By courtesy of the Supreme Court verdict in the Rafale case, Indian democracy has been able to avert a grave threat. The democracy came under danger when the government argued that the media is spreading misinformation through stolen documents which were sensitive in nature as per as national security is concerned. Thankfully, the Supreme Court did not buy that argument and rejected the government’s stand in this regard. Now the Rafale deal will once again be examined by the Supreme Court to determine whether there were anomalies in finalising the deal?
The Supreme Court judgement was not unexpected. Media in a democratic country has always been regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy. This is why media enjoys much more freedom than others. If any classified government documents is in the possession of media, it should not be treated as a theft. Rather it is the media’s duty to publish wrong doings of government or any other organisations. So the argument that media is not entitled to publish secret government documents, holds no ground. Instead of blaming the media, the government should have done well to plug the hole from where the documents were leaked. Clearly, by publishing the secret documents regarding Rafale, the media did nothing wrong or unethical. So, it will always remain as a mystery why the government decided prepare its defence by blaming the media.
This very step of the government raised some questions too. It creates a sense that the government is trying to hide something about the Rafale deal. The government is duty bound to inform the country whether those leaked documents are true or false. If the documents are true, it is clearly in violation of the set norms of defence deals. Similarly, if those published documents are false, the media concerned should be punished as per law. It is not in the interest of the nation if the suspicion continues for long. The government has to categorically either admit or deny PMO’s involvement in the deal.
Now coming to the moot question why government’s argument was a threat to free speech Vis a Vis democracy? Just remember two incidents. The first one took place in 1975 when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed emergency and forced the media to parrot her lines. The outcome of such an undemocratic act is known to all. In 1977 general elections, she and her party were completely routed. The second incident took place in 1988. To curtail the freedom of media, a bill was brought in Bihar. The controversial bill had the tacit support of the then Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre. Though, the bill was finally dropped after vociferous protests by the entire nation, it caused enough damage to Rajiv Gandhi and his party. It lost him the 1989 general elections.
Thus the Modi government should keep in mind that it would gain nothing by attacking the media, rather it would only hasten its own downfall. Liberal Indian people will never tolerate any attempt to curb the freedom of media. To strengthen democracy, it should do well to let media do its work. The government should never try to punish the media or suppress freedom of speech to hide its failures.