Caption: May 17, 2014: In this file photo, then-India’s next Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a press conference at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India. (AP)
Published June 13, 2014Associated Press
Police in southern India have arrested seven people, including four students, and charged them with defaming the country’s new prime minister in a college magazine, officials said Friday.
The arrests came after an annual student magazine at the Government Polytechnic College in Kerala state included a photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a collage of what it called “Negative faces.” Others featured in the collage were Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden and former President George W. Bush.
The seven people were arrested Wednesday and charged with defamation and criminal conspiracy, said district police chief N. Vijaya Kumar. They were released on bail Thursday. If found guilty, they could face prison terms and stiff fines.
The four students helped edit the magazine. The others who were arrested included the college’s top official, the magazine’s faculty adviser and the owner of the company that printed the magazine.
Police seized a printing press and computers used to design the magazine. The college said no further copies of the magazine would be distributed, according to Kumar.
Police made the arrests after Yuva Morcha, or Youth Front, a group affiliated with Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, complained about the photo.
The college’s student union publishes the magazine each year based on a theme. This year’s issue, which was distributed last week, explained world history through pictures of faces.
Modi, who was sworn in as prime minister late last month, was chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat when it was ripped by sectarian violence in 2002. More than 1,000 Muslims were killed and Modi was widely seen as having done little to stop the carnage, though he denies any wrongdoing.
A student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) runs the college’s student union and has openly accused Modi of being responsible for the sectarian violence.
Indian politicians are known for being sensitive to public criticism or ridicule.
In November 2012, two 21-year-old college students were arrested in Mumbai for posting a comment on Facebook criticizing the shutdown of India’s financial hub for the funeral of a powerful right-wing politician.