Selected Articles from Various News Paper: Civil Services Mentor Magazine January 2014

(January 2014)

Institutionalising Freedom

India has repeatedly seen incidents where the screening of films, certified by the Central Board of Film Certification, has been halted. Extremist groups threaten public order, and claim community ‘sentiments’ have been ‘offended’. Rather than take on such forces, State governments have oftencaved in, unwilling to invest political and administrative capital in the protection of the freedom of expression. Earlier this year, in the wake of the controversy over the ban o n Vishwaroopam , the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting set up a committee under Justice Mukul Mudgal to revisit the entire legislative framework. The report has now been made public. It recommends a new procedure for appointments to advisory panels, which actually view films. It is on the basis of their recommendations that the board issues certification. Unfortunately, membership to such panels is often distributed as political patronage. For certification, the committee has adopted two guiding principles — “protection of artistic and creative freedom,” and remaining “sociallyresponsible and sensitive to values and  standards of society.” But the danger is that such phrases can be used to stifle free speech.

But it is with regard to the government’s power to ban films that the committee comes up with a new set of recommendations. It upholds the principle that exhibition of a film already certified shall not be suspended. This is in line with the landmark 1989 judgment in the case of S. Rangarajan v Jagivan Ram involving the film, Ore Oru Gramathile , where the Supreme Court laid down that “freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstration and processions or threats of violence.” The committee also concludes that the Central government is the “sole repository of legislative power and executive action” regarding exhibition of films. In instances where a public exhibition “leads to a breach of public order” or can potentially do so, the Centre can — the committee suggests — order the suspension of the exhibition. While allowing such orders, the committee makes the point that it has inserted additional caveats. It has taken away the power from State governments the power to ban films. It has stipulated that film producers be given an opportunity to explain their side of the story first. Such orders, it says, are justified only in the case of threats to “public order,” not merely “peace.” It should be passed only after public screening and not prior to intended screening. It has also expanded the jurisdiction of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. While the committee appears to invest excessive faith in the Centre’s judgment and willingness to stand up to extremist forces, the recommendations are
positive and a step towards institutionalising freedom and checking unwarranted censorship.

Rediscovering Patel

In the past few days, political parties have vied with each other to lay claim to the political legacy of India’s first Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and to build their own partisan narratives around the beliefs that are thought to have defined him. As elections approach, the re-imagining of Patel as one of India’s strongest leaders is clearly intended to shore up the images of the respective leaders invoking his memory. The Congress, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, has claimed ownership of Patel on the ground that essentially, he was a loyal Congressman. The Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi has not just recast Patel in its own image but has sought to project a historically unsound thesis that there was a divide between the two greats of pre- and post- Independence India — Patel, and the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The historical record is quite to the contrary.

Both leaders held each other in the highest esteem. They disagreed on the execution of certain policies but they placed the interests of the newly-born nation above everything else, and repeatedly reaffirmed their faith in each other. Unfortunately, current-day politics thrives on dramatic stereotypes designed to excite the popular imagination, which inevitably sacrifices the nuances and subtleties of the real historical picture.

Mr. Modi has conflated Patel’s role in integrating India into a united, independent nation with projections for how the country might have fared had he been at the helm instead of Nehru. Given that Patel died in 1950, such
theoretical speculation is futile. Patel had real concerns that the welding together of the states — the stimulus for which he admitted “has come from above rather than below” — would not hold, leading to the “danger of collapse and chaos,” according to V.P. Menon, Patel’s close confidant. It is a tribute to that remarkable nation-builder that the Indian Union has not just survived but is today a force to reckon with globally, as a leading democracy. The BJP’s political bid to reposition Patel’s place in the Indian pantheon of heroes is of a piece with its angst at the perceived dominance of the Nehru dynasty. It is indisputable that more than half of all
Centrally sponsored schemes and programmes are named after one or another member of the Congress’s ‘first’ family. Yet, the question arises if the only way to correct this imbalance is by building the tallest statue anywhere of the Sardar. Had he been alive today, Patel would have been distressed at this showmanship, especially knowing the objective of the exercise was to elevate him over Nehru with whom, as he noted in a letter, he shared “mutual love and regard.”

Courtesy: Various News Papers

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