THE SWORD OF THE CENSOR
Rahul Gandhi aide Meenakshi Natrajan’s proposed bill seeks to gag the media. Congress distances itself from it.
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
RAHULGANDHI WITH MEENAKSHI NATRAJAN