Sunday, 22 May, 2022
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Under Modi rule and economic crisis, media is still free to question — but only Congress

If the economic slowdown India is facing today were to happen under former PM Manmohan Singh, the media would have gone after him tooth and nail.

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There was time under the Congress government when the media could truly perform its function as a pillar of democracy. The press was free to expose and question the ruling party. And it often did. Under the Narendra Modi-led NDA government, the media is also free — but just to attack the Congress party.

Its autonomy is now locked in the same cage as that of the Reserve Bank of India, the Election Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation.

If the economic crisis India is facing today were to happen under former PM Manmohan Singh, the media would have gone after him tooth and nail.

But under the Modi government, anything can happen. And pass without enough scrutiny. Like the abrogation of Article 370 and the passing of the triple talaq bill. And that is why Indian democracy is now facing its most uncertain era.

Also read: Few anchors bravely questioned Modi’s Kashmir move – Arnab Goswami was not one of them

A responsible media

It is not as if the spectre of uncertainty is haunting India for the first time. There were periods of inexplicable chaos in the 1970s and the 1990s. But, at the time, most systems and institutions were in place and, by and large, had credibility. Let me give some examples to illustrate this.

For instance, the authority of the Reserve Bank of India was not questioned. The autonomy of the RBI and its monetary policies were taken for granted, although occasionally there was some criticism. The post of the Governor of the RBI was sacrosanct. The high courts and the Supreme Courts enjoyed respect and considerable anonymity.

The media too had visible freedom. The journalists protested publicly whenever they felt their freedom was being threatened by the state. For instance, in 1988, when the Rajiv Gandhi government rushed the defamation law through Lok Sabha, Indian newspapers and editors staged massive protests.

Aside from the dark episode of Emergency, there was autonomy. The nationwide railway strike in 1974 the Bhagalpur blindings in 1977, the 1981 ‘journalistic coup‘ of The Indian Express in the trafficking market were widely reported.

Even the cement quota scandal during A.R. Antulay’s chief ministership in 1980-81 and Gujarat CM Chimanbhai Patel’s irregularities were widely reported, without fear. Such stories exposed and challenged the government. Even the 2G spectrum scam or Coal scam during the UPA regime and massive mobilisation organised by ‘India against Corruption’ in 2011 were top stories in TV and print media at the time. The media could trail the state.

Ram Jethmalani to S. Gurumurthy to Arun Shourie — there were lawyers, economists and journalists questioning the state at every step through the media.

Also read: Narendra Modi interview no exception. Indian media rarely asks PMs tough questions

A promotional media

The media continues to attack the Congress even today, when they are not in power, for their past scams and present predicament. But it is the Modi government that enjoys unique protection — even promotion — from the media. The very credibility of the media and Indian journalism is at stake.

Today, all institutions seem to be acting on the will of the government — media, the judges, the RBI, the IB, the CBI and the NIA, the EC, National Statistics Bureau, the Enforcement Directorate and the University Grants Commission.

Today, despite the falling rupee, the flight of foreign capital, imminent collapse of the automobile industry, acute discomfort and frustration in the business community and the frightening scale of unemployment, the Modi government faces no major flak on economy. These stories get reported, but never become obstacles for the PM. Article 370, triple talaq, Ram Mandir and Uniform Civil Code are perceived as more serious and urgent.

Indeed, the impression given by media and other institutions is that though there are some glitches, by and large, everything is normal.

Also read: The weakening of India’s institutions under Modi was last seen during Indira’s time

Que sera sera

The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha passed the maximum number of bills in the very first session after the 2019elections. The electoral processes in the states, the stock markets, the cricket matches, PM’s frequent visits abroad—everything is going smoothly and there is nothing to worry. The PM’s image is shining even more after the daring that he and Amit Shah showed in scrapping Article 370.

What will happen in Kashmir, once the military command is withdrawn and curfew lifted? What is the future of the Congress party? Indeed, what is the role of the opposition parties now? What is the fate of the economy? Will there be war between India and Pakistan? Will China support Pakistan to the hilt? What will the US do? What about climate change? The decade 2020-2030 appears to be alarmingly uncertain.

