Network 18 shelves cartoonist Manjul’s contract

A cartoon by Manjul that he tweeted before Narendra Modi addressed the nation on Monday

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday posted a tweet without naming anyone: “He is scared of everything — truth, questions, cartoons….”

Contemporary events in India are so stark that no clues are needed to decipher who “he” is.

The tweet came against the backdrop of a filmmaker in Lakshadweep, Aisha Sultana, being charged with sedition for levelling accusations at the Centre and the contract of a popular cartoonist, Manjul, with a media house being shelved days after suggestions emerged that he had got the government’s goat.

This in a country where even an erstwhile British ruler comes out as tolerant of the cartoonist’s lash in an anecdote about Shankar, considered the father of political cartooning in India.

When Shankar was particularly harsh on the Viceroy, Linlithgow, in a cartoon and the editor was awaiting reprisal, a messenger from the palace turned up with a request: Would the newspaper let the Viceroy have the autographed original?

Nowadays palace runners have been replaced with digital messengers. Cartoonist Manjul lost his contract with Network 18, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries that is controlled by Mukesh Ambani, days after Twitter sent him a notice.

The notice informed him that Twitter had received a legal request from Indian authorities to take action against his social media profile.

Manjul had shared the email he received from Twitter, with the comment: “Jai ho Modi ji ki sarkaar ki (Hail the Modi government). It would have been good had the government mentioned which tweet it had a problem with….”

Manjul did not take calls from this newspaper on Friday. Network 18 officials were not available for comment, either.

Manjul and Satish Acharya, another cartoonist, have vividly portrayed the grim reality of the Covid second wave and the misery of the people.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said on Thursday that he had received a notice from Twitter for sharing a cartoon by Acharya as the tweet apparently “violates the law(s) of India”.

Bhushan asked: “Which laws, Sir? Sedition? Or the law against looting banks?”

The cartoon features a man looting banks and saying: “I won’t empty it, I am not the government.”

Rahul had put out another tweet on the “fear” theme on Thursday night. “Alethophobia — the fear of truth,” he had tweeted, along with a report that explained how the central government had amended rules to hinder retired security and intelligence officials from writing books and articles or commenting on issues relating to current policy that fell in the domain of their work during service.

This order, criticised by former bureaucrats, came around the same time as the legal framework to put curbs on social media was being enforced.

WhatsApp has moved Delhi High Court challenging the clause in the new rules providing for “identification of the first originator of the information”. The traceability provision has been described as unconstitutional and counter to people’s fundamental right to privacy.

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