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‘If Political Party Can Avail it, Why Not Locals?’ Internet Access to BJP From Media Centre Irks Kashmiris

‘If Political Party Can Avail it, Why Not Locals?’ Internet Access to BJP From Media Centre Irks Kashmiris

While most other political parties in Kashmir are not able to send their statements to the press as their party cadre remain under detention, the BJP members have been provided with constant web access.

Srinagar: While internet services continue to remain shut in Kashmir, the BJP members have been provided with constant web access for issuing statements to the press and to send reports to their head office from the Media Facilitation Centre (MFC), which has been officially setup for the journalists.

The internet shutdown was imposed in the Valley on August 5 when the government scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution, and divided the restive state into two union territories. With no means to file news stories, the media fraternity in Kashmir was left in a limbo till the government setup the MFC — a week after the Article 370 move — at a private hotel in the Sonwar area of the city.

The centre, which has been put in place for the first time in the often tense Kashmir, was first equipped with four computers and a working mobile phone. Last week, the government installed five more computers, with one exclusively for the female professionals.

The entire journalist community in Kashmir is currently relying on this facilitation centre to file stories. Officially, only journalists are allowed to use the facility after registering their names and credentials, and 15 minutes on the computer and a few minutes of phone call is all that is allowed. They get their stories and photos in pen drives and send them to their respective newsrooms. Security officials assigned at the entrance sometimes ask for ID proofs and frisk the bags of the media persons.

However, the BJP’s state unit is also using this facility on a daily basis. Around five to six officials from J&K’s information department who remain present in the centre, not only welcome the BJP office bearers but even direct them to the vacant computers. Sometimes they even request journalists to let the party members use the computer first.

Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, BJP state spokesperson on Kashmir affairs, told News18 that he is using the facility since August 9, with the permission of the officials.

“Since there is no internet available, we can’t send statements of party from Kashmir. I asked the officials to allow me to access this centre and they welcomed me,” he told News18 on Saturday while he was surfing the internet.

Chrungoo is also sending reports from Kashmir to his higher-ups on the situation. “The international media has been reporting a lot of negative things from Kashmir and I am sending counter reports from here, which my party is using to bust their lies,” Chrungoo said, showing the emails and photographs he has managed to send so far. The reports used by the international press were also, most likely, sent from the same computers that Chrungoo is using.

Most political parties in Kashmir are not able to send their statements to press as their party cadre remain under detention. Even if someone wants to speak out, there is not internet available to voice their concerns.

On Friday, BJP’s Kashmir media in-charge, Manzoor Bhat, visited the Media Facilitation Centre and asked officials to give internet access to his mobile phone through WiFi.

“I met the director of information, Sehrish Asgar, and she told me to go to the media centre and use the internet on phone. Will you give me the access?” Bhat asked an official of the J&K information department.

On being denied access, Bhat asked the official to call the director and left only after he was given assurance that there was no WiFi available but he could use internet on the available computers.

Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo at the Media Facilitation Centre in Srinagar.

Chrungoo said he has requested the officials to increase the number of computers at the centre.

The journalists in Kashmir have been requesting the government to restore internet in their offices or at least in the Kashmir Press Club. However, the government has denied the access.

The journalists are calling it a “cruel joke”. “We are professionals working on ground and to access the internet we have to report every day to this place,” said a journalist. “How can the government give access to a particular political party at such a place?” he asks.

The journalists accessing internet at the MFC have already been raising privacy and safety concerns.

Anees Zargar, a Srinagar-based journalist, termed the situation as “intrusion”. “The internet centre has been provided by the government to facilitate media professionals. If a particular political party is being allowed to use it, it should be kept open for the general public as well,” said Zargar.

Director of J&K information, Syed Sehrish Asgar, denied to comment on the issue.

But it’s not just the citizens, the BJP is also facing a big challenge due to the internet blockade: new BJP memberships are not getting enrolled. “We can add the new members only after enrolling them online. But there is no internet so we are now following the traditional method,” Chrungoo told News18.

The BJP has printed membership forms and is distributing them among those who want to join the party. The forms will be sent to Jammu or Delhi office manually and only then the new members will get registered.
first published:September 15, 2019, 15:17 IST