National Interest, party interest & press freedom

The Official Secrets Act of 1923 was an abominable piece of legislation enacted by the British colonial government to muzzle the nationalist press which was then very much a part of the country’s freedom movement. It should have been removed from the statute book immediately after independence. That it was not, shows that the ‘nationalist’ government that came to power was also in favour of retaining the law to keep a critical Press under the Damocles’ sword of OSA. Today, the same law is being sought to be used by the BJP Government against those newspapers which are bringing to light inconvenient facts about the Rafale deal that the Government would very much like to keep back from the people on the specious plea of protecting “national interest”.
National interest, in fact, means the interest of the ruling party of the day. But for the publication of some embarrassing reports concerning some aspects of the Rafale deal, the people would have never known that a section of high officials objected to the concluding of a new deal by Prime Minister Modi entirely on his own, ignoring standard procedures of defence acquisition. The ferreting out and publication of these inconvenient pieces of news by The Hindu has provoked the government to threatening the newspaper with action under the Official Secrets Act. This has been roundly condemned by the entire community of mediapersons and their organizations.
In course of the hearing in the Supreme Court, Attorney-General K. K. Venugopal made a startling disclosure that some sensitive files relating to the Rafale deal had been “stolen from the Ministry of Defence”. This led to a public outrage. Facing the flak, the Government has again resiled from its position.  The Attorney General made a volte face in the apex court on Friday and took the position that the Rafale files were not “stolen” from the Ministry of Defence. The petitioners (meaning Prashant Bhusan and Aurn Shourie who moved the review petition) had used photocopies of the original documents which the Government holds are secret. This has led to more embarrassment and loss of face for the Centre because when the A-G claimed the files had been “stolen”, he was making a false statement in the apex court of the country.
All this flip-flop will only reinforce the suspicion that all was not above board in the Rafale deal. The truth is bound to come out, if not during the remaining days of the present Government then by the next one that will be formed after the elections.

Monday, 11 March, 2019