NDTV Ban not the 1st, nor Likely to be the Last Attack on Press Freedom: Tracking the Modi Regime

Even as we celebrated 'resistance' and ‘democracy’ in ensuring the ban on NDTV ‘was put on hold’ (the Modi regime made this announcement  on November 7 after the channel had gone to court and there had been a vociferous outcry on the ban), we Indians have remained mealy-mouthed and silent on the 65 day old ban on Kashmir Reader, a newspaper published from the conflict-ridden Valley.

Media Ban

“ If the government’s attack on NDTV was ‘fascism’ what explains the ban in Kashmir Reader, demanded critics of mainstream India’s hypocritical attitude towards the suppression of freedoms there. Though the Editor’s Guild had also condemned this media gag, senior Journalist Pervez Khurram still remains under detention despite international voices being raised to demand his freedom. The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society through advocate Pevez Imroze has on November 9 released a People’s Dossier on Khurram Pervez, “Today, the 55th day of Khurram Parvez’s unlawful detention, marks the 124th day of continued curfew, restrictions and widespread and systematic State violence against the people of Jammu and Kashmir since 8 July 2016

Public memory remains short and is made flimsier still with a media unwilling to string together similar and sinister chains of events. Have these recent moves been the only time that Modi Raj has impinged on Press Freedom? Before and after he assumed charge as prime minister, as his campaign blazed a trail across the country, step by step independent voices were systematically silenced. Across the length and breadth of India.

Before and after May 2014 that marked Modi's dramatic win in the elections, to occupy the prime minister’s chair, we saw serious impingements on media and freedoms of expression and thought. Even before that for nearly 13 years as chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat –when he oversaw a pogrom against the minorities of tragic proportions–some articles simply did not make it into the final editions of the newspapers even as individual journalists toiled bravely on. A sinister effort at manufacturing consent and support had been systematically afoot . In 2002, months after the pogromatic killings, the Editor’s Guild chronicled media manipulation even as mass crimes were being committed in 2002.

Some examples of a clear-cut, powerful and moneyed effort to manufacture consent and stifle critical comments in the media since May 2014 need recalling.

On or around December 4, 2013, an article critical of Modi’s serial blunders authored by Dheeraj Tiwari was published online on Economic Times website and later, strangely, deleted. The article was published sometime around December 4, 2013. Titled Is Modi Our Palin? by Dheeraj Tiwari, the article was available when I downloaded it at which leads to an error page right now. The above link can be confirmed as it also appeared on rediff.com. Here are excerpts of what the author said when he compared Narendra Modi to Sarah Palin,

When Palin started her campaign, commentators gave the ‘hockey mom’ a real chance. After all, she was folksy, which America loves, good looking and a would-be grandmother to boot. The concoction was deadly and Republicans lapped it up. A war veteran, John McCain as the head and a mommy as his aide fell in line with the American dream.
 Modi’s team has also created a similar aura around him. Decisive, incorruptible and earthy – are the characters which largely define Modi’s campaign. If BJP is to be believed, Modi is the underdog of Indian politics, a ‘chaiwala’ who through his sheer hard work has managed to rise in the political hierarchy. In his own words, he is not a ‘shehzada’ but a ‘sevak.’
 Till this point, the script runs perfect. But the American dream crumpled when the mommy started getting her facts wrong. Palin was ridiculed when she claimed to have an insight into American foreign policy because Russia is the next door neighbour to her state of Alaska.
 Back home, Namo replicated that feat in his Independence Day speech at Bhuj. He almost took the same neighbourhood line as Palin and while lambasting Pakistan claimed that his voice reached Pakistan first and Delhi later. This came from the same man who some months ago had offered Sindh province in Pakistan, the ‘Gujarat model’ to overcome its power crisis.
 While Palin called Afghanistan a neighbouring country, Modi brought Taxila from Pakistan to Bihar. There is an uncanny resemblance between these two politicians in getting their facts wrong, again and again. Their supporters may term this as unpretentious behaviour.

After historical blunders such as calling Gandhi Mohanlal instead of Mohandas, and claiming that Nehru did not attend Patel’s funeral, Modi is now treading on more difficult terrain. In a Jodhpur rally, Modi claimed that he may not be as educated as the country’s finance minister but he knew that buying gold is not leading to inflation. His first lecture in economics may have got a thunderous applause in the rally but he might have lost the faith of voters who till then would have bought into his image as the deliverer of Gujarat’s vibrant economy.

 It is time that Modi should learn from the mistakes which Palin committed. After all he would not like to be remembered as Palin, who finally had to be told that there was no tradition of concession speeches by running mates, and that she would not be speaking. Not anymore.”  

Weeks later, a prominent news magazine, Open, saw significant changes. Manu Joseph its editor resigned when, on January 6, 2014, again, after months of speculation, PR Ramesh, a journalist considered close to general secretary of the BJP Arun Jaitley (now India’s finance minister in the Modi government), joined the magazine as managing editor.

Hartosh Bal, a journalist of repute who was sacked by the same magazine in November 2013, wrote, “Manu Joseph, my former boss at Open Magazine, announced yesterday that he had quit the magazine. While he did not state his reasons, they are evident to all those who have been associated with the magazine. I was sacked from the magazine in November, and while Manu had opposed the decision he had let matters rest at that. But in the three years we had worked together we had managed to put together a reasonable body of stories, including most importantly, the Radia Tapes. This became possible, in great measure, because Manu allowed a considerable degree of independence to those working for the magazine.”

Days before that, on January 7, 2014, the day before yesterday, an innocuous comment by advocate Patrawala on the Times of India website was removed as “offensive” . The comment made by a lawyer from Modi’s home state simply said, “Modi has brought the Indian democracy to the level of Hall Mark of corruption, be it the Constitution or rule of law. System be it legislature, executive or judiciary have utterly failed to curb the historical menace of Modi culminating into the dire frustration and helplessness of the common man. “ The Times of India found this so “dangerous” as to even delete it from the section on the website.

A day later and four months before he captured power, on January 8, 2014, SUN TV sacked a senior journalist and political analyst from his job. Veerapandian for the last 17 years, succumbing to pressure, once again from the political party led by Modi, the BJP. Activists have alleged that Sun TV had taken the decision to stop the program following a letter from the BJP’s state office secretary Sarvothaman to its MD on December 23, 2013, Modi critic loses job in Sun TV: Activists The talk show can be viewed at

The attempted ban on NDTV India that has been put on ‘hold’ is clearly not the first nor will it be possibily be the last time that this regime openly stifles free expression. Instances of criminal cases against critical comments by citizens and users of facebook and twitter even as abusive trolls are given free reign, abound. With media memory being short and selective and media ownership dominated by powerful corporates, journalism in India  has never faced a more challenging time.



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