Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi chaired the Congress Working Committee meeting on Monday in the absence of party president Sonia Gandhi who is said to be unwell. Characteristically, Rahul Gandhi attacked the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for scuttling democratic voices in the country and piggybacked on the burning issue of media gagging.
The Centre has done little to win the confidence of the journalistic fraternity and the common people to ensure right to free speech and the right to ask questions of people in authority. Gagging of media channels in Delhi, Assam and newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir are some examples.
However, such criticism coming from the Congress party also need to be seen in the context of its own record of gagging the media in the past. During the Emergency period between 1975 and 1977, the peak of Indira Gandhi’s rule, the country suffered the most severe media blackout since the colonial era. That level of censoring and gagging is still to be replicated.
Being short of that benchmark doesn’t vindicate the BJP either but the Congress and Rahul Gandhi may also remember that his previous generations oversaw one of the darkest periods for media in independent India’s history.
Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi is known to have given an earful to Inder Kumar Gujral, Information and Broadcasting Minister in 1975. Sanjay blasted IK Gujral after a massive June 20 rally of Indira Gandhi the same year was not covered live on government run Doordarshan and All India Radio. He refused to listen to explanations that according to protocol, only the director general can give orders to cover any political rally live on the station.
During the black days of media blackdown, several newspapers, including the Indian Express, located on Delhi’s Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg had their electricity cut off on orders from Sanjay. Indira Gandhi had told Gujral that she wanted to see all the TV and radio scripts for Doordarshan and All India Radio before anything was put on air on a regular basis.
In 1975, PTI had also carried a Supreme Court verdict relating to the temporary stay order relating to Indira’s status as member of Parliament. The agency had carried the order verbatim without giving it a favourable spin and that had miffed Sanjay.
During Monday’s meeting, Rahul Gandhi stated that asking questions is what discomforts this government, for they have no answers, we must expose government’s failures in upcoming Parliament session Democracy, under the present dispensation, is going through one of its darkest hours. He further attacked the PM saying the Modi government is obsessed with power and it seeks to silence all those who disagree with them.
However, the argument that the Congress is one that bats for journalistic freedom is ill founded and baseless. Exploiting the issue of media gagging for political gains by any political party, even the Congress does not go unnoticed and the mirror is shown whenever such remarks are made.