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Congress a threat to free press, says Modi

PM's attack comes just after a US state department report stressed that media freedom in India declined in 2018
Narendra Modi at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Our Special Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 20.03.19, 08:52 PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday accused the Congress of destroying institutions, including the “free press”, a charge that appeared ironical in the backdrop of some television channels earning the label “North Korean TV channels” for blindly toeing his government’s line.

“As you go to vote, remember the past and how one family’s desire for power cost the nation so greatly. If they could do it then, they can surely do it now,” he said after an exhaustive attack on the Gandhi family, mostly by digging up the past.

“Dynastic parties have never been comfortable with a free and vibrant press,” Modi wrote in a blog. “But I want to tell the Congress that no amount of intimidation will change the ground realities. Curbing freedom of expression will not change people’s poor impression of the party,” he continued.

Modi accused the previous UPA government of bringing a law that could land anyone in prison for posting anything “offensive” and said “a tweet against the son of a powerful UPA minister could land innocent citizens in jail”.

The Prime Minister also accused the current Congress-JDS government in Karnataka of arresting youths recently for “expressing their true feelings” at an event, alluding to a meet addressed by Rahul Gandhi without naming the Congress president.

Modi’s attack on the Congress on the question of “freedom of press” comes just after the US state department’s annual human rights report stressed that media freedom in India had declined in 2018.

“According to a number of journalists, press freedom declined during the year. There were a number of reports, including from journalists and NGOs, that government officials, both at the local and national levels, were involved in silencing or intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment/attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, and encouraging frivolous lawsuits,” the report released recently said.

“The 2018 World Press Freedom Index identified physical attacks on journalists and online ‘trolls’ as major areas of concern, noting, ‘with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals’,” the report stressed.

The report also quoted The Editors Guild of India and said “the government limited press freedom by exerting political pressure and blocking television transmissions”.

Modi’s attack on the Congress in his blog would suggest that the party was in power and he was the challenger in this election. He appealed to the voters to “think wisely” and to support him and reject the Congress.

“From the press to Parliament. From soldiers to free speech. From the Constitution to the courts. Institutional insult is the Congress way. Everyone is wrong, only the Congress is correct,” Modi said.

Dividing his blog into sub-heads, Modi accused the Congress of attacking “Parliament”, “Press”, “Constitution and Courts”, “Government bodies” and “Armed forces”.

“Congress’s contempt for the courts is anyway legendary. It was Mrs Indira Gandhi who called for a ‘committed judiciary’,” Modi said, delving into the past. “Congress’ modus operandi is simple — reject, discredit and threaten,” he added.

After Indira Gandhi, Modi picked on Rajiv Gandhi. “In a telling comment, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi called the Planning Commission led by Dr. Manmohan Singh, ‘A bunch of jokers’,” he said.

Without naming Rahul, Modi talked about a Union cabinet decision being torn by the Congress leader during the UPA years. He said the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council ran “parallel to the PMO”.

Modi accused the Gandhi family of corruption and of having a “sense of entitlement”. “Eternal vigilance remains the price of liberty. Let us stay vigilant and work hard to strengthen the institutions given to us by the makers of our Constitution,” he added.


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