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'A bad situation, but I don't despair'

January 13, 2022 12:20 IST
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'India is a founding and permanent member of this 'club of shame': Journalists are murdered on account of what they write or intend to write, but nobody is finally brought to justice in such cases.'

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

As the UP elections near, hate speeches using extreme offensive language against the Muslims have increased.

"The duty of the State is to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, and if the executive fails to do it, as it has notoriously failed to do, the judiciary should step in," N Ram, the distinguished journalist and former editor of The Hindu, tells's Shobha Warrier.

The concluding segment of a multi-part exclusive interview:


Do you think Modi is becoming stronger mainly because the Congress, the other national party, does not have a strong leader?

Parties decline and rise, and some of them fade away.

If you look at the history of our freedom and the history of independent India, you will see that the Congress has been around as the leading political party for a very long time. And it is bound to have ups and downs.

Yes, there are serious issues which are raised within the party, and also by many political analysts and journalists.

My impression about the present crisis of leadership in the Congress is that it is, among other things, an expression of the fact that Rahul Gandhi doesn't want to compromise on political arrangements that do not appeal to his principles and goals.

That's one reason it has taken so long to resolve who is going to be the leader.

He has got to figure it out, and the party has to figure it out too.

I don't think it is simply a question of the lack of strong leadership.

Does Rahul Gandhi have it in him to be a leader?

It is possible. He has shown leadership capabilities, notably in 2009 when he led his party to a kind of electoral success that was not quite expected.

Yes, he certainly has his own principles and strengths. He has expectations from his own party.

He has differences with some of the old guard and some of the new leaders too.

He is not willing to accept the mantle unless some restructuring happens in the party.

The Congress party's problems are not just because of this.

The temptation is to jump to the conclusion that Rahul Gandhi is weak because he has taken so long to decide whether he will take up the top leadership of the party.

It doesn't depend on just Rahul Gandhi. His party has been in decline over a period.

Do you see him succeeding?

I won't write him off. He has the potential.

Once they resolve the question of conducting elections within the party, I can't see anyone else taking that role right now as Sonia Gandhi is in indifferent health and wants to retire from active politics.

'Dynastic politics' happens in other parties too.

In this case, this one family has been depicted in the media as 'trying to hold on to power'.

The real truth, whether one likes it or not, is that the party is used to having a Nehru-Gandhi lead it at the very top, and won't accept anyone else. That's the real situation.

The feeling globally is that the world is moving towards right wing politics and some even say that democracy is under siege in many parts of the world. Do you think so?

It won't be possible to come to a comprehensive assessment of the global situation so easily.

But it is true that the right and even the extreme sections of the right, some of them very aggressive too, have come to power.

One example was Donald Trump. Even today, they can't be written off.

With the victory of the young left leader Gabriel Boric in Chile and the waning popularity of Erdogan in Turkey, do you think the wind has started blowing in the other direction?

I can predict that you will see Yogi also losing popularity in UP.

His popularity is definitely not what it was during the last assembly elections.

The last election result cannot be reproduced in UP, for sure.

The BJP has also lost power in several states. There is no chance of it coming to power in Punjab.

The BJP represents the Hindu Right, which needs close study before you can arrive at a proper characterisation.

There is evidence that suggests it is in decline in some parts of India, but it remains a formidable force.

I have always been on the Left. So, I would like the Left to become strong, much stronger than it is today, globally and certainly in India.

I do have hope as the overall ascendency of the Right can't go on for long because it cannot resolve the economic and social problems of the people.

Looking at how two young journalists were arrested in Tripura and how Siddique Kappan's interviews and articles were used as evidence against him, do you think this is a very difficult time for journalists?

What has happened to Siddique Kappan, a bona fide journalist working on an important story is shocking and a travesty of justice.

We know what the executive has done in this case, but we must also question the role of the judiciary.

The duty of the State is to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, and if the executive fails to do it, as it has notoriously failed to do, the judiciary should step in.

There have been some good decisions by the courts especially some high courts.

But I would say that I am disappointed with the overall performance of the judiciary, and the criminal justice system in particular.

It is true that journalists enjoy some protection compared with human rights defenders and activists.

There is some solidarity, although not enough from within the profession.

But if you look at the data provided by the Committee to Protect Journalists on journalists killed or murdered in connection with their work, India fares very poorly.

It fares dismally year after year in the CPJ's Global Impunity Index.

I would say India is a founding and permanent member of this 'club of shame': Journalists are murdered on account of what they write or intend to write, but nobody is finally brought to justice in such cases.

The CPJ also tracks the arrests of journalists and India's position in this respect is pretty bad.

Sashi Kumar and I filed a public interest writ petition in the Supreme Court against the unconstitutional and illegal targeting of several Indian citizens, including notably journalists. with the military-grade spyware Pegasus.

Along with some other petitioners in this ongoing case before the highest court in the land, we brought to the fore the issue of journalists being targeted illegally and unconstitutionally.

We asked for two things. One, the government should either confirm or deny that acquired the spyware and used it against Indian citizens.

Two, we requested the Court to constitute an independent committee to investigate the truth in the matter.

We are very pleased that the Court has done precisely that, and that the technical committee, with a retired Supreme Court Judge overseeing its functioning, has taken up this task with the seriousness and the urgency that it deserves.

So, there are ways to fight for Constitutional values, and for the fundamental and other rights of the people, including journalists.

Yes, it is still a bad situation overall, but I don't despair.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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