THERE is something terribly destructive about our administration and especially some of our regional Congress governments that is disturbing. A revealing example – now mostly forgotten – is that of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi who was arrested on sedition charges in September 2012 for drawings that satirised graft among India’s political elite. First Trivedi was arrested. That sparked a nation-wide outrage. So vicious was the Maharashtra Government that apart from sedition, Trivedi was booked under Section 2 of the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act 1971. The media went hammer and tongs at the government. The Hindu ( September 11) called the law ‘anachronistic’ and there was need to “scrap it at once, and quickly”. It said! “What constitutes an insult, what causes offence and what can be constructed as hate are deeply subjective issues. This ambiguity gives governments the legal handle to exercise an insidious form of censorship and control that goes well-beyond the ‘reasonable restrictions’ on free speech that the Constitution allows.”
Why is this story recalled now? That is because of how some of our Congress governments behave in their respective states. The Times of India ( September11) said the arrest of Trivedi “contravenes the Indian citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression” and that “the new political insecurity has recast what was considered a perfectly respectable profession – sketching cartoons – as inherently subversive.” Therefore said the paper “It’s time to abolish such laws that circumscribe Indian citizens’ democratic right.”
As Trivedi case shows, the paper further said, “the sedition law…. deserves swift elimination from our statute books.” Deccan Herald ( September 12) said “Trivedi’s arrest on charges of sedition is absurd and appalling” that it is “the latest in a string of absurd instances involving misapplication and excessive use of the sedition law” and that “the government cannot absolve itself of responsibility.” Despite repeated evidence of its misuse, little has been done to repeal or even review this law, the paper charged.
The New Indian Express said the arrest by a government in Maharashtra “reflects an increasing tendency to invoke sedition laws against human rights activities, journalists and public intellectuals…” and reflect “a throw-back to the days of British rule. “It is time” said the paper, that the Central and State Governments, as well as subordinate Courts realise “that sedition means waging wars against the State (and) such a charge cannot be slapped against anyone who is only exposing the government’s wrong-doing or criticizing its policy.” But then, what else can one expect from a corrupt Congress government? First, the Mumbai police refused to drop the sedition charge on grounds that only the State can do it. The State at first seemed to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.
Writing in Business Line (September 14) BS Raghavan, a distinguished bureaucrat noted that the “Indian Raj has proved to be a worthy disciple of the British Raj” and that “if the British regime is indeed brought back, it will miss nothing” and that “it can, in fact, pick up the thread exactly from where it had left”, sarcasm that the Congress government in Maharashtra can hardly be expected to understand. The government finally learnt its lesson and informed the Bombay High Court that it has decided to drop the sedition charge which was about time. But the media itself is increasingly coming under the scanner, just as are governments. Fewer and fewer newspapers – or, for that matter, TV channels – are trusted for fair coverage of news. Forget the Zee TV incident.
The Hindu recently (December 8) quoted an “English language newspaper” of charging the Chattisgarh government with paying some amounts to TV channels for favourable coverage of news. We have now come to a point where people no longer trust the media – print or TV – for what is covered. If the news published is favourable to a government would that have been a result of pre-payment? Again, if the news published is critical of a government, could that have been paid for by the Opposition? No one knows and no one can tell. One hears of instances of newspapers publishing stories of a certain kind “out of frustration” against a government, that had declined to buy advertisement space. Delivering the prestigious James Cameron Memorial Lecture at City London University, former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, N Ram has been quoted as saying “how crass commercialisation was eroding basic media ethics and values with advertisements masquerading as news (the so-called ‘advertorials’) and ‘infotainment pushing out serious news and analysis”.
“Critics”, Ram has been quoted as saying, “point out that Indian journalism is facing increasing pressure from advertisers marketing personnel, corporate managers and even senior journalists to present and prioritise ‘feel good’ factors – rather than highlight the reality of mass deprivations and what to do about them.” The question arises: Are political parties, as elections get closer, going on a corruption spree, for example to damn Narendra Modi? Money, apparently, is no problem.
According to The Free Press Journal (December 3) “ten main political parties of the country had a whopping Rs 2,490 crore of tax-exempted income in the last five years” of which the ruling Congress and the main Opposition party have cornered more than 80 per cent. The Congress, apparently, has a tax-exempted income to the tune of Rs 1,385.36 crore, more than double of the BJP which recorded a tax exempted income only of Rs 682 crore between 2007 and 2012. That much money can be conveniently spent without the need to inform the Income Tax Department. In addition to the known amount how much black money have political parties stashed?
Writing in The Radical Humanist (December 2012) Retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Rajinder Sachar notes “that maximum corruption is done by close friends and relatives of politicians because of their closeness to the power that be.” A more detailed study on this issue would have been very much in order. It is a picture of a country slowly going down the drain, drenched in dirt and smelling to high heavens. God save India.