A case has been filed against a senior journalist in Karnataka over an article he wrote about Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy's son Nikhil, triggering criticism from the opposition BJP. The row comes at a time when the the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in the state is on the edge after its disastrous performance in the national election.
A First Information Report (FIR) was filed against Vishweshwar Bhat, the editor-in-chief of Vishwavani Daily, on Sunday, based on a complaint by a leader from Mr Kumaraswamy's party. Mr Bhat has been charged for defamation, forgery and cheating.
On Saturday, Mr Bhat had published a source-based article in his newspaper on an alleged heated conversation between Nikhil Kumaraswamy and his grandfather, former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. This, according to the complaint, was meant to "tarnish" the image of the young politician and extract money. The conversation reportedly took place on Friday while Nikhil Kumaraswamy was at a hotel in Mysuru.
Nikhil Kumaraswamy, 31, lost the Madya seat in the national election to the BJP-backed independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh.
According to Mr Bhat's report in Kannada, Nikhil Kumaraswamy had a meltdown after losing seat. Mandya is considered a prestige seat of the Janata Dal (Secular). The Gowda grandson, the report claims, was unhappy that his cousin was fielded from Hassan,which he won and that he was unhappy that the family party had not done enough to ensure his victory at the beginning of his political career. The report also claims that the young politician was upset that he was defeated by a woman.
Narrating the sequence of events, Vishweshwar Bhat said he received a call from HD Kumaraswamy. Following this, the Chief Minister tweeted about the article, speaking about "a father's pain". The next day, Mr Bhat published Mr Kumaraswamy's version.
Vishweshar Bhat told NDTV that he got a call from Nikhil Kumaraswamy twice on Sunday. In the second call, Mr Bhat was allegedly threatened with legal action.
The police filed a complaint against Mr Bhat later on Sunday before speaking to him, Mr Bhat said. On Monday, an article with Nikhil Kumaraswamy's point of view was published in the Kannada newspaper.
The BJP hit out at the JD(S) and the state government, saying press freedom is under threat in Karnataka.
Curtailing FOE has become the only job of @hd_kumaraswamy!!— Shobha Karandlaje (@ShobhaBJP) May 27, 2019
After witch-hunting the RW SM activists, now Co-Ja govt is after the popular media houses & it's editors.
False FIR has been reg against @VishweshwarBhat, for publishing merely a news article!!#EmergencyInKarnatakapic.twitter.com/55JYqAkxgP
"If any media does forgery, does a fake thing...If you want to protect them as a media, then I am ashamed of the media. The investigation is on. I don't want to interfere," Karnataka Home Minister MB Patil said.
Vishweshar Bhat told NDTV that he is not "pro-BJP" and that the party is backing him only because it is in the opposition.
The Congress and the JD(S) just two seats each out of 28 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. For the JD(S), it was Prajwal Revanna who is the other grandson of Deve Gowda.
The crushing defeat has the state government questioning its own survival and fearing the revival of "Operation Lotus". The term was first used in 2008, when the BJP was accused of inciting several opposition legislators to defect to ensure the stability of its government headed by BS Yeddyurappa.
However, Mr Yeddyurappa, who heads the BJP in Karnataka, ruled our partnering with Mr Kumaraswamy's regional party to form a new state government and said the BJP favoured fresh assembly polls if the coalition collapses.