Two days back the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh released a commemorative postage stamp in honour of Puran Chandra Gupta, founder of Dainik Jagaran, a leading Hindi daily of the country. The occasion: January 2, 2012 was the late journalist’s birth centenary.
Asserting that freedom of the press was a must for the growth of Indian democracy, the P.M. asked media organizations to devise a mechanism to promote objectivity and curb sensationalism. “In my opinion”, Dr. Manmohan Singh said, “there is a general consensus in our country that no outside control should be imposed on the media”
The Prime Minister also launched on the occasion a biography of Puran Chandra Gupta.
This biography recounts how Puran Chandra was jailed for resisting the Emergency. When on June 26, 1975 Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi announced promulgation of the Emergency and imposition of censorship on the press, no paper was allowed to publish any news about the arrest of leaders, or where they had been imprisoned.
In the book released by Dr. Manmohan Singh last week, I saw a reproduction of the front page of Jagaran, June 27, 1975. The banner headline was: Rashtriya Aapat Sthiti Ghoshit, Sabhi Vipakshi Neta Band. Photographs of eight opposition leaders – Charan Singh, A.B. Vajpayee, Jaya Prakash Narain, Morarji Desai, L.K. Advani, Piloo Mody, Raj Narain and Chandra Shekhar were shown alongside this front page report. Also shown was a blank editorial column with the caption “A New Democracy?”
To the best of my recollection, no other paper was able to publish a news report of this kind and have it circulated among readers.
I do not know if the P.M. had occasion to glance through this book, or if any one had mentioned to him that the Jagaran editors were arrested because they had opposed the Emergency firmly. If he had been briefed about all this, he would have done a signal service to democracy if he had referred to the facts in his laudatory references to the Jagaran founder. By omitting to do so, he has really missed an opportunity to distance himself from the worst assault inflicted on press freedom in the history of independent India ! .
The Shah Commission which was set up by the Morarji Bhai Government to probe the excesses committed during the Emergency mentions that quotations from Geeta and from Gandhi were disallowed, and excised by the censors.
The Shah Commission examined V.C. Shukla, Information & Broadcasting Minister, during the Emergency. The Commission Report says on page 38 of Interim Report :
“Shri Shukla said that the reasons why quotations were disallowed were that that these quotations which were made with reference to the British Raj were now taken out of context, would create misunderstandings and therefore they should be avoided.
Newspapers were not even allowed to keep the editorial columns blank. According to Shri Shukla if the editorial space was left blank this signified protest and according to the policy of the Government it was not proposed to allow any protest to be signified in that manner. He further clarified that space kept blank in a newspaper was a protest against the emergency. Therefore, it was unlawful and therefore, the Government was entitled to say that it should not be left blank. Both Shri Raj Mohan Gandhi and Shri Nikhil Chakravarty felt that Government’s objection to editors leaving space blank in the newspapers was because they wanted to give an impression that there was no censorship in the country.”
Going through the Shah Commission Report I find that Puran Chand Gupta who was also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the PTI appeared before the Commission and gave scathing testimony against Government’s harassment of the media during the Emergency.
P.C. Gupta alleged that pressure was put on PTI and UNI who were running their agencies independently of the Samachar News Agency launched by the Government of India. This was done
– by cutting off teleprinter lines,
– by non-payment of All India Radio dues,
– by adverse publicity given in the press regarding their allegedly outstanding dues.
The commission has recorded the Information & Broadcasting Minister’s candid explanation thus:
“Shri V.C. Shukla admitted that from the time Cabinet directed him to try ‘other methods’ on December 13, 1975 to the time they bore fruit on January 24, 1976, the agencies were compelled, induced or, persuaded by so-called ‘other methods’ to join in the scheme of merger (with Samachar).”
January 5, 2012