Kejriwal Went Too Far. Now He's Been Called On It.

Published: May 15, 2015 17:22 IST
The Supreme Court has stayed the AAP government's circular threatening defamation cases against journalists and media organization - a diktat that journalist-turned-AAP politician Ashutosh felt was not "excessive" as expressed in this column on "You cannot be in court against defamation and at the same time threatening media with it. why this dichotomy?" the apex court said while calling Arvind Kejriwal's bluff.

Kejriwal, along with the BJP's Subramanian Swamy and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, is a petitioner in the Supreme Court seeking the decriminalisation of defamation on the grounds that it violates the right to freedom of speech.

So Kejriwal's dictatorial fiat to Delhi government departments to monitor media reports and slap defamation cases on unfavourable ones is hypocritical to say the least. And that Ashutosh, himself a high-profile editor till recently, defends it, is unfortunate. The politician's hat is now comfortably settled on his head, I guess.

Ashutosh and Kejriwal can't appreciate the fact that now that they are in government, they will be put to much more intense media scrutiny than ever before. The shoot-and-scoot press conferences days are over. Questions will be asked and holes will be punched in government policies and works. Deal with it.

This circular and its defense even after the Supreme Court rap lay bare the dictatorial insitincts and high-handedness of AAP leaders, particularly Mr Kejriwal. It's a direct threat to the media: fall in line or we will employ the state machinery to crush you.

Kejriwal's case is typical of a "media hero" now out to paint journalists as the villain of the piece because he sees himself in the line of questioning. If Ashutosh is indeed Kejriwal's well-wisher, he should advise him to be tolerant of criticism and concentrate on governing Delhi, rather than defending his tirade against the media.

So what has got Kejriwal's goat vis-a-vis the media? Let's take some examples. The farmer suicide at the AAP rally: was it a media-created event? I take the argument that the Delhi Police must take most of the blame as its men stood smiling while Gajendra Singh hanged himself. But is the media expected to paper over the most insensitive, crass and irresponsible responses from the AAP leadership? It was their rally after all, and the leaders and volunteers did little to avert the tragedy.

Then the "fake degree" case of Kejriwal's minister Jitender Singh Tomar. A doubt has been raised about the minister and in keeping with his own tradition of "not waiting" for evidence and sitting in moral judgement, Kejriwal should have just asked his minister to step aside till he emerges clean. Didn't Kejriwal make a political career for himself by demanding the resignations of ministers and politicians at the drop of the hat? Why fail your own standards now and cry conspiracy?

On the Kumar Vishwas case, I completely agree with Ashutosh that TV channels went overboard. It was a non-story and TV made a grave error of judgement in running with it.

But Kejriwal's other peeves with the media that prompted the 'supari' jibe are totally baseless and reek of an inherent intolerance on his part. And that it comes from a man whose close coterie has a good number of former journalists also tells us something. The question must be asked of all the former journalists who now populate the Aam Aadmi Party if they were all "supari reporters" or embedded mercinaries with mics before mounting the moral high horse of the AAP?

Ashutosh himself is an apt example. He was an editor one day and an AAP politician the next. Was he an embedded AAP journalist?  Did his political biases colour his editorial calls? Who is he to call journalists names now? His concerns about tabloid news, TRP-driven TV and sensationalism in the name of news are all genuine, and the media as a collective needs to pause and think over them soonest, but his party's diktats are not going to help the cause of information in a democracy.

Ashutosh wants us to believe that "AAP does not fear criticism, rather it welcomes it..." But the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. If AAP guys are not afraid of criticism, why are they shying away from debates these days on the circular that Ashutosh feels is perfectly acceptable? Why is it that a JNU professor who is a vocal supporter of AAP on TV channels is forced to not call himself one if he doesn't toe the party line? So much for democracy and tolerance to criticism.

Ashutosh must advise Kejriwal that this Bush doctrine of "Either you are with us or you are against us" is not going to serve any good. The government and media have to be adversarial in a healthy way for democracy to survive.

Or is that not what AAP really wants?

(Mohd Asim is Senior News Editor, NDTV 24x7)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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