Panditji is often hailed, rightly so in some cases, as a steadfast believer in the freedom of speech. His stand on this freedom doesn’t seem to be stable. Let us look at some instances.
His speech in the Constituent Assembly on 08-Mar-1948:
“We have been extraordinarily lenient towards the Press, Indian and foreign. We have gone out of our way to tell them that we will not do anything even if they send message which are extremely disagreeable to us.”
In a speech at the Newspaper Editor’s Conference on 3/12/1950, he said:
“I have no doubt that even if the government dislikes the liberties taken by the press and considers them dangerous, it is wrong to interfere with the freedom of the Press. By imposing restrictions you do not change anything; you merely suppress the public manifestation of certain things, thereby causing the idea and thought underlying them to spread further. Therefore, I would rather have a completely free Press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated Press.”
Surprisingly he was the first to apply a gag on the press. He moved the first constitutional amendment on 10 May 1951 which was enacted by Parliament on 18 June 1951. The amendment introduced a qualifier- ‘reasonable’- for freedom of the press.This was in response to articles critical of his policies by a communist party journal from Madras, the Organiser case and the court’s favourable judegemetns to the petitioners.
In a speech in Parliament on 29-May-1951, he said:
“The Press if it wants freedom – which is ought to have must have some balance of mind which is seldom possesses. One cannot have it both ways. Every freedom in this world is limited, limited not so much by law as by circumstances. We do not wish to come in the way of freedom of the Press. Personally, I am convinced of the freedom of the Press.”
The statements apear to go back and forth. While wanting to appear pro-press and therefore be considered a liberal, he also tries to curtail some aspects and says ‘freedom is not un-limited’.
I, however, want to think that he was constrained to initiate the first ever press gag in Free India, just to take care of the nascent democracy that India was, then. But, as everything has a first time, the press gag too had one , and that was ironically initated by Panditji himself. Let us remember that he had asked Shankar, the cartoonist, not to spare him in his cartoons.
As with all leaders of the past, Nehru would have to be considered as a whole and not in bits and pieces. Let us explore this and some other aspects of Panditji in subsequent posts.
Ref: Romesh Thappar vs The State Of Madras.
Ref: The Organiser – State of Punjab.