Manjul cartoon of 29 April 2021. President Modi “hunting” with the excuse of pandemic
On 8 June, four days after the popular political cartoonist Manjul received a Twitter warning that the Indian authorities had asked the social network to take action against his account, he was fired with “immediate effect” from Network 18 .
The cartoonist had been working for six years for this media group, owned by Reliance Industries Limited, which is run by the multi-millionaire Mukesh Ambani.
According to The Wire, sources at Network 18 said that there was no order to fire the cartoonist and that the sudden move has taken them by surprise.
On 4 June, Manjul had shared a Twitter post on his profile @MANJULtoons. The notice informs him that the Indian authorities consider the content associated with his Twitter account @MANJULtoons to be “in violation of Indian law(s)”. The “Indian authorities” had asked him to take action against his account. Manjul shared Manjul shares this post along with the message:“Salute to the Modi government“.
He also added that it would have been better if the government had mentioned which particular tweet had created the alleged problem. Following Manjul’s tweet, several leaders lashed out at the Modi government, calling it a “dictatorship”.
According to some media reports, other users are receiving these kinds of notices and they are beginning to be common in India. They merely notify the user of the request from a police authority or government agency, and while they usually inform the user that no action will be taken, they remind the cartoonist that he or she can take legal action against the Indian government.
They advise the user to contact civil society organisations for advice. Other options are to voluntarily remove the content (if appropriate) or to find another way to anticipate the consequences of a lawsuit by the state.
Cartoon of 7 June 2021 on Modi’s reaction to the evolution of the second wave of the pandemic
A suspect dismissal
Normally, unless legal proceedings are initiated, such things usually remain a mere warning that warns of the shadow of the “official” threat. Worryingly, the cartoonist was sacked just days after the Modi government tried to close his Twitter account or remove some of his content because of his cartoons. Although the causes are unknown, this raises reasonable suspicions that the media may have either been pressured by the government or anticipated and “took care of its own health” by removing him.
Manjul, who has received sympathy from many of his readers, had earlier published several cartoons criticising the Narendra Modi-led BJP government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cartoonist exposed the devastating rawness of the second wave of the disease. In several of his cartoons, he denounced the fact that the population was helpless because they had no access to health care.
Another similar recent case in India shows that the government is in the habit of persecuting opinions on social media in an attempt to silence them.
Cases of cartoonists who have had problems of some importance because of their cartoons or satirical illustrations. There are also some stories of other people who, without being cartoonists, have got into trouble for sharing them.