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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sins of Emergency repeating themselves

By Swapan Dasgupta

It is sad that Indian newspapers, unlike their British and American counterparts, have not yet digitised their archives. Had they done so, I would have been able to offer readers a selection of the choicest quotes from Professor K.K. Tiwari, once a Minister of Information and Broadcasting in Rajiv Gandhi’s Government.

Tiwari, who was said to have been a teacher of English, loved using Shakespearian analogies to pour venom on the Congress’ then favourite hate figures, notably V.P. Singh who had emerged as the foremost challenger to the Rajiv government. Some of Tiwari’s interventions were very funny and the others were mystifying. Most people viewed him as a ridiculous loudmouth who used the government monopoly to transform the electronic media—AIR and Doordarshan—into propaganda vehicles for the Congress.

However, Tiwari wasn’t quite the buffoon he sometimes appeared to be. Subsequent investigations suggested that he had a major role in designing the St Kitts frame-up targeting the son of V.P. Singh—a conspiracy in which, quite regrettably, a section of the media played a collusive role.

The transgressions of the Emergency which even led to AIR blacklisting Kishore Kumar for his non-performance at a Youth Congress function—surely a warning to Lata Mangeshkar to now prepare herself for recriminations after she publicly endorsed Narendra Modi last Friday—have been well documented. Less recorded are the ways in which the Rajiv Gandhi government tried to narrow the space for dissent by putting pressure on the print media. The Indian Express, Statesman and particular individuals in The Hindu were targeted for unearthing the dirt on the Bofors scandal. But pressure was put on all publications to toe the line. At one time, the Ministry of External Affairs even had two IFS officers working full-time to ‘manage’ the newspapers.

I mention these incidents from the past because there are definite indications that history is repeating itself. Having erred in its belief that the anointment of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate would lead to a favourable polarisation in favour of the Congress and UPA, a disoriented regime has reacted in panic. Where persuasion and better governance should have been the natural democratic reaction to political adversity, the government has embarked on the path of calumny, subterfuge and arm-twisting.

Telecom minister Kapil Sibal whose political ratings inside the government took a nosedive after Rahul Gandhi rubbished the ordinance to insulate convicted politicians from immediate disqualification, has crafted his rehabilitation strategy with a frontal attack on Modi. In itself that is a legitimate exercise in political warfare. But Sibal descended from the sublime to the ridiculous by blaming Modi for the sharp increase in the price of onions.

On his part, I&B Minister Manish Tiwari, who must take exceptional care that he doesn’t come to be viewed as the natural inheritor of K.K. Tiwari’s mantle, has put out a circular warning broadcasters with uplinking facilities that they risk their future by putting the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech on par with others (namely Modi) who attempt to steal the thunder. Since it is an open question whether Manmohan Singh will address India from Red Fort in 2014, this silly advisory is less aimed at protecting the fragile dignity of the incumbent as instructing the electronic media to reduce their Modi coverage.

Then there are those who, even at this late stage, insist that Modi should be ruled out of the 2014 race using the police powers at the disposal of the government. In recent weeks, inordinate pressure has been put on the country’s premier investigative agencies to call Modi for questioning and thereupon file an FIR against him on the charge of masterminding encounter deaths. Pressure has also been put to somehow or the other implicate Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley in a case that dates back to 2008.

That officials haven’t succumbed are due to two facts. First, the political antennae of the babus are very sensitive to stirrings on the ground. The emerging consensus within babudom this Diwali is that the UPA isn’t coming back. Secondly, the recent Supreme Court order on tenure has ensured that civil servants and policemen won’t do anything remotely irregular unless it is accompanied by a written ministerial order.

So far the attempt to make politics into an abattoir has not succeeded but a section of the government believes that no means are too petty to fight Modi. The manner in which advertising largesse is being dangled in front of media companies who are experiencing a squeeze on account of the general economic slowdown will no doubt see many channels and publications suddenly going soft on the UPA Government. There has already been the curious spectacle of media managers donning the editorial mantle and penning articles advising the country to be wary of Modi. Presumably, these are not aimed at influencing public opinion and calculated only to informing the money-disbursal teams in the ministries that the hints are being acted on.

Past experience suggests that last ditch attempts to undo the damage inflicted over the past four years are rarely successful. Therefore, unless the next six months lead to something dramatic, all the indications are that this may be the last Diwali, for some time to come, that many of the anxious political stalwarts are going to enjoy in a ministerial bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi.

A Happy Diwali to them and to everyone else


Himadri Pant said...

Thank you Swapanji for highlighting our blighted past concerning govt harassing the media. This usually never comes out open in the English language news channels. UPA ministers including Salman Khurshid have openly hinted at an insider job during Patna blasts to discredit BJP. They have all indeed descended to very low levels of policy making.

