The Congress-led UPA Government will be remembered less for its non-performance on economic and foreign policy issues and more for its failures on security and its blatant attempts to undermine institutions that sustain democracy and public faith in the system. One didn'texpect much from the Congress simply because its track record on commitment to democratic spirit doesn'tinspire confidence. Smt Indira Gandhi ensured a ?committed judiciary? by superseding three Supreme Court judges and scuttled all democratic institutions during the hated Emergency. Conventional wisdom that the party would be restrained in its attack on democratic institutions learning lessons from its humiliating defeat in 1977 elections has been belied. The party'smindset remains unchanged.
The latest in the series of UPA'smisadventure is what is nothing short of a ?constitutional fraud? in Goa. The Governor'sdirection was to hold no other business except a confidence motion after the Government lost majority because a ruling party member resigned her seat and a coalition partner with two legislators withdrew its support to the Congress-led Government. What the Speaker did was to manufacture an artificial majority for the ruling alliance by disallowing two legislators belonging to MGP to participate in the voting on the untenable premise that they had not followed their party'sdirections. The fact of the matter is that legislative wing of a political party is not bound by the decisions of its organisational wing. The two-member MGP Legislature Party was well within its rights to withdraw support from the Government they had joined after the recent assembly elections. Speakers have a right to exercise their casting vote in case of a tie, but Goa Speaker has the dubious distinction of casting his vote even though the Opposition never demanded a division. Is the Congress high command happy over its ?victory? in Goa or is it ashamed of its state unit that has murdered democracy? It is not the only misadventure of this government. No one has forgotten what UPA Government did in Bihar and Jharkhand.
CPM, though not a part of UPA, is virtually running the Government by proxy. Communists? unhealthy influence on Government policies has introduced serious distortions in the UPA Government'seconomic and foreign policies. They have scuttled many a good measures by threatening to reconsider outside support to the minority government. It is extremely worrisome that the Government has virtually out-sourced its Nepal policy to CPM. Because of CPM'sundue interference, the External Affairs Ministry is severely handicapped, as it has lost its autonomy to pursue policies that it thinks are consistent with India'snational interest and security concerns. Sita Ram Yachuri is enjoying power without responsibility. His activism is aimed at strengthening Maoists at the cost of democratic forces. India will have to pay a heavy price in terms of its national interests in Nepal and on security front because of this folly. Additionally, the Congress party allows itself to be blackmailed by the left parties day in and day out.
In an age of robust media, one thought there would be less of Government pressures on media freedom. This hope and belief were shattered by several unacceptable happenings in recent months. UPA Government'spropensity to ban TV channels and come up with regressive measures under the garb of regulation is one such development. The proposed Broadcasting bill is a draconian piece of legislation. The content code the Government has devised is full of arbitrary, confusing and unacceptable provisions. For example, it says no channel can, in any manner, cast aspersions against the integrity of the President. Respecting constitutional authorities is one thing and gagging the media to expose misdeeds, perceived or real, of persons occupying high offices is quite another. Such provisions betray an authoritarian mindset. If such constraints applied in democracies like America, Watergate scandal would never have come to light. The most repulsive provision in the draft bill is that district level officers will have the authority to confiscate equipment of a channel that they think has violated the code. I&B Minister P.R. Munsi has publicly admitted that there were numerous flaws in the bill that can affect freedom and independence of electronic media. He is on the back foot because of bitter criticism of several arbitrary provisions in the bill by media stalwarts. One is not sure if the Minister is convinced about the flaws in the bill and the code and is willing to remove them or he is just posturing to ward off criticism. Congress party'strack record on media freedom is frightening. It is not only during the Emergency that it gagged the media. The Bihar Press Bill and Rajiv Gandhi'sdraconian Defemation Law were in the same league. These bills were stillborn only because the media supported by the civil society offered stiff resistance.
It is no one'scase that electronic media shouldn'tbe regulated. In fact there is an urgent need to regulate the functioning of the electronic media that has gone berserk. Freedom of media is sacrosanct but it shouldn'tbe confused with license. Media can'tabuse its freedom to incite or glorify violence and terror. No freedom is absolute. Media'sjob is to inform and entertain but it can'tbe granted the license to dish out falsehood and vulgarity. However, the authority to regulate media can'tbe delegated to politicians and bureaucrats. Self-regulation is a much better option. However, given the media'spropensity to enjoy freedom without accountability, the Government will have to play the role of a facilitator. A regulatory authority that is independent of political establishment and retains the respect of the media and civil society is the right answer.