Karnataka govt threatens legal action against Aaj Tak’s Sudhir Chaudhary for ‘misinformation’

Bengaluru: The Karnataka government has threatened legal action against journalist Sudhir Chaudhary, a news anchor with the Hindi channel Aaj Tak, accusing him of “deliberate and malicious” misinformation about a commercial vehicle subsidy scheme for minorities. 

The scheme in question promises a 50 percent subsidy to people from religious minorities with a household income of less than Rs 4.5 lakh to purchase commercial vehicles. Karnataka has five communities that are classified as religious minorities — Muslims, Christians, Jains, Buddhist, Sikhs, and Parsis.

“The anchor of @aajtak is deliberately spreading misinformation on government schemes which was first started by BJP MPs & is being amplified by sections of media. This is deliberate & malicious, Govt will be taking necessary legal action,” Karnataka Minister of Information Technology & Biotechnology (IT/BT) Priyank Kharge said on social media portal X Tuesday. 

The post had a screenshot of a show promotion by Aaj Tak featuring Chaudhary, with a Hindi caption that translated to: “In Karnataka subsidy for minorities but not for Hindus?”

Kharge’s warning to the news anchor is part of the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government’s new policy on fact-checking to thwart attempts at dissemination of misinformation meant to disturb peace and harmony in the state. 

The scheme in question predates the Congress government, according to government officials and documents accessed by ThePrint. 

“Earlier it was Rs 2.5 lakh (subsidy), now it is a new scheme introduced in this budget for all three departments (SC/ST, backward classes & minorities). Now we are giving subsidies up to Rs 3 lakh. With Rs 3 lakh, this scheme is called Svalambhi Sarathi,” Manoj Jain, secretary to the Karnataka Minority Welfare Department told ThePrint Tuesday. 

According to the ‘Svalambi Sarathi Scheme’, beneficiaries who have been sanctioned bank loans for the purchase of autorickshaw/goods vehicles/taxis will be provided a subsidy to the tune of 50 percent of the value of the vehicle, up to Rs 3 lakh.

The eligibility is for members of religious minorities aged between 18 and 55 years and with an annual income below Rs 4.5 lakh, according to an advert posted by Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar as part of the BJP’s attack on the state government. 

The scheme comes with a condition. According to the minorities department, “Applicants or his/her family members should not have availed benefits under any other scheme (excluding Arivu Scheme) of the KMDCL (Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation Limited) in the last 5 years.” 

A subsidy of this nature existed before the new government took over in May. 

The Karnataka minorities department had set a target of Rs 15 crore for funding a subsidy to facilitate small commercial vehicles for religious minorities in 2022-23, when the BJP was in power, Karnataka government documents show. 

Under former chief minister Basavaraj Bommai, the department released Rs 7.1 crore in 2022-23. In 2021-22, the department released around Rs 5.4 crore against a target of Rs 10 crore.

Also Read: ‘No politics discussed’ — Karnataka Congress chief Shivakumar after meeting BJP’s Tejaswini Ananth Kumar

Political row erupts

The controversy over the subsidy began last week when Union minister Chandrasekhar posted an advertisement by the Karnataka government that offered a subsidy of Rs 3 lakh for small commercial vehicles to people belonging to minority communities. 

“Heres another example of shameless, lazy, appeasement politics of bribing certain communities by Rahuls Cong in #Karnataka. Buy a vehicle for Rs 6L, using 50% subsidy, sell it the next day for Rs 5L. Cool profit of Rs 2L,” the minister wrote. “Only available for nonHindus and does not include poor deprived Hindu communities.” Chandrasekhar also referred to it as “state-sponsored conversion inducement”, and added the hashtag “TruthAboutCorruptCong”.

A political row ensued, with the BJP accusing the Congress of using state resources for the purpose of “appeasement”, and the ruling party hitting out at the BJP’s “blind hatred for minorities”. 

BJP MP Tejasvi Surya, who represents Bengaluru South, said the Congress had “doubled electricity charges and hiked excise duty and other taxes” to fund its freebies. 

In a post on X, he added; “Karnataka’s middle class will fund a ‘religion targeted scheme’, specifically designed for minorities, that gives ₹3 lakhs as subsidy to buy vehicles. Congress goes to any extent to appease its core voter base even if it means to undermine hardworking tax paying middle class families,” he added.

Karnataka Health & Family Welfare Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao, a former state Congress president, said in an X post addressed to Chandrasekhar that he was forgetting “that this scheme was there even during your BJP govt”. 

“Don’t let your blind hatred for the minorities make you look like a fool. Correct your stupid tweet,” he added. 

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Karnataka election 2023 — eight lessons for the BJP, Congress, and all of India



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