During nearly two decades of balls-to-the-wall reporting, the confident, courageous and fearless investigative journalist Swati Chaturvedi has brought clarity and context to some of the most challenging issues in politics and current affairs. From reporting on the Jain Commission, the Rafale deal, the ousted CBI director to the BJP’s IT cell, nothing is off limits for this intrepid scribe. Raised in New Delhi, Swati graduated from Miranda House, and started off with The Statesmen. Her career provided the chance to meet and write about public figures, as well as the opportunity to influence public policy.
Known for her extensive reporting, Swati recently won the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Award for Courage. A freelance journalist and contributor to The Wire, she is the author of the book I am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army in which she exposed the “IT cell” within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for keeping an army of angry trolls.
In the book she argues that BJP’s digital army generates online hatred (trolls) for anyone perceived to be critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government. “… online trolls usually have Hindu right-wing views and highly nationalist. They tend to attack anyone who appears to be against the government, the BJP or the nation,” Chaturvedi says in her introduction.
“The book basically establishes how the government and the party in power started tackling with people with a different viewpoint. How the party is orchestrating online campaigns to intimidate perceived government critics through its social media cell,” she adds.
The investigative journalist, who has been in the industry for the last 20 years, says she hasn’t really faced any challenges. “I have always been a journalist and always done the work that I wanted to. According to me, in India in the past year and a half, in the Modi government, they are trying to ensure that there is no free press. Mr Modi does not like the press. He only wants the cheerleaders and he is not facing any scrutiny, which is fairly normal in the press and democracy,” she believes.
Swati, who has worked for various Indian newspapers and channels, has devoted her life to her craft and being an investigative journalist. “To me what I do is to be kind of obsessed with the impact it has on the government or current events. When the CBI director was sent on leave early morning, I broke the news at 7 am. That’s the kind of stuff I do. If I like something I do it 24x7.”
She always knew she was going to be a journalist. “All my life, I always wanted to be a journalist. I still love my work with the same passion when I started off. I never wanted to do anything else. I loved to write and just felt that being a reporter would be a great way to pursue my passion,” says Swati, whose first book Daddy’s Girl was a murder mystery.
Swati believes that if you get an investigation right, you can really make a difference. “I have always been an investigative journalist. No government has particularly liked the fact I am writing something which they don’t like to be exposed, but nobody has attacked journalists like the BJP government and Modi has. It’s only now these problems arise because the government does not like scrutiny or criticism,” says Swati.
She avers that there is nothing more rewarding than when you’re working on something and you’re able to uncover something and are able to break a story. There’s no bigger high for a journalist than that.
Rewards, however, rarely come without pressure. The work and hard-hitting projects Swati carried out has made governments, gangsters and numerous public officials her enemy. She says during her tenure as an investigative journalist, she has received many threats. But the impact of her reporting is worth the risk. The risks of her writing leave her unfazed.
She quips, “I have covered riots, been tear gassed, got threatened by Dawood post a story I did in Hindustan Times. He called me from Pakistan and threatened me by saying why are you writing about me. My story on the Jain commission in Indian Express, led to the fall of the I.K. Gujral government. When he later met me, he said, ‘you made my government fall’. The impact gives me the satisfaction.”...