The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal calms secularism jitters

Chennai, Sept. 13: Atal Bihari Vajpayee today allayed fears about the continued fallout of last year’s Gujarat carnage, saying Indian democracy and secularism were in no danger.

The Prime Minister did not mention Gujarat by name or refer to the Supreme Court’s indictment yesterday of the Narendra Modi government for failing to protect the “weak” and perform “raj dharma”. But he said: “In spite of unfortunate aberrations, whose recurrence must be prevented, India will always remain an open, inclusive and tolerant nation.” Vajpayee also appealed to the media to shed its “tinge of negativism”.

Inaugurating the 125th anniversary celebrations of The Hindu here this evening, the Prime Minister said “freedom of faith” was guaranteed to all not only by the statute book, but also by the “living traditions of the ancient civilisation”.

Addressing a large gathering at the Madras University Centenary Auditorium that included politicians, the intelligentsia, judges and attorney-general Soli Sorabjee, Vajpayee said there was “no need to be sceptical about Indian secularism”.

The Prime Minister spoke of the “very impressive journey” of The Hindu, praising “the comprehensiveness of its coverage”. He proceeded to express his bewilderment at the exponential growth of the Indian media, saying breathtaking technological advances and the spread of literacy had “resulted in a democratisation of the media”.

But Vajpayee lamented the media’s tendency to “project trivial things in life, to highlight the fads and fashions of the rich and the over-privileged, and to aggressively advertise a consumerist lifestyle which is simply beyond the reach of the majority”.

The Prime Minister said newspapers should be a “voice of the voiceless and should be the hope of the hopeless”.

He added that freedom of the press was “guaranteed by our democratic culture. Persecution on account of one’s beliefs and insistence that all must accept a particular point of view is unknown to our ethos”.

Vajpayee slammed the media’s tendency to be “hastily judgmental and editorialising in news columns” about the government and political classes. Its approach should instead be “fair and balanced”, he added.

“We have full faith in the Indian media. It can no doubt take care of its responsibilities and the media should draw its own lakshman rekha, or should I say Ram rekha,” Vajpayee said, drawing laughter with his reference to . Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu.

Maran visit

Earlier in the afternoon, Vajpayee drove straight down to Apollo Hospitals from the airport to visit ailing Union minister Murasoli Maran.

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