The idea of media freedom in a constrained atmosphere!
Is India a truly a free country?
A liberal and open society?

MPSuch questions are not asked. Not because those who are tempted to ask don’t ask, they are constrained.  The other day when a national newspaper celebrated its 140th anniversary its publisher wrote and pointed out how journalists in India were killed and a number on which it seems nobody seemed to care about. There is an international journalists association, called journalists without borders, a Paris based organisation that tracks journalists all around the world. Where does India ranks in the international freedom of the press index?

The country ranks 138, among 180 countries. This is in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index compiled by the Paris based Reporters Sans Frontiers. So, as Indians we must realise that we are not a great nation for freedom of expression, freedom of the press and a freedom of the individuals.

The work related killing of 48 journalists in India, including 34 murdered in retribution for or  to prevent news coverage and commentary doesn’t again speak well of our many claims and self-justification for our own a utterance and actions since 1992. India is again one of the dozen countries figuring year after year in the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ)’s Global Impunity Index where journalists are murdered, the cases remain unsolved and the killers go free.

And, let all of our journalist fraternity and the editors and owners of media, newspapers, magazines and TV channels know and take note and pause and think deeply and come out with their own thoughts so that we as a nation ponder over what all these developments convey to our collective existence.

Today there are many challenges. One, is of course the technological changes, the great impact of the internet spread, the phenomenon of the mobile phones and the revolution in Google, Face book, the very telecommunications, the new revolutions in  the speed and the accuracy, the social media with its advantages and its challenges, the rise of the phenomenon of  false and fake news.

Lately, the fake news menace is such that there is no way politically the open societies can thrive and grow if there is no way ordinary people, the common man on the street has to get his information correctly.

Unfortunately it is not easy for the free media to thrive unless there is so much concentration of power, money power, political clout and also the muscle power. In the context of mob lynching as new phenomena, there is no way democracies can provide a peaceful existence for citizens if politics is going through a phase of intolerance. We in India thought at one time, during the first few years of freedom, under leaders like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru that a non-violent society could thrive and sustain. Today alas! It looks that such a dream is not possible.

Our democracy is not so non-violent, as far as possible, it is a mixed blessing. So, what are we left with?

It looks that sheer commercialisation, sheer concentration of power both economic and political, drives our very social and moral trends. There is any number of fake phenomena. Even the much talked about our spiritual traditions see an influx of fake swamijis, godmen and what else you have got. There is a strong dose of irrational fake forces to drive our mental inverse.

Also, there is the democracy’s many undesirable features. Propaganda in political discourse is deteriorating day after day. The Prime Minister and the other leaders of the ruling party also seem to indulge in discourses that are far from restrained and civilised. So too the Opposition leaders. Specially for the leading Opposition party, namely Congress, under an young leader seems to be going far from the traditional Congress ethos.

There is a tradition left behind by Mahatma Gandhi and Panditji where we have to carry the entire country forward if we want to leave behind a hoary tradition of “live and let live’ culture, the self-restrain for a leader is  very important. Now, as for the news media too, we see the local language TV channels indulge in all sorts of cheap language and even vulgar expressions for the sake of drawing the lowest common denominator of the audience.

Media freedom has to be nurtured by the government. In this sense we are not yet a free society and free culture. This is an area we have to give much attention too. Indian English language press needs much protection and there is a wider awareness that in the long run, it is only the print press, the independent small press that can save the soul of a nation, a society that can call itslef as a civilised one.

Unintelligible to policy makers?
You see we as an agri/rural media are enough experienced and also enough foolproof to any sort of scepticism! Agriculture is the most important and high priority sector everyone would jump to endorses it and yet why this sector is one of tears and no joys?

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat

See the number of schemes, unpronounceable at the latest-the latest Prime Minister’s scheme is-PM-Asha, expand it as Pradhan Mantri Annadata  Aay  Sanrakshan Abhiyan! Why make these poor men’s schemes so mouthful?

