The latest Kashmir imbroglio has thrown up innumerable questions before all the stakeholders some of which are piercing enough to compel some pondering. One of the main questions pertains to media muzzle by the authorities. To an extent, it was reminiscent of dark days of emergency proclaimed by Indira Gandhi in late seventies. It won't take any sensible soul much to admit that her coterie's ill-advised step was largely responsible for her downfall. The dubious distinction and stigma she earned by gagging press will remain for a long long time even after her death.
The print media of Kashmir had to go incommunicado for several days recently. The absence of mobile network connectivity ordered by the authorities compounded the crisis. All Internet services except BSNL still continue to remain paralyzed even after several weeks have elapsed. The modern Indian democracy must be indeed laughing at us. The over zealot and unprofessional sycophants who have shown over enthusiasm in throttling our press have done worst disservice to their Masters. Even the masters have exhibited total lack of vision and understanding of ramifications of this pernicious act. Regrettably, The Press Council of India who normally act very swiftly in taking authorities to task in such situations by and large turned a Nelson's eye to this unfortunate situation. The belated and halfhearted response of civil society was also dismaying, to say the least. Hoping against all hopes, one expected some enlightened and conscientious mind in the Press and Bar to take immediate remedial measures against this injudicious move. The judiciary and the fourth estate are and will always remain the two most important pillars of Indian democracy. The single most important distinguished feature of their functioning is their independence. Though at some point of time attempts were certainly made to bridle them but mercifully in vain. Harboring no complacence, both have to do everything under the sky to safeguard this independence.
It was expected that there is a single line of command at the helm of affairs. But apparently the fractured command manifested in things going haywire. Even now, things will go in the right direction if some soul searching is done without losing time to find out what went wrong and at what level which threw up this unprecedented detesting situation. There will be some face saving if heads start rolling down for creating an unwarranted crisis and taking inappropriate decision.
Braving against all the odds during the past two and a half decades, our media especially the print has done a yeoman's service to the society. The dedication, devotion and commitment to the profession which they exhibited at the most trying times of militancy have quite deservedly earned them international acclaim. This is of course very heart warming to us but the way they took the latest harsh action by authorities almost lying down is disappointing, to put it mildly. One can only wish it doesn't reoccur.
No civilized society clamps down the press even when they are at war. The flow of information would be surely less lethal in the face of lethal weapons. The apparatus purportedly used and methodology adopted for controlling the crisis was more pernicious and painful. The chaos and confusion staring at us all around poses a big question. Is there someone firm in the driver's seat, as it ought to be, or someone somewhere is doing backseat driving in disguise at the cost of "The Other" having everything at stake. One can only empathize.
(Siraj Quraishi is Ex Deputy Director General, Doordarshan, India.)