Himadri Pant said...

Thank you Swapanji for highlighting our blighted past concerning govt harassing the media. This usually never comes out open in the English language news channels. UPA ministers including Salman Khurshid have openly hinted at an insider job during Patna blasts to discredit BJP. They have all indeed descended to very low levels of policy making.

Ramakrishnan KS said...

Thanks Swapan. I am sure you, along with likeminded people, will write till you drop to expose the treacherous clique ruling, nay eating India, for the last 10 years, not out of bias but due to the sheer egging of your conscience. But, I have a request to you: Kindly consider bringing out periodically - not necessarily out of your own personal efforts - till the 2014 elections, lists of 1) atrocious quotes to please minorities, speeches endorsing or plain silent on anti-national outlook, palpable misuse of institutions like CBI, EC and IT to selectively target opposition party individuals, choice abusive epithets hurled at NaMo and others, .... to name a few despicable collective and individual acts of the UPA. This I feel is most necessary as, like you pointed out at the start of this blog, in the not fully digitised virtual world of media, there's not one single place where we can search and pick an instance, quote, act or misdeed of UPA politicians. Because, fence-sitters, who in my humble estimate may decide the fate of India in 2014 elections, tend to quickly decide one way or the other depending on the availability of trust-worthy information available as ready-reckoner. And, just FYI: I'm neither a die-hard BJP fan nor an incorrigible UPA-basher, but just habituated to think like Shri Cho Ramaswamy - select and support the best out of the available options, and go the full hog.

Saumya said...

Congress spokespersons had a lump in the throat when the most popular and revered celebrity Lata Mangeshkar endorsed Modi and unable to come to terms they reacted in the wildest manner possible including the facile suggestion from Rajiv Shukla that BJP "manipulated" the statement. Little did he realise the implication that he was undermining the intelligence and integrity of a celebrity. Yes. Manish Tiwari who waxes eloquent when the rot in congress is exposed will go to any extent to throttle media. Such is the desperation in congress now! How do you explain the less boisterous voices like Kapil Sibal attributing onion prices rise to Modi! Hilarious and at the same time ominously porentious! Request translate all these versions and put blush them in vernacular news papers.

Kalyan Deb said...

লালু গেল জেলে
মা সোনিয়া হাসপাতালে
রাহুল একা বাচ্চা ছেলে
কাজে কথায় এলেবেলে
তাই মোদীর দুয়ার খোলা
ভ্যালারে কংগ্রেস এবার পালা।

Venugopal GV said...

This time in 2014 General Elections people will not be that much foolish not to understand the benefits of Janata Rule after Emergency!!! The future so Congress will be tightly Sealed so that it doesn't make a come back in another Centuary!!!

Anand Kumar said...

You have hit the nail on the head. The WHITE TOPIS aka CONGRESS are the masters in this game of denying freedom of speech. The spin doctors have petitioned EC regarding banning Opinion Polls, because this motley collection of misguided secularists know that they are heading for a major rout and they don't have the courage to face it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Thank you. Corruption and price rise are just samples of this govt's performance. Not only are they embarrassing themselves in their defence of their first family, they also turn into poets, mathematicians ( zero loss wise crack), secularists ( what colour? Blue? ), neo liberals, and some into agriculturalists!!! At this rate modi needs no other campaigners than the congressmen and their allies ( in spoils). I hope the bjp if it comes to power does not make us all think and write these lines again by being no different when it comes ti to corruption ( yes we remember yeddy). History after all repeats itself more often than not.

Anonymous said...

I request you swapan to twitter more frequently and attach an article so that we know the reality.

venkat said...

A frightening assessment of the quandry the Congress+Secular friends find themselves in.Of course the newspapers which have an independent take on affairs of the country are few in number.Most of the media are already part of the ruling clique's bhajan mandali.As Arun Jaitley has already written, our sarkar finds fighting Modi politically is a himalayan task, so other 'unconstitutional' methods are looked into in a holistic manner!Another 3 months .it might be too late to incarcerate Modi on trumped up charges so before end of the year we can expect our sarkar to bite the bullet.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. DasGupta. I am afraid that before elections are announced Mr. Modi will be trapped somehow to stop onslaught from him.

KHAAS ADMI said...

" means are too petty to malign Modi"well worded sir and thanks for naming a few ugly heads in present ruling clique.Truly bold conclusion warning the govt.banglow occupants is highly appreciated.Pse keep the ship of conscientious public reporting afloat .Best wishes --dr sharma a retd doctor new delhi

vinay krishna said...

Do you think that only congress has done it.What about banning movie Fanna in Gujrat. What about vandalising art gallery in gujrat.