Irani ought to take the bard seriously: the evil that people, especially politicians, do lives after them.
Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani, a former actress, might have read William Shakespeare’s, Julius Caesar. If not she must, especially as theatre plays a critical role in her, and her party’s, politics. In the play, Marc Antony says, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Irani—indeed all politicians—should not ignore such pearls of wisdom. The lady Minister, who is busy these days trying to tame the media, should also learn from the fate of Dev Kant Barooah, the Congress president during the Emergency whose name has become synonymous with a political flatterer.
There is no contemporary writer, journalist, and politician who mentions Barooah’s name and doesn’t mention his infamous statement he made in 1976, “Indira is India and India is Indira.” Nobody says anything else about him. It was not that he never did anything credible. According to the official website of the Congress, “He schooled at Gauhati and Nowgong and graduated from the Benaras Hindu University. Soon after he was absorbed into the freedom struggle and underwent imprisonment in 1930, 1941 and 1942. He wielded the pen as editor of Dainik Assamiya and Natun Assamiya, and played an important role in molding public opinion.”
He began his political career as a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1949-51, the site says. “He was also a member of the Provisional Parliament and elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952 and 1977. In 1957 he was elected to the Assam Legislative Assembly. He became the Speaker in 1962 and subsequently the Minister for Education and Co-operation.” He also served as Chairman, Oil India Limited, and Governor of Bihar.
The Press Information Bureau is reportedly contemplating to issue RFID cards to the journalists.
In short, Barooah was not an absolutely worthless fellow, and yet posterity has reduced him to the personification of sycophancy.
Evidently, Barooah’s forays into public life and politics were far more substantive than those of Irani and other politicians; if nothing else, he deserves some respect for being a freedom fighter. But a remark he made in a frenzy of hero-worship has cost him all credit and earned him eternal notoriety.
If Barooah’s past achievements were washed away by his one statement, Irani’s meager pre-politics feats too will surely be eliminated because of her jihad against the free press. She tried to cow down reporters by threatening to rescind their accreditation if they were found to be filing fake news. On May 2, she issued a notification to this effect.
Journalists refused to take the assault lying down; the media reaction was scathing and loud. The government was forced to rollback the illiberal decision; the order was withdrawn within 24 hours after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi directly intervened. “A fuming Prime Minister told his office to direct the I&B Ministry to withdraw the directive with immediate effect,” The Indian Express reported quoting PMO sources.
Questions have been raised about this version. How could a Prime Minister so clued in about his administration be in the dark? But this is beside the point. The point here is that Irani has learned no lessons; she is unrelenting in her war against the media. Now she plans to track journalists’ movements inside government buildings and offices. The Press Information Bureau is reportedly contemplating to issue radio-frequency identification (RFID) cards instead of the standard press accreditation cards to the journalists. The ostensible purpose? Augmented security.
At a meeting at the Press Club of India journalists pointed out that Union ministers and BJP leaders have been promoting fake news.
The PIB, under the I&B Ministry, is said to have sought the views of the Union Home Ministry in January about this move. The Home Ministry has reportedly found the move impractical. Irani would be sanguine to assume that the RFID proposal would be accepted by the media without protest.
At a meeting at the Press Club of India in New Delhi, which I attended, journalists condemned Irani’s decision on the fake news in no uncertain terms. It was on the day when the Prime Minister torpedoed her fatwa against fake news. Journalists pointed out that Union ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders themselves have been promoting fake news.
Irani ought to take the bard seriously: the evil that people, especially politicians, do lives after them. V.K. Krishna Menon, despite his erudition, would always be known as the bungling minister, if not the traitor, primarily responsible for the debacle in the India-China War in 1962. Kapil Sibal will be remembered for the reprehensible zero-loss theory on 2G spectrum allocation that he propounded, his legal acumen notwithstanding. Likewise, Irani too is in danger of being branded in history as a spiteful enemy of the free press.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.