Anyway, if you ask the reasons that can be too many and too complicated too! Politicians might have their own public and private reasons, isn’t it so?

Just recently, we collected some ideas from the agri ministry. There are two ministers, one Radhamohan Singh who often talks of some interesting schemes, the latest we read about is about tapping the milk potential from the desi cows! WE see his deputy, MoS Agriculture, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat talking about congress receiving money through hawala sources!
Is this his domain? There are so many other pressing issues in the agriculture ministry itself. Even if he takes one topic a day his time won’t be enough. But we see the ministers these days talk without inviting some feedback about their own performance.

We have the rural development minister Narendra Singh Tomar talking about his own ideas. For a question as to what he has been able to achieve the outlined agenda on rural development, the hon’ble minister answers that there is a need for self-employment in rural areas as all  want to get a job!

Is this all he has got to say?

There is a crying need to create jobs. It is becoming a scandal and that too as elections   are coming up  in many states and the TV channels flash day in and day out that for each job, be that is a constable or a peon hundreds are lining up, even PhDs are there for the very mean jobs.

What has happened to this country? The decibel level of the political rhetoric has also deteriorated and all sorts of unprintable words are bandied about and you can call yo0ur political opponents in any way you like?

No, this sort of politics must end and be it Rahul Gandhi or the PM or the FM, they have to show much restraint and people would judge for themselves who is a clown and who is not. The rural development minister promises houses for all by 2022.This is of course a tall order and he and his successors even cant hope to aim for such heights.

There are very many high policy issues, education must change, it is already changing, young men and women are deserting the bogus engineering colleges, as in TN and elsewhere, also the craze for English medium in secondary schools, even in LKG and UKG would wane once the school system expands and the various progressive features of new Acts see to it that everyone, every aspir9ing child or parent gets his or her wishes fulfilled. That is the aim of the government and it must be so.

Unfortunately, the HRD ministry, as the Agriculture Ministry is poorly led by people who are first not suited for their tasks. We have to say this here, right now, for we are a media committed to the lost causes! We don’t have a commercial backing, no CSR nor other media agency, government’s ones are so far from the ground level realities of this country.

We don’t want to be seen as the crying babies! Unfortunately, none so far in the Information ministry has reformed the ministry and there is priority ad support or other subsidies to enable such media like the ones that cater to high priority but low in attention value!

Indian agriculture is so high priority that you need to have panels discussing the several critical aspects of assuring farmers price support, other supports. We talk too much and too much empty talks and exhortations!

The ministers must travel ext5ensively across the states and meet the men and women in action. The ministers must engage themselves with   the civil society, NGOs and why not even the Opposition leaders and also must know how the farmers are doing in the respective regions.

There are farmers agitations everywhere, the agitations have been increasing as per one report and there is farmers’ unrest! We want the hon’ble ministers to take our critical comments in good spirit. From our own village we wrote to the PMO at the very beginning of his term in 2014! Only now, after four and half years, there is some response and yet the rural development official at the district level had responded. They say there is enough funds. Fine. But when will the project would be implemented, we all in the village wait in anticipation. May be by the time the next step is taken the government’s very term might have ended!

After all this is India where bureaucracy has its own terms and conditions!

But one thing must be clear to everyone. The people of the country, the voters of the states are all awake. If any government doesn’t perform, if the government is seen as only talk and not much performance the governments are voted out.

May be that is the beauty of democracy. Long live democracy!

Ruling and Opposition parties!
To disagree, discuss and debate controversies is the very nature of democratic practices!
Ethical politics is the very core of a democratic society!

pMThe 2019 elections must be based on transparent issues. Issues like large scale corruption in public life. Political parties election funding must be transparent. Based on some of the latest pending issues of electoral reforms. Anybody listening to the Chief Election Commissioner’s suggestions?

And the ruling party and the Opposition parties. They are equally responsible for combating corruption at many levels. The perceived revenge politics must end.

