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As Congress talks about Press Freedom, here is the party’s track record, and it’s just an indicative list

Since the times of Jawaharlal Nehru to the present Sonia Gandhi's era, the Congress party has been highly intolerant when it comes to accepting criticism from the press.

From threatening the press during Nehru’s rule and co-oping it during the times of Indira Gandhi to intimidating and bullying in the present Sonia Gandhi’s era – the Congress party, the epitome of liberal values of India, has come one full circle.

On the occasion of Press Freedom Day, the Congress party, ironically, took to social media to blame BJP claiming that it stiffed free voice on the country. “To all the journalists we would say, Daro Mat,” the Congress tweeted.

The Congress party lamenting over lack of freedom for the press to express their opinion in the country is just paradoxical. The audacity of the Congress party to take up the cause for press freedom at a time when the party itself is hounding journalists for speaking against them comes as a shocker.

Since the times of Jawaharlal Nehru to the present Sonia Gandhi’s era, the Congress party has been highly intolerant when it comes to accepting criticism from the press. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has left no room for dissent and has acted strictly against the press whenever they have raised fingers against their misdeeds.

Here is a list of violation of press freedom committed by the Congress party:

  • All began when India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to move the 1st amendment to the Indian constitution in 1951, which as per clause 2 of article 19, imposed “reasonable restrictions” on free speech on grounds like – in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court or in relation to incitement of an offence. 
  • The then Prime Minister Nehru had justified curbing press freedom through his draconian Press (Objectionable Matter) Act, 1951.
  • This lack of freedom of expression was also visible when poet and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri was arrested and spent a year in jail for writing a poem critical Nehru.
  • During Nehru’s rule in 1951, the Chief Commissioner of Delhi passed an order against the Organizer, the mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, under the East Punjab Public Safety Act, directing the newspaper to submit for scrutiny before publication all articles, news, cartoons, analyses and pictures relating to communal issues or Pakistan for printing inflammatory materials with respect to the partition.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru allegedly got a Times of India column written by civil servant AD Gorwala, who wrote under the name ‘Vivek’, discontinued as it was too critical of him.
  • The Congress government under Nehru banned the magazine Cross Roads. Later, the Supreme Court overturned the ban imposed on the magazine but Nehru bypassed the SC judgement through First Amendment act.
  • The Indira Gandhi government after imposing Emergency in 1975 imposed censorship of the press during that period.
  • In 1980, the Congress government had arrested editors Ajay Mitra and Guru Sharan Singh of Singhbhum Ekta and Samata respectively.
  • According to Professor Anand Ranganathan, Congress Chief Minister of Bihar had burnt copies of the magazine ‘Sunday’ because it published stories on him and his family’s misdeeds.
  • During the pre-Emergency period, the editors were made to face the wrath of the Indira Gandhi government. In West Bengal, the Congress loyalists had burnt 3,000 copies of Darpan, Bangladesh and Sathya Yugi as it was critical to the government.
  • In 1972, the editors of Renaissance, Jantar Mukh and Frontier were told to stop publication by the Congress loyalists or face physical liquidation.
  • Hindustan Times editor BG Varghese was sacked by the publication after he had written critically against Sanjay Gandhi and his pet project Maruti.
  • In 1982, under a Congress government, Bihar Press Bill of 1982 was introduced by the then Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra. The bill had given the state government the authority to restrict publishing of ‘grossly indecent’, ‘scurrilous matter’ or one that was ‘intended for blackmail’. Journalists violating the bill could land in jail for two years for the first offence. 
  • In 1975, just before Indira Gandhi had imposed the emergency, the then West Bengal Chief Minister Siddartha Shankar Ray was advised by Congress leader Om Mehta to cut the electricity supply to newspaper offices so that the critical news of emergency being posed did not reach the masses.
  • The Congress government led by Indira Gandhi had reduced advertising on newspapers that were critical of its policies.
  • To control the flow of information, the government had announced the merger of the Press Trust of India (PTI) and the United News of India (UNI). Moreover, it had also merged the Samachar Bharti and Hindusthan Samachar which published news in Hindi.
  • The government used intimidatory measures such as eviction from government houses and shutting down media houses, against journalists and publishers. The Indira Gandhi-led government also implemented the Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Act that limited the reach of media to the audience due to lesser prints.
  • Such regulations against freedom of expression by the Congress have also been seen in this millennium. In 2012 the UPA government blocked access to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and also blocked access to an anti-Islam film.
  • Kapil Sibal the former IT minister was also seen openly calling for a ban on “hateful content” generating on websites.
  • In 2018, the Congress-JDS government in Karnataka had arrested Santhosh Thammayya, a journalist with paper Hosa Digantha on 13th November 2018 around midnight for making an anti-Tipu speech. The Karnataka police had arrested Santosh after he spoke critically against Tipu Sultan.
  • On April 23, 2020, Republic TV Chief Arnab Goswami was attacked by the Congress party workers after he had questioned Congress President Sonia Gandhi over her silence on the Palghar lynching case. On April 27, Arnab Goswami was interrogated for over 12 hours by Mumbai Police at NM Joshi Marg Police station in Mumbai. He was questioned after the Congress party filed more than 150 FIRs against him in various states of the country. 

The chain of dictatorial tendencies which started ever since Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of the country has continued to flourish in the party’s genes even after seven decades. Perhaps, the time has come for people to realize that the Congress party being some apostle of free speech is an overstatement, if not pure propaganda.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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