A ruling party appointee

The PCI chairman is talking about crushing the rights of the media in the country

Intellectual life in India has been thrown into a crisis. It is party time for social scientists, former judges and ex-bureaucrats using the wildest discretion possible to define situations and issues, unmindful of the realities and expectations.

A new India with its rich cultural legacy and high voltage economic ambition is a part of the collective conscience of the nation. As such, the guardians of opinion and ideas need to contextualise their universalism.

However, things are taking place in the opposite direction. Drift from serious discourse and ideological and political sectarianism are the two main features of contemporary intelligentsia. There are two sets of intellectuals. One, representing the Nehruvian mindset and the second representing Marxist fossils. The former uses its intellectual strength to defend the system, legitimize neo-liberal politics and the latter is still hankering after dead historical theories.

Markandey Katju is perhaps its best example. The man who is known for his scholarship, forthrightness and thoughtful insights has unfortunately failed to comprehend what he needs to do in his new role. His seminal work Mimansa Rules of Interpretation reveals his depth and like JB Kripalani, a Socialist leader, he too has dammed Indian intellectuals for ignoring invaluable treasures of our society and culture.

It was this realisation which led KM Munshi to set up Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan. However, the mission and the project failed due to intellectuals’ growing lust for power. And it is this hunger which gives the state the opportunity to co-opt people like Katju who has lost his potential to become another Munshi and is happy to play the role of Digvijay Singh instead!

Katju, like many others, seems to be a victim of a self-created ideological world and a false perception of being true guardians of society at the time when the country is passing through great transition from a conventional society to modernity.

Such well placed people have access to media and also carry a news value. Unfortunately, they are using their talents to deconstruct the democratic process. Katju, for instance, signifies how the state power uses democratic structures to serve the interests of the ruling party.

PCI is privileged with a historic role when the media is in danger of loosing its autonomy because of the burden of big capital. Therefore, people like Katju have the opportunity to contest and negotiate with the forces of socio-economic change trying to use media as a neo-liberal tool. As a former judge of the Supreme Court, he carried with him a clout which could benefit the PCI’s visibly new larger-than-life role.

Katju loves to remain in headlines by using foul language and inviting bitter controversies. What is more painful, he has identified himself with the immediate interests of the ruling party at the centre. For instance, he systematically targeted three important non-Congress chief ministers, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi. There is nothing wrong in making a critical assessment of an individual, but there are limits placed even on that authority. Katju could not care less.

In addition, he chooses harsh and unpalatable words for attacking political actors holding elected positions. He described Mamata Banerjee as “totally dictatorial, intolerant, and whimsical”. Does an elected chief minister deserves such derogatory and politically-motivated remark by the head of the PCI?

He targeted Nitish for gagging the media. There is no doubt that media in Bihar is playing a pro-Nitish role. But let him first answer whether it is due to the fear of repression or media’s own new ethics? This is a million dollar question before the PCI and Katju has taken a one-sided view. He is trying to turn a half-truth into full-truth.

The debate on the content of electronic media is healthy. But Katju has used the content debate to question a fundamental right, ie freedom of the press. The content debate can not be simplified merely as a TRP race. It is an outcome of new values imposed by neo-liberalism. However Katju has failed to comprehend the challenges emerging from the changing character of media and has gone up to the extent of suggesting curbs on the freedom of the press.

He said that freedom of press ‘must’ be ‘crushed’ if media’s functioning leads to backwardness and ‘lowers the standard of living of people.’ He reflects the totalitarian mindset. It is this incompatible mind which uses words like “idiot” for 90 per cent of Indians. He deserves to relearn his lessons now that he is heading a democratic body. Arun Jaitley is not wrong when he demanded his resignation or removal. Katju’s tenure will be known for lowering the prestige of PCI.