Not one is holder than thou! You can’t claim monopoly over all political virtues. And dump all vices on the Opposition ranks! Give up amoral approach to election win!

Others too discard claims of family dynasty monopoly of polytonality.  In India we have a hypocritical attitude when it comes to practice of the public morality! We have to combat hunger; there are pockets of hunger and deprivation even inside India.

Of course climate change has done lot of damage to the environment and rainfall patterns. Events in India is recent times have fully proved this. The unprecedented floods in Kerala and neighbouring Karnataka’s Kodagu besides also drought in many taluks in the same state proves that agriculture in particular is prone to many uncertainties. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World estimates that in 2017he world population was undernourished. This translates to 821 million people, which is at the same level as that in 2010.Countries in South America and Africa have largely contributed to this increase.

Now, the immediate question is how India and its neighbours have performed?

Yes, there is a good report on the progress in reducing the hunger in the countries of Nepal and Sri Lanka while in India and China there is an overall improvement. But specifically, that one in five undernourished person is in India. Also, India’s other neighbours; Pakistan Afghanistan and Bangladesh are also vulnerable. Agriculture is no more seen as just a food supply segment. It is also a source of many other non-food but food-related issues like health indicators. For instance, India is seen as a country of severe stunting due to malnutrition, India having a severe 38.4 high severity of malnutrition by prevalence in fewer than 5% of population.

This is only one aspect of the agriculture &food production issues. There is many other aspects of rural life. There has been a rise in the number of farmer’s agitations owing to the unsettled and unsatisfactory issues like fostering agri sector. As Devinder Sharma, the veteran farm commentator’s notes in a recent column that according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) farmer’s agitations doubled in two years! To 4,837 in 2016 up from 2,683 a year earlier. Though also there is a publicity blitz in the TV channels about the many new schemes like Pradhan Mantri Annadatta Aay Sanrakshan Abiyan (PMAASHA) and some other schemes the farmers are not a happy lot. The reasons are too obvious to narrate here.

The crop loan waiver is passed and yet the farmers are not getting remunerative support prices.

And also we need some refreshing and innovative real funding scheme like that in Telangana where farmers is paid a cash component so that at least the farmers see some real cash in their hands. You see the Union agri minister is nowhere to be seen in any of the states where farmers are in distress. Nor we see some of the institutions like the Agriculture Insurance Corporation are not functioning.

Just now the government is simply hell-bent (of course, we can also say, why not?)On winning the 2019 general elections and any government in a ruling position can turn and twist the policies and the media being what it is it is anybody’s guess what the government would be doing in the next six months before the next crucial elections.

The latest HDI ranking shows that India is doing fine, with all its many other considerations and India is now at the 130th rank. There have been many improvements in life expectancy, health indices and also other aspects. But the critical question is the rising inequality. This means that the latest improvements in our economic performance and also the economic gains have gone t0 the upper bracket. We are sure the Prime Minister and his colleagues at the Neet Aayog might have briefed the PM and it must be ranking in him when he talks with some bravado as to what he promises all along.

You see rising economic inequality is an old issues, whenever there is economic growth it comes accompanied by the rise in inequalities and inequities too.

Surely the PM must constitute a high power committee with the best economists on hand as to what critical new policy changes needed to arrest this dangerous economic trend.

The rightwing political ideologies all over the world, at all times have s similar response to inequalities and we can surely devise many preventive measures.

There are still many restrictive policies on the statute books, restrictive labour laws, tenancy laws and also land ceiling laws that restricts the dynamism in the economy, in the countryside to invest and take new initiatives so that agriculture becomes a profitable profession. Though professional experts might not mention the most inconvenient truths from the governments of the day, it is our duty; we feel to point out to one or two anomalies. Politics plays a role too. That is unethical politics of election funding and election-fighting.

