Follow Us:

Why freedom must survive

Kuldip Nayar |

I vainly search for my favourite television anchors like Karan Thapar and Barkha Dutt. I am told that they have been taken off.

Who has done this is a matter of conjecture. Some say that it is the pressure of the Narendra Modi government while a few others lament that it was the doing of the owners of the channel. Whoever has done it has acted as the censor.

What surprises me is the absence of protests. In my time, there would be noise or meetings to point out that the press has been muzzled or that critics have been silenced.

Of course, it was a different story when the emergency was imposed, but before that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would not dare move against the press. She would look for supporters – and there were quite a few – but the number of critics was also large. I recall that after imposing censorship in 1975-77, she triumphantly said that not a dog had barked! This hurt me as much as other journalists.

We gathered at the Press Club – the number was 103 – and passed a resolution to criticize censorship. Information Minister V.C. Shukla, who knew me well, rang up to warn that “each one of you” would be put behind bars. This actually happened and I, too, was detained for three months.

That period surfaced once again before my eyes when Taslima Nasreen remarked the other day that “very few opposition voices are heard in the world’s largest democracy.”

She had been confined to Aurangabad after leaving Kolkata. She is from Bangladesh and the fundamentalists there drove her out because she wrote the book, Lajja (Shame), narrating the plight of Hindu women at the hands of fundamentalists in her country.

It is a slur on Indian democracy that she cannot live in a city of her choosing. I am told that a few days ago she left for Aurangabad but was sent back. I do not want to dwell any further on this incident but what I have in mind is the danger to our democracy.

An emergency-like situation can prevail without actually being imposed.

The RSS has been successful in removing the liberal heads of various educational institutions. I followed the case of Nehru Memorial Centre and found to my horror the disappearance of familiar liberal people. Still the case of Taslima Nasreen is there, unexplained.

This looks like the fatwa against Salman Rushdie by Iran for having written the book, Satanic Verses, which raised questions against Islam. The Indian nation has to be vigilant all the time because it has gone through a period of 19 months of censorship.

The press overdid it because as BJP leader, L.K. Advani, said: "You were asked to bend but began to crawl." To a large extent, Advani was right. Journalists were afraid of being arraigned by the Indira Gandhi government. Today, it is the other way round.

The press has been saffronised and except the odd voices in print and electronic media, it is at the beck and call of the people in power. There is very little difference between then and now because survival is the uppermost in the minds of newspapers or television channel owners and journalists.

NDTV is under pressure because its owner Pronnoy Roy had taken a loan. But the CBI registered a case against RRPR Holding Private Limited, Pranoy Roy, his wife Radhika and unidentified officials of ICICI Bank of criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption.

The government may find some ways to harass Karan Thapar and Barkha Dutt because of their long association with television. They had been the most vociferous anchors taking up the cause of aggrieved people. Obviously, it was not to the liking of the establishment.

The pressure must have been enormous on the channels to drop both. How do we bring back the environment of freedom?

That is the question facing the nation today. Journalists are afraid to speak up lest they should annoy the owners. What happened during the Emergency should not happen now.

Then the Press had failed miserably.

(The writer is a noted journalist, columnist and commentator)