The intellectuals, academics, journalists, artists, even industrialists are feeling anxious, concerned, even fearful. When John Kenneth Galbraith wrote The Age of Uncertainty in the early 1970s, the world around him was much more stable, compared to today’s eerie atmosphere. Today, even Galbraith would not have been able to predict Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin or Narendra Modi’s next move.

But he would have said:

“Que Sera, Sera,

whatever will be, will be.

The future is not ours to see,

Que Sera, Sera.”

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  1. It used to be Congress, but since Indiraji it has slowly but surely turning into Gandhi Ghulam party. Ketkar ia aloyal member of GGP for a number of years, What else you expect from him but gibberish. His outpouring in print and otherwise is nauseating. He is a learned man but I suspect he is fast becoming senile.

  2. Wait – was there no “slow down” during the MMS era ? Did India not stare at a massive twin deficit problem with both current and fiscal deficits skyrocketing ? Did India not see 4% GDP growth rates? Was inflation not at double digit levels ?

    I remember this quite vividly – yet I am being told that the “calamity” of today – where deficits are far lower, inflation is low and corruption is under the spotlight , with record Foreign cash reserves ?

    I will agree that the situation is not optimal in the economy – it may even be fairly said to be concerning. But I don’t think the media has hidden the job losses, the dampened demand appetite or the morass of risk aversion, rising NPAs and chain defaults.

  3. 1. Author of this article who is a Congress MP has no option but to defend his party and that is understandable. Let him continue to do what he wishes to do, but my advice to him is not to lose hope: if not in immediate future, over a period of time Congress & other non-BJP parties, who are part of UPA, will get a chance to enjoy power. Be patient till then. 2. I agree with view that Congress alone is not responsible for our country’s problems today. In this context, I wish to say that all the political parties have so far very cleverly managed to ensure that important reforms, be it election law reforms, administration reforms or legal reforms, are never considered for implementation. However, whether author likes it or not, fact is that for this state of affairs it is the Congress party, which has enjoyed power in the Centre for 33 years during last five decades, has to share a major part of blame. 3. All Congressmen may be ‘enjoying’ current economic slowdown. Is it not a fact that top Congress leaders have not shown any initiative so far to critically analyse reasons for economic slowdown and also make appropriate suggestions? 4. I believe not just the Congress party but all parties must come together to offer unconditional cooperation to NDA government for implementing measures required to be taken for revival of economy.5. In conclusion I wish to say that citizen-voters are wise enough to understand the Congress party’s plan and they are unlikely to vote for the Congress in near future.

  4. The frustration of SUCKERS after Rahul’s vanishing act made many to jump ship and join ruling dispensation in search of more juicy bamboos. The remaining , like Mr Ketkar, either due to loyalty ( force of habit) or lack of opportunity need to perform gymnastics like somersaults, U-Turns and many Tricks of the Tongue eg switching from Sucking to Licking..
    Who ever said it was easy to be a congressman?!?

  5. It is unbelievably stupid of Kumar Ketkar to write such article. Modi is being criticized day in and day out by anybody and yet, Kumar thinks that media is trampled by Modi. If media in UPA years was roasting Manmohan, it was for the right reasons as there were indeed corruption scandals. Now, there is only visceral Modi hatred and nothing else. In fact, Modi has a first corruption, scandal free government in the independent India!! Kumar’s list of questions towards the end of his article is bizarre…it ranges from Kashmir to Climate change!! And he concludes by saying Que Sera Sera…What is exactly Kumar talking about? I can pray to God grant Kumar complete peace of mind so that he stops writing such articles.

  6. Mr Ketkar – You just questioned Modi and you still say the media cannot question Modi. Make up your mind. I know you don’t like Modi but remember he was elected by the people in a free and fair election.

  7. I am seeing that there are so many here who still thinks that congress is savior for them. I know the thing called loyalty. It is so deeply engrained that one will be ready to cut their finger, injure oneself and do everything to show loyalty to their top brass. Most of the time, within Congress, whether they respect their country or not, they have to respect the first family of Congress. Such type of loyalty is restricted to only only family. There are good amount Congress presidents like Gopala Krishna Gokhale, Madanmohan Malviya, and many stall warts outside Nehru family in the beginning of century to Kamaraj and many others in the middle of the century and last decade of 20th century include PV Narasimha and Sitaram Kesari, they are not even mentioned anywhere as any contributors to Congress. Congress workers loyalty is only to Nehru, his daughter, his grandsons, his grand-daughter-in-law and his great grand son and great grand daughter and possibly in future Pidi. And there are people who still consider Nehru as a greatest statesman.