There has to be some new restrictions in election funds rising. The Chief Election Commissioner has pointed out recently that many restrictions to stop the brazen entry and display of vulgar money by bribing the vulnerable voters sections.

Things have gone far that no criminal candidate can be debarred by the EC and also many other disabilities in the existing frame of the rules.
There are many unethical practices by the inaction of the government to speed up setting the 12 odd special courts to try the offending MLAs and MPs.

The Opposition parties must add these promises in their election manifestos.

All these are important. Simply a sort of revenge politics at the time of any elections doesn’t take any political party or parties far enough to make India a just and fair place for citizens.

Rahul Gandhi called on his colleagues to get a ‘sense of the voters’. This is the sense of voters, as on date!

Everybody’s hands must seem clean!

Let us hope socially conscious media values get due recognition!

hariToday, standards in public life are declining. We can see even the once-much rated Parliament proceedings are falling in substance and gravitas. Many major bills, why, even the budget is passed without debates and serious deliberations. There are many other things like foreign funds to the political parties are passed, almost in the midst of din and disruptions and everyone feels elated that all political parties stand to share the infamy and the funds received by fair and  foul means gets okay within a minute, as if no one noticed what was happening.

Now, the media.

There is a prevailing fear and a sense of threat to the lives of the journalists. Two or more journalists in the TV news industry had resigned or thrown out of employment for reasons everyone knows.

Now, comes the latest news. That the Prime Minister Mr.Narendra Modi’s rather “unparliamentarily language” was deleted from the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha. That in itself is a major victory for the Parliament’s dignity and  weight. So, there are now mixed signals for  the state of the press, media and free debate.

In this environment that Mr.Harivansh, a veteran Socialist   editor and journalist who was close the late Jayaprakash Narayan and also to the other veteran ,the late Prime Minister Mr. Chandra Shekhar has been elected from the JD(U) to the high position of the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

Let us hope and even urge the veteran to see the media industry and its vast growth and also some distortions that had crept in Vadamalai Media wishes the new Deputy Chairman all success from a section of the media landscape that we occupy in the much undervalued agriculture and the rural media front.

A Progressive media man at the helm of the Rajya Sabha Rajya Sabha now has a new Deputy Chairman, namely, the JD(U)Mp Harivansh, a non-Congress man, a Socialist in the mould of Jayaprakash Narayan and  Chandra Shekhar, the former Prime Minister. This is  a happy news for various reasons.

One, the Prime Minister took a different decision this time, he gave up the post to a non-BJP candidate. And that to Mr.Nitish Kumar’s party and also to a candidate who carries lots of credibility and also stature to a post that was always seen as a prerogative of the Congress party.

Of course, the media screamed as if the heavens had fallen and the Congress under Rahul Gandhi once again lost and the BJP won in a very convincing manner. Nothing of the sorts happened. The Congress  was of course was marked by dithering, there was much slowness and there were divided loyalties in the Congress ranks.

In fact, this was seen as a diminishing  capabilities of Sonia Gandhi who, without any serious introspection, is going on with her past mistaken path.  The Congress party is carrying even now a heavy baggage of old hands, all the tired faces are retained by  Sonia Gandhi, no other younger and newer faces are seen at play.

Why not Rahul Gandhi or his young lieutenants take the initiative to contact Mr.Naveen Patnaik or Shiva Sena or why not Mr.Sharad Pawar didn’t speak to Sonia and field a Maratha candidate so that the Shiva Sena can be brought around?

As observers have noted that the Congress this time could have won this seat and only if they had not acted in their past manner. We are sorry to note that the Congress heavyweights of today are split persons, their minds are not there is their task, they are part time politicians and part time earners in their respective professions. Of course, the Congress party  found learn to think in radical lines, please drop the obsessions with dynasty. The fruits of labour wont come so easily as in the past.

Now, the point we want to highlight is that Mr. Harinash  must do everything in his domain top bring credibility to the free press and free media in the time of so much anxiety from his own brood. Free press is at stake.

