THE SWORD OF THE CEN­SOR

Rahul Gandhi aide Meenakshi Na­tra­jan’s pro­posed bill seeks to gag the me­dia. Congress dis­tances it­self from it.

India Today - - NATION - By Shafi Rah­man

In the case of Meenakshi Na­tra­jan and the Pri­vate Mem­ber’s Bill, the mes­sen­ger is as im­por­tant as the mes­sage. First- time MP Na­tra­jan is not naïve. She is a key mem­ber of Rahul Gandhi’s team. So when she drafted the Print and Elec­tronic Me­dia Stan­dards and Reg­u­la­tion Bill that con­tained a se­ries of dra­co­nian mea­sures to gag the me­dia, her own col­leagues were left won­der­ing if this was her own ini­tia­tive or a com­mand per­for­mance. The lan­guage of the draft dis­played a sea­soned le­gal hand and Na­tra­jan is no con­sti­tu­tional lawyer.

Na­tra­jan was sched­uled to in­tro­duce this leg­is­la­tion on April 30 but she failed to show up and the bill could not be tabled. Ac­cord­ing to the draft copy of the leg­is­la­tion, it pro­poses the set­ting up of a me­dia reg­u­la­tory au­thor­ity which has the power to ban or sus­pend cov­er­age of an event or in­ci­dent that “may pose a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity from for­eign or in­ter­nal sources”. This three- mem­ber au­thor­ity would be se­lected by the in­for­ma­tion and broad­cast­ing min­istry and other Gov­ern­ment nom­i­nees, giv­ing the Gov­ern­ment com­plete con­trol and cen­sor­ship. Of­fend­ers would be slapped a fine of Rs 50 lakh.

It can also sus­pend a me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion’s op­er­a­tions for up to 11 months and even take the dras­tic mea­sure of can­celling its li­cence. The bill even guil­lotines the finest achieve­ment of the UPA Gov­ern­ment, the Right to In­for­ma­tion Act, by ex­empt­ing the au­thor­ity from the purview of the Act.

The Congress is now con­fused as to how to re­act. Due to her prox­im­ity to Rahul, Congress lead­ers are not quite sure as to whether this was a trial bal­loon floated at his be­hest. Says a Congress MP, “Her boss’s aver­sion to the me­dia is well- known. To earn brownie points with him, she has prob­a­bly jumped the gun.” He doesn’t rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that Na­tra­jan had the help of a Congress lawyer- MP.

The Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) didn’t mince words or waste time in at­tack­ing the mes­sen­ger. “Since she is close to Rahul Gandhi, it would be bet­ter if he him­self clears the air on the is­sue,” said Ra­jiv Pratap Rudy, the BJP spokesper­son.

Once Rahul’s name was dragged into the con­tro­versy, the Congress had no choice but to dis­tance it­self from Na­tra­jan and her leg­is­la­tion. “These are not the views of Rahul Gandhi, nei­ther has she got his con­sent for the bill,” said Ja­nar­dan Dwivedi, gen­eral sec­re­tary and chair­man of the me­dia cell of the Congress. The fact that the Congress re­ac­tion came first from Dwivedi is sig­nif­i­cant. He was set­ting the line for party re­ac­tion. Ra­jeev Shukla, min­is­ter of state for par­lia­men­tary af­fairs, also stepped in for dam­age con­trol. “This was her own ini­tia­tive. Ev­ery pri­vate mem­ber has a right to move a bill. This is not a Gov­ern­ment bill,” he said.

Af­ter two days of si­lence, Na­tra­jan fi­nally spoke to the me­dia on the evening of May 2. She de­nied that Rahul had any­thing to do with the bill and added, “The bill has not been in­tro­duced, so there is no point talk­ing about it. These are my per­sonal views.” De­spite re­peated at­tempts by IN­DIA TO­DAY, Na­tra­jan, 38, was un­avail­able for fur­ther com­ment.

A Congress sec­re­tary at­tached to Rahul’s of­fice, Na­tra­jan’s rise within the party has been phe­nomenonal. Although she is a Tamil, she won her cur­rent seat from Mand­saur in Mad­hya Pradesh. “She show­cases what Rahul has been preach­ing at all the Youth Congress camps. That it’s not pa­tron­age or dy­nasty but hard work that makes you win. He al­ways cites Na­tra­jan as an ex­am­ple when he says this,” points out a young Congress leader. Na­tra­jan’s earnest be­spec­ta­cled look and her pen­chant for ar­riv­ing flus­tered at party meet­ings and mut­ter­ing about “auto driv­ers” has fur­ther

IN­DIAN EX­PRESS PHOTO

RAHULGANDHI WITH MEENAKSHI NA­TRA­JAN

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