not to ask him childish questions like this.

Siju told the reporter that KUWJ Kasargod district president Mohammad Hashim, who was also present during the press meet, immediately intervened and asked Unnithan to retract his statement. Hashim told the reporter that the journalists who were present there raised a protest in the presence of Unnithan and on the same day, Siju filed a complaint to KUWJ asking the organisation to act on this matter.

Congress district president, PK Faisal was not reachable for comments.

Member of Legislative Assembly from Kasargod district and CPI(M) district secretary in charge, C. H. Kunhambu, told The Observer Post, “Instead of condemning a non-secular bill like CAA, Unnithan arrogantly made remarks against the journalist. In fact such remarks also pose challenges to the religious minority community. Congress should make it clear whether the remarks and actions of Unnithan are of the party or only of him. See, CPI(M) has clearly mentioned in our election manifesto against CAA, but Congress has not mentioned anything against CAA. The public will judge the Congress party, and it will reflect against them in the upcoming elections.”

The Congress party has also met with severe criticism from various corners for its silence on CAA and demand to restore Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

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