Yes, Indian press and media is fairly free when we compares around the world. And, luckily, India doesn’t suffer any odium of pressmen arrested and put in prison etc. a plight we see in many other parts of world. That means Indian democracy is fairly tolerant for dissent and criticism. But lately, there is some disturbing trend.

Some journalists from the TV segment have lost their jobs and also the censorship is visible. Of course, it is not the domain of the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman to reform the media industry.

Yet, considering the prestige of the office into which Harivansh is trusted he can  really play some role.

The  Union  Agri Minister Radha Mohan Singh has not been much in the news. His portfolio is agriculture.

radhamohansinghMay be, the political transformation under Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has been gogging headlines all the time that many of his ministerial colleagues don’t get noticed for what they have been  doing. Mr.Radha Mohan Singh in a recent article that is published in a business daily (The  Business line dated August 10 has given a summary of what his department has done so far.

As far as the narration goes the agri ministry seems to have taken a great many initiatives. We can just briefly summarise the same where for the benefit of our readers. Almost some 20 odd schemes and initiatives the dept has taken. The narration runs like a science-based management of resources and sustainable production. Nation-wide soil health card scheme tries to protect the  degrade soil etc. One related scheme is neem-coated ureas as mandatory. The other is nitrogen use efficiency.

The third is the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchavee Yojana (PMKSY). To ensure proper water use. The other very important scheme in our view too is the NEETI AAYOG designed Model Agricultural Land and leasing Act to make the interests of the land owners and the lease holders.

We would say that perhaps this is the greatest change aimed at changing the very face of rural lives that are now marked by so many restrictive clauses in the many land leasing acts, Tenancy, Tenancy Recording, Land ceiling etc. As a result of the continuation of these acts that there is a standstill in agri investments and production and productivity levels. Almost there is a stagnation and even desertion of even productive lands by well-off tenants and their families to leave the villages and go for non-farming activities.

Some states like Kerala, why even Tamil Nadu and much more the Karnataka state too have enacted acts to protect tenants that even if the tenant doesn’t pay rents they can’t be evicted from the land.

Now, times have changed there are radical changes in the socio-economic and cultural  areas, the younger generation rural youth, both boys and girls are educated and no youngster wants to remain in the villages and do agriculture. Even after the government resorted to crop loan write offs and also giving compensation for farmer’s suicides, we can see as in Maharashtra, one of the progressive and industrialised states, we see the unabated farmer’s suicide cases. Why, even in Punjab and other states we see the farmers ‘s distress reaching extreme levels.

So, this one act by the Modi government has brought some  realism in the thinking of the government. But then as in other areas too, Modi’s many promises don’t seem to take off. Now, there is much talk about the 2019 Lok Sabha elections there is very much scepticism whether any substantial land reform are possible.

This is the one  rub!  The rest of the mantri’s narrative again reads like a bureaucratic notings. Yes, there are progress no doubt. Like the eMarket connecting  the country’s 585 Mandis. So too connecting 22,000 rural markets.

There is talk of promoting indigenous livestock etc. Fisheries is one growth area. All narration has a propaganda ring.  What about the current major issues? Plantation sector is one such instance. Excess production of tea and milk. What about exports?

International trade wars are looming on the sky. What is the role of agri exports? This may be the key for future agri progress of the country. No word!
So too alternatives to the crop loan write-off and also crop insurance schemes. More premiums is collected than what the private insurance companies paid to farmers. Any radical step? Or, thought?

We are  rather disappointed by the mantri’s understanding of the crucial agri sector and there are many inter-connected issues like rural development, urbanisation and also the future of farming on the basis of anew radical thinking on relaxing land ownership so that new entrepreneurs enter this sector and invest and create new food processing industries.

Agriculture sector under the Modi regime is a fixed bag. There are certain bold thoughts and policy initiatives. Also, there is much inaction that has led to their present agrarian distress.