Muzzling the Press

When a ruling party tries to muzzle the Press, it is a sure sign that it is losing public support. Each time a ruling party does it, it invites trouble for itself. Nevertheless, ruling parties never hesitate to resort to this measure time after time. One of the major causes of the defeat of the Congress party and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1977 general elections was her muzzling the Press during Emergency. But seldom does a ruling party take a lesson from the past when it seeks to continue in power when public support for its government is waning.
So it is little wonder that the BJP Government in Rajasthan headed by Vasundhara Raje should now try to provide legal immunity to protect the corrupt not only in the executive but also in the legislature and the judiciary. This is borne out by the hole and corner way in which it promulgated an Ordinance gagging the press on September 6 but kept it secret till it was presented to the State Legislature on October 23. The Ordinance says that no investigation can be ordered by the police under section 156 of the Criminal Procedure Act or by a magistrate under Section 190 against public servants and members of the judiciary without prior government sanction. Even if a specific allegation of corruption is made against them, the Press can neither report the fact nor even disclose the name of the person against whom charges of corruption have been made. Any reporter or news agency, print or electronic, breaking the law will be liable to undergo a prison term of two years. The BJP Government of Maharashtra has already passed a similar law but the Rajasthan law is more draconian.
The ordinance and its subsequent tabling in the State Assembly raised a storm of protest all over the country at this blatant attempt to provide legal immunity to the corrupt. In the face of it, the Vasundhara Raje Government has taken a step back and decided to send it to a Select Committee in which members of the Opposition parties will be included. However, if the BJP is intent on passing the Bill it can easily do so as it has an overwhelming majority of 163 in a House of 200. For the present the Bill has been put on the back burner. Whether it is eventually passed in the old form or amended according to the Select Committee report remains to be seen. But the intention is clear: to muzzle the press in face of dwindling public support.

Wednesday, 25 October, 2017