  8. Mr Ketkar – There is one stark ling difference between past and today – In past the economy was sucked by corrupt and media would highlight those corrupt decisions. Unfortunately for your brethren there is no sign of any corruption and false cases refuses to stick. Thus media does not get any story to report and most economists understand the passing phase of Indian economy which is in structural transition

  9. Yet there seem to be these articles about how the press is silent. If the media’s freedom was really being curtailed this ill informed article wouldnt exist.

    • That’s correct. Congi propaganda has reached Goebbelsian proportions.

      Press is not free but everywhere in media, nasty anti Modi rants. On a daily basis.

  10. This paid commentator never tires of supporting every step the defunct Congress takes. But the latest evidence of absolute and complete bankruptcy of any thought process in Congress (in re-appointing Sonia as the president!) does not bother him, and he goes on the usual moaning and groaning against the BJP. How biased and slavish can one get!

  11. Pressing the Mute button on the media is a double edged sword. It takes the heat off, on questioning the incumbent on several things, most important the economy. But it can also lead to a false sense of comfort, since the intermediation function between the rulers and the governed is weakened. The incentive to be on one’s toes, take corrective action to deal with growing problems is dulled. 2. Shri Yashwant Sinha has written on a column on the state of the economy, which is now visible from the Moon. He has quoted from a column he wrote two years ago, pointing to acute and widening distress. That act of prescience was dismissed by the person responsible for the economy as someone looking for a job at the age of eighty. Had remedial action been initiated in good time, things would have not reached a stage where the only medication that seems to be on offer is Dr Das’s cough syrup.

  12. Ketkar saab, the party democracy was visible yesterday. After a debate of 6 hours, none of the congress party members had guts to name anyone outside the dynasty. When Chiddu name Sonia, AK Antony opposed for the sake of it, put down by Scindia. This is the congress democracy and Rahul is talking as of they are saints.

  13. It’s ok ketkar Saab.You guys have had your share of the cream for so many years.Even MMS was spared to a great extent.So don’t be biased.Definitely,things will turn for good.If not,then time will take care of modi.

  14. Congress or BJP doesn’t make much difference to the economy as both follow nearly identical bunkum socialist economics.

  15. Being a congressman always required its members to be adept at gymnastics because making Somersaults, U-turns and many Tricks of the Tongue are required skills to be demonstrated from time to time.
    Suckers , at the sudden disappearance of PAPPU and his insistence at not to provide his loyal followers a second chance, were bewildered and began to show signs of withdrawal.
    Some switched affiliations hoping to discover new bamboos in the ruling dispensation.
    Due to recent developments, those remaining either because of loyalties or lack of viable options, urgently need to switch operating procedures from sucking to licking.
    This is just an interim measure !

  16. Rajiv Gandhi government conducted a Luftwaffe of raids on Indian Express. Several cases were filed against Ramnath Goenka. Gurumurthy was put in jail. Goenka was forced to fire Arun Shourie. Rajiv Gandhi almost destroyed Indian Express. Shekhar Gupta should know.
    When The Hindu published the Bofors documents pressure was put on the paper to discontinue the investigative reports by N Ram and Chitra Subramaniam. The then Editor G Kasturi buckled under the government pressure, and Ram had to go to Indian Express to publish his follow-up stories. Both Ram and Chitra are alive. Go and ask them.
    Manmohan Singh was such a weak and spine-less Prime Minister that he could not have gone after the media even if he wanted to. He had his hands full fending off the Sonia’s kitchen cabinet of intellectuals and the left leaders who nose-led Sonia.
    The author is entitled to drool over the Nehru dynasty and it’s sycophants. But the fact is that politicians of all hues want to muzzle media and they do it whenever they get the opportunity.
    Eternal vigilance is the only solution to save the independence of the media. But the scribes of the day are running after politicians. The exceptions have become rare.

  17. Even today, the media is controlled by the Left and the Congress ecosystem. Barring Republic, all other media are left-wing. Still the author says the media is biased.

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