Millennium Post

Will Sushil Shinde please come clean?

Looks like the fourth estate is under attack from every quarter. If the former army chief V K Singh’s branding of media as a bunch of ‘presstitutes’ weren’t enough, the home minister now announces to his party cadres that he would like to ‘crush’ sections of the electronic media for their ‘smear campaign’ against the UPA government. Such rabble-rousing coming from Sushilkumar Shinde is hardly astonishing, yet this is not just another faux pas on the part of the loose cannon that the HM has proven himself to be. This is much more menacing, and his later clarification, saying that he meant sections of the ‘social media’ and not the press in general, does not in the least help clear the air of malevolence. In fact, this completely overlooks how threatened freedom of expression has become in this country and how the free speech debate has been duly hijacked by pivotal institutions like the government itself, which instead of being the guardian of civil liberties, has transmogrified into a draconian entity that stifles speech. Moreover, this technique of divide and rule to play off the various segments of the ever-expanding and sprawling media sector in India against each other, by segregating the erring netizens from the more formidable newspapers and newschannels, is nothing but an outsmarted attempt to save the sinking UPA. It is now out in the open that survey after survey, whether conducted by eminent television channels or by smaller, independent think-tanks and news analysis websites, has pointed out the fact that the UPA will not be returned to power. If anything, the Congress will get a drubbing so severe that it might as well be consigned to political wilderness for a years now, or be reduced to playing second fiddle to more robust parties in a ragtag alliance at the centre.

Evidently, the union cabinet has not come to terms with the bitter truth. Hence, the various lopsided endeavours to restore the lost credibility. Unfortunately, even in this face-saving exercise, UPA has only bungled and has tried to use regimental force to throttle free speech, thereby further alienating even the secular and liberal sections of the media, which is still opposed to the alternative in communal and hardline politics of the saffron camp. It’s not just Sushilkumar Shinde: almost every politician and other public figures are equally guilty of trivialising the media, particularly when the exposures don’t sit comfortably or directly contradict their carefully manicured social images. The grim truth is that whether it’s V K Malik or Sushil Shinde, or even the other daring Arvind Kejriwal, targeting the media has become a national pastime and is being ritually resorted to by politicians of all rank and file. There’s hardly a political figure in this country who’s seriously committed to the principle of free speech, and the issue only comes up when the leaders haggle over an issue or want to come across as holier than thou. Whether it’s the case of Wendy Doniger or A K Ramanujan, or independent researchers, it seems the easiest way to counter criticism is by airbrushing it.
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