The Defamation Bill passed by the lower house of the Indian Parliament is, for all intents and purposes, a retrogressive measure designed to throttle freedom of press. It is symptomatic of the lust for unbridled power that ambitious maniacs strive to hold over all that they survey. Adoption of such an obnoxious bill betrays a cynical contempt for democratic institutions and processes. Forty years of dynastic rule has so perverted Rajiv Gandhi’s psychology that he wants constitution to reflect nothing but his own will. He is increasingly acting like a Tudor despot or a Mughal autocrat, and would like to say, “Off with his head” simply because the structure of someone’s nose or chin is not to his liking.
The bill is the product of this sick mentality. It is unacceptable as it is repugnant to the spirit of democracy. The press and the opposition parties have done well in organizing a country wide strike to protest against its implementation. The government must be compelled to withdraw it and the sinister bid to kill investigative reporting must be aborted at the embryonic stage only.
Rajiv Gandhi has not been able to digest the reports that exposed huge pay offs received by the important functionaries of his government in major arms deals and the suggestions of his own involvement in these shady deals through Hinduja and Bachchan brothers. The reports cast a disturbing shadow on his “Mr. Clean” image and provided enough propaganda arsenal to his former Finance Minister, Mr. Y.P Singh that Congress (I) had to face humiliating reverses in the parliamentary byelections. The clean chit that Gandhi manipulated through the Joint Parliamentary Committee failed to cut much ice with the electorate. Hence the bill.
To some extent the press has to blame itself for this predicament because it has been virtually playing the role of either a spectator or a supporter of the repressive measures adopted against the Sikhs. Nothing beyond a passing murmur was heard when Sikhs were divested of their fundamental right to life and liberty. This unwise acquiescence encouraged Gandhi to extend his stranglehold beyond the Punjab borders. The 59th amendment was introduced as an experiment and it paved the way for enacting other totalitarian measures. Gandhi’s motive is to smother all dissent and assume emergency powers without actually declaring a state of emergency so that a deceptive facade of democracy is maintained to hoodwink the free world. The Sikh Lawyers Association and the Punjab ‘Haman Rights Organisation had given a timely warning that the 59th amendment was only a tip of the emerging fascist iceberg but their warnings went largely unheeded. Defamation bill is only a logical off shoot of the 59th amendment and in due course it will be followed by a still more stringent legislation.
To arrest this dictatorial trend, it will not be enough to demand scrapping of the defamation bill alone. A determined bid is absolutely imperative to get all the draconian laws repealed. Efforts should also be made to restore judiciary to its normal health so as to generate a climate in which the oppressed ones could look up to it with confidence for redress.
Some editors have vowed to fight the bill in the legislature, in the press and in the courts, They have taken up the cudgels because they know that they would, in all probability, be its first victims. They have a noble mission but to develop the charisma of moral and principled crusaders, they must discard their communal prejudices and stop acting as spectators when the rights of the minorities are summarily usurped. Even bitter critics of Gandhi suddenly change their tune and extend support to him when it comes to persecuting the Sikhs. It is a matter for a thousand pities that not a single journalist or an opposition leader came out in a forthright manner to condemn the killing of Sikh youths through specially recruited “killer squads” of criminals. The journalists in India need to first cure their myopic perceptions if they want freedom of press and wish to function as the fourth Estate of democracy.
Article extracted from this publication >> September 9, 1988