Thursday, March 19, 2015

R. K. MISRA: Media Gag And Mulish Drag (Modi and censorship)

What was hard to endure is sweet to recall. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who assured Parliament that the Nirbhaya documentary,’ Storyville-India’s Daughter’ would not be aired in the country or abroad,cut a sorry figure. BBC ignored the notice,disputed  the Information and Broadcasting ministry’s claim and aired it. Downloaded extensively, it was available across viewing platforms.

Why did  the Narendra Modi- led BJP government wade into the issue all guns blazing knowing fully well that it would leave their flanks vulnerable? More so after a series of mistimed manoeuvres have paled the image of their prime mover and party as well, in the post- Delhi poll period.

It may be hard to endure but is sweet to recall that BJP leaders including those in power today, had literally made a career out of their opposition to  Indira Gandhi’s 1975  Emergency and the curbs on freedom of expression imposed thereon.The present Prime Minister who spent a fair amount of the Emergency period underground in the house of  a pro-RSS ONGC official at Ankleshvar has, in the period thereafter, gone hammer and tongs on the issue and made a killing for himself. Once in power, it is the same dictum,’If you don’t like the message, kill the messenger’.

Conveniently lost in the self-righteous stance of the Modi government is the forthright stand of Nirbhaya’s father for the need to show a mirror to  an ailing society. Incidentally, the same newspaper also carried the report of  a mob lynching a rape accused in Dimapur while another report elsewhere  earlier  spoke of a man having unnatural sex with a cow injured by a train.The very next day Ahmedabad came alive with a man in his early twenties attempting to rape a six year old girl and inserting an iron rod in her privates after she raised an alarm, seriously injuring her. Are these not symptoms of a lingering malaise? Is the media wrong in airing these news or the misogyny of  demented males?

A near similar approach had marked the official reaction to the Patan rape case disclosures in Gujarat in 2008. The initial attempt was to brush the entire affair under the carpet but when the clamour grew the government was forced to beat a hasty retreat. The shocking incident came to light on February 4, 2008 after a 19 year old Dalit student of government-run Primary Teachers Training College confided to her parents about the repeated sexual assaults by six of her teachers over six months. A fast track court in Patan in north Gujarat sentenced all six teachers to life imprisonment in 2009. The Gujarat High Court upheld the imprisonment of five and commuted the sentence of the sixth teacher to a ten year jail term. Activists of the NGO, Navsarjan which took up the cause of the girl, have bitter tales to narrate about the effort to thwart justice in the case.

The over 12 year long- Modi rule in Gujarat stands out for the concerted attempt that was systematically made to thwart free collection of news particularly in the Secretariat. Bureaucrats down the line were discouraged from interacting with the media and summary transfers were the order of the day if there was the slightest suspicion that information was being passed. Fear was all pervasive. Sometimes it bordered on the comical as when the state health secretary was shunted out after he hit global headlines when he called on a bed-ridden Chief Minister  and came out with viral infection . 

At other times it tipped into the domain of the  farcical  when the government  pulled out all stops to keep the deal given to the Tata’s for shifting their plant from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand in Gujarat, under wraps. A senior secretary whose signatures were necessary for clearance of the project was woken up from sleep at the dead of night by an IAS officer who carried  the file in person and got it appended. Though some of the legacies of the Modi era still endure, there is a marked relaxation in the general atmosphere prevailing in the state Secretariat in Gandhinagar today, after he left the state  to take over as the Prime Minister. Over 150 cops  in the state capital who formed part of his security detail round- the- clock,are amongst the greatly relieved.They can breathe easy now.

Recently, the Gujarat government admitted in the Vidhan Sabha that a sum of Rs 55 crores  had been spent over the last five years in printing of  a government magazine ‘Gujarat’. Though the government has it’s own printing press the printing of this magazine was handed over to private printers. The much tom-tommed Diwali annual issue of the magazine had a print run of 30,000 copies of which 21572 copies were being distributed free.

Perhaps no other state has the dubious distinction of  the government orchestrating the printing of a four page pull-out with fonts resembling  those of a leading Gujarati newspaper which was critical of the government. The pull-out which  carried  ‘puff’stories praising the administration was  forcefully distributed as part of the popular  newspaper. What was this, if not a thinly disguised, official con- job on the public? 

Pygmies standing on the shoulders of yesteryear giants don’t become taller. They only look so.