Mr CM, withdraw gag circular

Mr CM, withdraw gag circular

For a party fond of hyping its love for transparency, the Aam Aadmi Party appeared to calm up pretty soon after coming to power. Reporters accustomed to easy access to Delhi ministers and officials during the previous Sheila Dikshit regime, found themselves being stopped at the gates of the Delhi Secretariat. After protests from the press, the restrictions have been eased. But it was only a precursor of things to come: the Delhi government has now issued a circular telling ministers and officials to approach Principal Secretary (Home) if any “defamatory imputations” are published against them. The Home Department will then take a call on moving the court. The circular in effect is less of an in-house advisory than a warning to the media. It’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal saying, “don’t mess with us”.

The trigger for the circular appears to be the extensive press coverage of the feuds within AAP as well as of the controversies that its leaders find themselves in. At least six AAP MLAs figure in criminal complaints. Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar is defending himself in court against the charge that his law degree is fake. Kumar Vishwas got summons from Delhi Commission for Women for ‘refusing’ to clear the air about rumours of an extramarital affair. At least some of these charges will be proved false in time. But Kejriwal can hardly expect the media not to report on the controversies: a better strategy for his party and the government would be to interact more with the media to convey their side of the story. Instead, Kejriwal has suggested a “public trial” of journalists, and come up with an offer to help “honest’ journalist set up media houses.

The circular encouraging defa-mation cases against the media doesn’t square up with the AAP leader’s own stand in court in cases against him – including one filed by Union minister Nitin Gadkari for calling him corrupt. In fact, Kejriwal has challenged the constitutional validity of laws that criminalise defamation. More important, for someone in the business of politics, Kejriwal comes across as extraordinarily thin-skinned. He should realise that politicians in India – as in many other democracies – come under heightened media scrutiny. And Kejriwal should be the last person to complain about this. The AAP has arisen from an anti-corruption movement which caught the imagination of the entire country thanks to the near-saturation, perhaps excessive, coverage by the media. One reason the AAP did so well was that it knew how to press the right buttons to ensure media spotlight on itself. An AAP now complaining about the media makes for some delicious irony.
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