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Tactical retreat

Editorial |

A face-saver has been found by the Rajasthan government in referring its highly controversial legislative move ~ dubbed a gag order by organisations of the Press ~ to a select committee of the Assembly.

The contention that after due deliberation with MLAs and experts a comprehensive Bill would be formulated to “protect” bureaucrats, judges etc from frivolous attack in the public domain carries little weight. If such a balance had been sought there would have been little need to rush through with an ordinance.

A degree of mala fide is also evident in the argument that the ordinance will remain in effect for 42 days after promulgation ~ parliamentary practice would be turned on its head if the provisions of the Bill replacing the ordinance were to be invoked even while they were being examined by the select committee. It might be an exaggeration to say that chief minister Vasundhara Raje did not know what hit her, but it is apparent that her government was taken aback by the strong, nationwide reaction to the gag order: the media lambasting the move, even interpreting it as further evidence of the intolerance which the BJP is accused of.

And the buzz is that the national leadership of the party took the view that some provisions of the legislation would not withstand judicial scrutiny ~ a number of petitions have been moved in court. This is not the first time in recent weeks that the BJP leadership has had to “back off” in the face of severe public reaction.

The campaign against the Taj Mahal has seen a U-turn with even the UP chief minister coming around to endorse one of the world’s most celebrated architectural marvels. And at the national level, after consistently ruling out any negotiations on Kashmir the Centre has appointed a Special Representative and given him a free hand.

It would appear that the national leadership of the BJP is opting to make the party more “acceptable” to the people as the next general election approaches ~ the strident line that had brought it to power is losing some of its allure and might not suffice for it to overcome the anti-incumbency factor that kicks in when re-election is sought.

Yet that fresh thinking has not trickled down to the state level where “muscle” continues to be flexed: though the BJP claims to be a disciplined party it has no dearth of loose-cannon that fire away. The Rajasthan move was flayed by the media, and the party is aware of the risk run when alienating itself from “the Press” ~ as Indira Gandhi had done in 1975-77 and which had also forced Rajiv and Chidambaram to junk their “defamation Bill”. Hence the convoluted strategem in Jaipur.