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This editorial in The New York Times of June 7, 2017 expresses serious concern at Narendra Modi’s intolerance of Free Press:

 

Press freedom in India suffered a fresh blow on Monday when the country’s main investigative agency raided homes and offices connected to the founders of NDTV, India’s oldest television news station. The raids mark an alarming new level of intimidation of India’s news media under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The story is a bit tangled, but here’s the gist: The Central Bureau of Investigation says it conducted the raids because of a complaint that NDTV’s founders had caused “an alleged loss” to ICICI, a private bank, related to repayment of a loan. In 2009, ICICI said the note had been paid in full. Not really, the investigators said: A reduction in the interest rate had saddled the bank with a loss — and hence the raid.

That doesn’t wash. India’s large corporations regularly default on debt with nary a peep from authorities. In fact, even as India’s state-owned banks are holding bad debt of about $186 billion, Mr. Modi’s government has hesitated to go after big defaulters. But suddenly we have dramatic raids against the founders of an influential media company — years after a loan was settled to a private bank’s satisfaction. To Mr. Modi’s critics, the inescapable conclusion is that the raids were part of a “vendetta” against NDTV.

Since Mr. Modi took office in 2014, journalists have faced increasing pressures. They risk their careers — or lives — to report news that is critical of the government or delves into matters that powerful politicians and business interests do not want exposed. News outlets that run afoul of the government can lose access to officials. The temptation to self-censor has grown, and news reports are increasingly marked by a shrill nationalism that toes the government line.

Through all this, NDTV has remained defiant. Last year, its Hindi-language station was ordered off the air for a day as punishment for reporting on a sensitive attack on an air base, but it stood by its reporting, insisting that it was based on official briefings.

Praveen Swami, a reporter for The Indian Express newspaper, warned on Twitter that Monday’s raids were “a defining moment,” adding: “The last time this sort of thing happened was during the Emergency,” a reference to the strict censorship of 1975-77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency and ruled as an autocrat. Sadly, Mr. Swami’s warning is warranted. The Central Bureau of Investigation said on Tuesday that it “fully respects the freedom of press.” Even if that’s true, the question still outstanding is whether Mr. Modi does.

The first Naxalite presence in the Bastar region was noticed a quarter century ago. Chhattisgarh had not yet been carved out of Madhya Pradesh and Bastar was not yet divided into several districts. Bastar was the biggest district in the country, bigger than the State of Kerala in area, covered by thick forests and almost exclusively inhabited by tribals.

The BJP government of Sunderlal Patwa instituted a one-man inquiry committee headed by then Bastar Commissioner Sudeep Banerjee to find out the reasons behind illicit felling of trees in the forest lands of Bastar between April 1989 and May 15, 1990 and the emergence of Naxalism. The finding of the committee was that the Naxalism had grown out of the endless exploitation of the tribals by the police and forest department personnel and the tribals in the Bastar district had greater confidence in the Naxalites than in the government officials. The report gave credit to the Naxalites for generating new self-confidence among the tribals of Bastar district.

The Commissioner’s report said that a total of 81,877 trees were illicitly felled in Bastar district in 1989-90 while as many as 15,716 trees were illicitly felled between April 1 and May 15, 1990. The total number of trees illicitly felled during the period of inquiry thus came to 97,593.

‘The tribals have for ages been depending on the forests. The figures show that the forests have continuously been depleting and the laws enacted for management of forests have only been abridging the rights of the tribals over the forests. Though the tribals are the best friends of the forests even today, a feeling has been growing among them that the forest resources are being utilised by the administration or the non-tribals like traders and contractors. The tribals have been seeing the traders, contractors and government officials prosper by the forest resources while their own condition has been deteriorating’, the report pointed out.

The report said that the political parties had always adopted an equivocal attitude to the tribals’ act of ‘encroaching’ upon the forestland. Only the Naxalites had been openly supporting the tribals on this issue. The Commissioner emphasised that it would be wrong to blame the Naxalites for the encroachments on the forestland. The Naxalites had only adopted a “more realistic approach” to the prevailing social and economic situation. The report, of course, mentioned that a feeling had grown among the people because of the support of the Naxalites that the forest officers or the police could do no harm to them.

Around the same time, two female workers belonging to an NGO in Dhar district were declared as Naxalites by the District administration and ordered to leave the district, simply because they had told the villagers, employed in the plantation work, that they were being grossly underpaid by the contractor. Vijay Singh, then Commissioner of Indore, had shown the guts and (ignoring the scowl on Patwa’s face) rescinded the order of externment against the two girls.

Misuse of TADA

A journalist based in Kanker (then part of Bastar but now a separate district) wrote about the reprobate behaviour of the police in the Naxalite areas and the Superintendent of Police of Bastar booked him under TADA for “harbouring and helping” the Naxalites. Many senior journalists who knew the Kanker man closely vouchsafed for his integrity and even Congress leader Motilal Vora (who knew the Kanker journalist intimately) spoke in his favour but Patwa remained adamant. After the dismissal of the Patwa government in December 1992, the Bastar district police chief submitted to the designated court an affidavit saying that he had falsely booked the Kanker journalist to please the Chief Minister. The IPS officer continued to flourish in the Congress regime of Digvijaya Singh and continued to indulge in excesses against the people (so much so that he was indicted by a committee of the State Assembly). If Patwa could make use of him in an attempt to silence his adversaries and critics, why shouldn’t Digvijaya Singh do the same? The officer retired as Additional Director General of Police.

June 2017
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Value of propaganda

Adolf Hitler believed in the use of propaganda as an integral element to seizing and holding on to political power. His maxim was 'the bigger the lie, the more easily it will be believed, provided it is repeated vigorously and often enough'. (Sean Murphy in his book 'Letting the Side Down')

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