Press Censorship in India during Emergency

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Press Censorship in India during Emergency

The Congress Government led by Indira Gandhi was virtually forced to impose National Emergency on 25 June 1975 under the Article 352 of the Constitution of India citing internal disturbances and problems with law and order following nation-wide chaos due to serial of agitations by opposition parties under the leadership of the veteran freedom fighter Jay Prakash Narayan.

The Government had promulgated twenty-five ordinances to revive law and order, which included stringent censorship measures such as repealing the immunity given to journalists reporting on parliamentary affairs.

In fact, a key element of the emergency was press censorship. It started on the very day when the declaration of emergency was finalized by the prime minister and one of her trusted lieutenants, Sidharth Shankar Roy, the then chief minister of West Bengal.

The controversial censorship was endorsed by the cabinet and it authorized Sanjay and Dhawan to work out on the mechanics to make it a success.

Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of Indira Gandhi along with her personal assistant R.K Dhawan, Congress Leaders Om Mehta and Bansi Lal initiated press censorship by ordering cutting off the power supply to all Delhi-based newspaper offices to prevent them from carrying the news in the next day editions.

Only two newspapers, Hindustan Times and Statesman were on sale the next day, reporting the impositions of National Emergency and press censorship as they received electricity from other sources.

In its June 28 edition, as a mark of protecting, Indian Express, carried a blank editorial, and its sister publication Financial Express reproduced the famous poem of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore "Where the mind is without fear " in large type.

The central government also abolished the press council and imposed a ban on the publication of anything that seemed ‘objectionable’ and only pro-government news were allowed to be published.

Senior government officials were deputed to various newspaper offices to monitor the censorship.

The media was controlled by the government and many leading newspapers which were owned by industrialists were left with no other choice but to endorse the government for vested business interests.

The central government also reconstituted the four national news agencies into a single public sector undertaking known as ‘Samachar.

Samachar started corroborating the government on all issues, emulating its peers Tass of Russia and Xinhua of China, acting as an official mouthpiece.

During those days when 24*7 news channels was a distant dream with only the state-run All India Radio and Doordarshan acting as official media, the people of India were virtually deprived of knowing the truth by gagging the print media.

Media stalwarts such as Nikhil Chakrabarty, the founder editor of Mainstream and Romesh Thapar, editor of Seminar decided to cease publication as a mark of protest against the censorship.

Another media icon Kuldip Nayar, the founder pioneer of UNI and a vociferous critic of the emergency along with numerous other eminent and fearless journalists were imprisoned. Gaur Kishore Ghosh, the Calcutta-based renowned writer, and columnist shaved his head as a mark of protest and was reprimanded by the authorities.

Among notable exceptions who enthusiastically lauded the emergency among the journalists was Khushwant Singh, who justified the move in his various columns.

Out of the five national English dailies published from New Delhi, Statesman and Indian Express repeatedly criticized the government for its despotic attitude.

Spreading the gag on foreign media, several foreign correspondents including Mark Tully of the BBC were asked to leave the country to prevent them from reporting anything anti-government and anti-Congress.

The controversial censorship or gag was removed on March 21, 1977, when the government decided to restore civil liberties and call for fresh elections.

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