Reporters Without Borders – Varghese Pamplanil

Letter to the Editor 

“The organisation called Reporters Without Borders, issues every year,  what it calls World Freedom Index. The 2020 rankings are led by Norway and Finland. India figures below countries like Thailand, Philippines and Afghanistan at rank 142 with an “abuse score of 31.35. That is 142 of 180 countries. The average Indian,  subject to the traditional view that press freedom is basic in the country,  may find some recorded facts difficult to believe. Example: 55 Indian journalists Arrested, Booked, Threatened for reporting on COVID – 19 (The Wire). Under Modi, India’s Press is Not So Free Anymore (The New York Times). Reporters without Borders puts it bluntly when it says that India’s low ranking is due to the Government’s “tightening its grip on the media and pressurising it to toe the Hindu nationalist Government’s line”.  

One is compelled to appreciate T J S George for putting  his views so forthrightly, boldly and succinctly  in these times. 

Freedom of Expression is the corner stone of democratic system of governance. When freedom is lost, everything is lost. The dark clouds of fear and dread seem to hover above our heads. There is a feeling that “Big Brother is Watching” and controlling the thought process of everyone  with his “Dictionary of Newspeak”. An atmosphere of oppression appear to stifle our body politic; it bodes ill for our country. 

Representative democracy, however, unsatisfying the system may it be, seems to be the only viable option for we  Indians. But when governance becomes autocratic and personality oriented, democracy is forced to take a backseat. When the exercise of franchise is vitiated by divisions based on religious affiliations and narrow minded regional chauvinism and vested interests, democracy is bound  to  degenerate into “government of the cattle, by the cattle and for the cattle”. 

An enlightened population alone can nourish and sustain a   democratic system of government. They should keep watch,  with eagle eyes, on the doings of the governing dispensa- tion to ensure that it doesn’t stray from the lines. But it is easier said than done in a country like India where the level of education and public awareness is abysmally low. When sheer  economic survival is at stake for the major chunk of the population, where is the will and  inclination to address the  happenings, the wheeling and dealings in the corridors of power? In this paradigm, eternal vigilance, the very  sine-quo-non of a  functioning and vibrant democracy is the obvious casualty.

“A vibrant, accountable democracy does, not only imply that people cast their vote freely every five years. It requires the full mix of raucous investigating press, public debate uninhibited by political correctness, many political parties representing varied constituencies, and a variety of non-governmental organisations organising and representing varied  interests. …Clearly, strong governments are needed for countries to prosper…..

Strong governments may not, however, move in the right direction. Hitler provided Germany with extremely effective administration – the trains ran on time, as did the trains during our own Emergency in 1975-77. His was a strong government, but Hitler took Germany efficiently and determinedly on a path to ruin….  we need both rule of law and democratic accountability to keep strong government on the right path ….The rule of law is needed to prevent the tyranny of the majority that can arise in a democracy, as well as to ensure that the basic “rules of the game” are preserved over time so that the environment is predictable, no matter which government comes to power.” (Raghuram Rajan, former Governor of Reserve Bank in his book “ I do what I do”) 

Varghese Pamplanil 

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