Skip to main content

The new ‘Emergency': A grip that throttles the essence of Indian democracy

Prashant Kanojia
By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
The country will never forget that infamous night of June 25/26, 1975, when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had a state of emergency declared all over the country. During that dark chapter of the country’s history which lasted for a 21-month period till March 21, 1977, civil liberties were suspended, freedom of speech and expression was totally muzzled, political opponents of the Government and those who protested the emergency were imprisoned and human rights violations by those in power were the order of the day!
The most obvious response for the people of India was to say “never again!” and to ensure that those dark days would never visit the country again!
Sadly, that is not the case today! Forty-plus years later we live in a new ‘emergency’ in India! In a brilliant and hard-hitting expose on the role of the media in the recently concluded general elections, Krishna Prasad, a former Editor-in-Chief, "Outlook", and former member of the Press Council of India, writes:
“When the media’s darkest days -- the censorship under Indira Gandhi’s 21 months of Emergency -- are invoked, LK Advani’s quote that the press crawled when asked to bend is airily recalled. But at least the media of the time was adhering to a formal order which had a start date and an end date. In the 21st century, it didn’t take a presidential order for the ‘feral beasts’ to suspend their instincts, to look the other way, to stoke majoritarian fires, to fearlessly question not the ruling party but the Opposition, and usher in Modi 2.0”.
The hard fact is that freedom of speech and expression is throttled as never before. One only has to switch on some of the so-called ‘mainstream’ channels or glance at the headlines of some dailies, to realise how biased they are and how afraid they are to focus on news which are truthful and objective.
Prasad blatantly states how media has abdicated their core responsibilities:
“Notwithstanding Modi’s advertised disdain for journalists, making the media forget their core tasks -- to witness, to verify, to investigate, and to make sense, in the words of the British media scholar George Brock -- was always a vital weapon in the manufacture of consent for the ‘Gujarat Model’. Despite early failures as Chief Minister, Modi deftly achieved this goal. Established media houses were tamed by patronising their competitors. Some pesky editors were reined in or eased out by intimidating owners. Advertisements were turned off and on to let the bottom line send signals to managers”.
So today if some media personnel have the audacity to witness, to verify, to investigate, and to make sense -- the writing on the wall is clear! The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has recently (June 15) barred NDTV Ltd.’s three key promoters -- Prannoy Roy, Radhika Roy and their holding firm-from the capital market for two years! No guessing why!
Radhika, Pannay Roy
On June 8, Prashant Kanojia, a freelance journalist, was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police in Delhi for a tweet that had "objectionable comments" on Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Kanojia, was picked up from his home in Delhi after a complaint by a police officer in Lucknow, alleging he tried to "malign" Adityanath's.
Kanojia’s wife Jagisha Arora challenged his arrest in a petition to the Supreme Court. Ordering his immediate release on bail the Supreme court bench said that it disapproves the deprivation of right to liberty by the state: “A citizen’s right to liberty is sacrosanct and non-negotiable. It is a fundamental right granted under the Constitution and can’t be infringed upon by the state”.
Whilst the prompt intervention and decision by the Supreme Court needs to be applauded, there has been a wave of protests on social media on the way freedom of speech and expression are being throttled in the country.
The Editors' Guild of India condemned the arrest of Kanojia and the editor and head of a NOIDA-based television channel, Nation Live, Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla, saying, “The police action is high-handed, arbitrary and amounts to an authoritarian misuse of laws. The Guild sees it as an effort to intimidate the press, and stifle freedom of expression… a brazen misuse of law...”
On June 11, a journalist, who was covering a train derailment, in western Uttar Pradesh's Shamli was beaten up on camera by a group of GRP personnel. The group was seen repeatedly slapping and thrashing the journalist while he tries to reason with them (the video has gone viral).
According to ANI, the journalist associated with a news channel, said, "They were in plain clothes. One hit my camera and it fell down. When I picked it up, they hit and abused me. I was locked up, stripped and they urinated in my mouth.”
On June 12, an eight-member team of the Pune police raided the Ranchi residence of Jesuit Father Stan Swamy. It was the second such raid on the 83-year-old’s house since August 2018. Fr Swamy, a great upholder of the rights of Adivasis, is an ‘accused’ in the Bhima Koregaon/Elgaar Parishad case in which police have so far booked 23 people, including prominent rights activists and intellectuals.
The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha condemned the raids on Stan Swamy and arrests of other human rights activists saying, “the central government and media houses close to the BJP claim that the human rights activists were part of a Maoist conspiracy related to the Bhima-Koregaon incident. This concocted story seems to be part of a larger propaganda, based on terms like “urban Naxals”, aimed at stifling any criticism of the government.
Stan Swamy
The raids and arrests are part of the government’s growing attempts to stifle dissent and intimidate those who are fighting for justice. Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha demands an immediate end to the raids, dropping of all false charges against human rights activists across the country and release of those who are arrested. These harassments are politically motivated and wholly unjustified”.
The throttling of ‘freedom of speech and expression’ has been happening with frightening regularity in India -- particularly in the last five years! Media personnel, academics, intellectuals and others who stand up for justice, transparency and truth and have had the courage to voice these non-negotiables, have had to pay a heavy price; they have been hounded and harassed, arrested and tortured and some even killed! 
A few months ago, when ‘Reporters Without Borders’ released its annual global press freedom index, India was ranked a measly 140 out of 180 countries. A pathetic performance from the world’s largest democracy!
The grip that throttles the essence of Indian democracy, must be released. Bertolt Brecht, the German poet and fierce critic of the Nazi regime, provides a cue
"In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.
"
It is time now for those who cherish the freedom of speech and expression, to wake from their slumber and their inability or fear to act! But do we have the courage to halt the new ‘emergency’ being foisted on the nation?
---
*Human rights and peace activist, writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Vadodara violence: Fine Arts Faculty alumni raise fingers at Varsity's political appointee

Hasmukh Vaghela with PM Counterview Desk  In a statement, alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FoFA), Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, Gujarat, referring to the “violence” by right-wing groups for displaying “objectionable” paintings that “hurt religious sentiments” at the one of India’s top fine arts institute May 5, have taken strong exception to “the assault and rustication” of one of the students, and lack of action taken against those who “violated” the institution and committed the act. Floated as an online petition seeking wider support, the FoFA alumni, in their statement, addressed to the vice chancellor, MSU, said, there should be “thorough” investigation in the whole incident and “immediate action” should be taken against syndicate member Hasmukh Vaghela, MSU, who sparked the assault, and “other co-conspirators” for breaching “university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight”. While the alumni statement doesn't say so, Vaghela

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They