‘You won’t find such restrictions in any government’

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CPM leader Mohammad Salim tells Shonali Ghosal that Mamata Banerjee’s decisions are against democratic norms

Mohammad Salim
Mohammad Salim

What is your response to the Trinamool Congress’ move to restrict major dailies available in state-run libraries?
This is nothing but Mamata Banerjee’s understanding of democracy. She has been doing this against the Left, the CPM, the working people and the trade unions. There is no tolerance for anything. All decisions taken are against the spirit of democratic norms. Tomorrow they may tell you what to paint and what not to paint.

The CPM has termed the move as undemocratic but didn’t politicisation of the media begin during the CPM regime?
How can the media be politicised? The freedom of a newspaper to pursue its policies is there in the Constitution. Most of the media, whether national or regional, has been against the Left. Where in the country will you find any media house supporting Left-wing politics?

But channels like 24 Ghanta openly support the CPM.
There are newspapers that we publish: People’s Democracy, Janashakti, Deshabhimani. Every Communist party in the world has its own political organs. But we are not forcing others to print our views.

What about the news channel in Kerala started by the CPM?
If I can hold meetings, if I can have a website, if I can put up advertisements, I can also run newspapers or a channel as long as I’m not forcing my views on others. I having a meeting with my people as opposed to I telling others what they can or cannot do, which one do you think is undemocratic?

So your main opposition is to other dailies being forced?
There should be comparison between comparables. The TMC has its own party papers, BJP has BJP Today and the Congress has Congress Sandesh. It’s another matter they restrict circulation among their own members or leaders. But they have mass media. Can you point out any instance in the past 34 years when we forced any library to keep this paper and not that one?

But there are allegations that the CPM got The Statesman editor Ravindra Kumar and its printer Anand Sinha arrested for allegedly hurting the sentiments of a few Urdu speaking moulavis and maulanas.
There was an FIR lodged by a section of population followed by a 20-day-long dharna, stone-throwing incidents and protests. The TMC leadership led those campaigns. Then the police booked Kumar after which he got bail from court. The government did not prosecute for political reasons, but to restore communal harmony. The maulanas with whom Mamata is now sitting, led the protests. At that time the newspapers asked: why isn’t the government taking action?

Hasn’t the CPM got into the habit of accusing TMC of things that they themselves were guilty of when in power?
No, because even in this case, the affected media raised the issue. The CPM did not organise protest rallies or demonstrate in front of Writers’ Building. In fact, now the media complains about the CPM not playing the role of the opposition. Even on Mamata Banerjee’s ban on major dailies, we did not call for bandh, organise any procession or give any memorandum. It’s just media warfare now because some mediapersons were sent to the Rajya Sabha and others barred. Such restrictions did not exist even during the Emergency. Forget the CPM, you will not find a parallel example in any state in any government.

Shonali Ghosal is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
shonali@tehelka.com

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