Kerala`s messed-up freedom of speech

Sep 26, 2022

Authoritarian mindset and control on the Press

Rulers with the authoritarian mindset and authoritarians themselves come and go. They censor free-Press and anoint their spectres as the ambassadors of the Press to cover up their scandals. Long after the authoritarians vacate their seats, the civilization of the free speech stays alive to be the central pillars of the democracy. The passage of the ordinance in Kerala that was supposed to give the constabulary an extra power and driving the same into a dustbin within hours, shows an aborted attempt of an authoritarian mindset of the Marxist leader. The apostles of freedom of expression and cardinals of free Press were misled by the evasive Chief Minister of Kerala.

It is virtual freedom at midnight. No joke, the Press in India is seemingly given the freedom to work only at midnight. By the daybreak, the journalists fall asleep, I have been told by one of my media friends. But for the rest of the day with their eyes wide open do they really fetch enough light on some secrecy that they may know? I doubt. A loud cry for freedom of Press has always been thick in the air.

Some may not look at what they don’t want. Some may look at what shouldn’t be looked at. And some may be forbidden from taking a look at truths. These diversities happen because the Press is both legendarily independent and notoriously dependent.

India is called a matured democracy. The Press, known as the Fourth Estate of the realms, is one of the central pillars of democracy, without which democracy can stand only on a lame foot. Often it was seen, democratically elected governments of the world’s largest democracy tried to either tame the Press or control its freedom.

When a democratically elected leader begins to feel himself or herself becoming more powerful, an authoritarian feeling begins to conquer the incumbent. Democracy is only a process for such leaders to rise to power like the dictators who used other processes to be in the office of power. Whatever be the process, the ultimate goal was to acquire power, which both classes do under different processes. After acquiring power, the next aim was to cut future threats against their authority, especially when their shows became unimpressive.

The Press never stops rolling. With its legible freedom, it raises alarms and reels out dirty stories of power circles. If the circle is rotten, the Press releases stinking stories that may threaten the authoritarian power. Putting a lid on the mouth of the Press is the way to seal the leaking stink and to stay on power. We know the stories of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and many notorious African and Asian names. All of them had censored the Press and tried both successfully and unsuccessfully to choke the public voice. The progenies of the democratic system with authoritarian DNA, in their undeclared goal of power concentration in hands and for chopping all parallel power centres, also tried. In India, we have seen this successfully once and the other times through tactical attempts, which had to undergo a self-abortion after public outcry supported by the Press.

The two living generations haven’t yet forgotten India’s days of the so-called Emergency, which was worse than Lord Lytton’s “Gagging Act”. Before the break of the day on 26th June 1975, declaration of Emergency accompanied censorship on the Press. That was to protect her from the prospects of she being unseated and fear of subsequent loss of power. More than anything else, that showed a dictatorial mentality of a leader with the legacy of democracy. Journalists were jailed for preventing them from writing stories. That was done to ensure power concentration in the hands of Indira Gandhi. The notorious action had its repercussion. Seeing the consequences, no other successors of Indira Gandhi tried the method openly, though some of the successors wanted to choke rebel voices from the Press.

Rajiv Gandhi also did it after stories of Bofors scandal had begun to occupy lead positions of broadsheets. Rajiv Gandhi, who had the privilege of being the winner of the highest number of seats in India’s poll history, had introduced a defamation bill to curb what he called criminal imputation and scurrilous writing in the aftermath of a scandal. That had terribly disturbed the Indian Press.

Narendra Modi, the first Prime Minister with a full mandate after Rajiv Gandhi also tried to curb the freedom of the Press, but differently. The Modi government tried to control the freedom of the Press through issuing guidelines by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Like Rajiv Gandhi had withdrawn in 1988, Modi too had done it in 2018.

The flame of the ordinance that would have given the Police Act an additional power through 118-A in Kerala is not yet fully blown out. That was a notorious action, either as a reflection of the Chief Minister’s foolishly adamant authoritarian bend of mind or a brilliantly played game to test the response of the Governor with whom he has been at loggerheads.

The Governor, one of the top constitutional State authorities of India, signed the ordinance, but went down to dustbin within 24 hours, unlike the defamation bill of Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 and IB Ministry guidelines of Narendra Modi in 2018, which had a life of at least some weeks. The ordinance passed and dropped by the Kerala State government indicated how deeply the Chief Minister of the State hates the freedom of the social media and the Press.

Indian Communists, who used to draw their roots from the concept of freedom and always talk about socialism, federalism, etc, have nothing to say about Kerala’s one day ordinance. The Marxist leaders trapped in various scandals used the ordinance as a facade to defend the public bombshells. Their talks about these political jargons go into smoke when they capture the power. Then they show up the style of Hitler and Mussolini hidden in them.

Throughout history, ruthless dictators and nasty authoritarian rulers used to hate the independent Press. While the brought-out and hired Press kept changing the goalposts, independent Press maintained its position with indelible freedom and free speech, which is indeed the most fundamental of all human rights. The plot of controlling the Press by bribing the minds of journalists and infiltration of the henchmen of the rulers inside the inner circle of the Press may have changed the colours. Nonetheless, long live the mighty strength of the public voice, ultimately that is the legendary Press that stands up to draw freedom at midday in the sunlight.