On January 30, 2015, the Gujarat Samachar Television (GSTV) aired a half-an-hour programme called “Gandhi Hatya Koni Jawabdari”, which roughly translated to who’s responsible for Gandhi’s death.
The Economic Times (ET) on September 15 reported that on February 2, three days after the programme was aired, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) sent a show-cause notice to the channel. The notice claimed that the programme aired on Mahatma Gandhi’s 67th death anniversary was “a deliberate attempt to malign reputation” of a leader currently holding an “esteemed office”.
In the last one year, there have been attempts at reviving the legacy of Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Gandhi on the morning of January 30, 1948, by opinion-makers as well as fringe organisations like Hindu Mahasabha; the latter had planned to construct a temple in the name of Godse. The programme blamed the government for not stopping the glorification of Godse, reported ET, which had examined the script. The programme took pot-shots on Narendra Modi, though, without ever mentioning his name, saying “Gandhiji always lived a simple life, whereas he wears a suit worth Rs 9 lakh and moves in expensive cars”; and that “Gandhi’s thoughts cannot be taken forward by wearing expensive suits or by waving brooms in the air”.
The February 2 notice sent by the I&B ministry didn’t name the Prime Minister either, but objected to GSTV’s criticism: “…the channel says this leader initiated the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, but does he actually believe in Gandhian ideology…” GSTV, which was given one week to reply, answered saying it had not violated the programme code in any manner, and argued that the show-cause notice issued to it by the I&B ministry was unjust. This didn’t satisfy the ministry: an inter-ministerial committee comprising of bureaucrats and other experts was asked to look into the matter.
A source, who knows about this committee, said: “Thanks to the culture of sycophancy, the bureaucrats will go to any extent just to please the government.”
On June 24, the committee asked GSTV to present a verbal explanation, which it did. But the committee hasn’t yet given its verdict. We had a brief telephonic interview with Shreyans Shah, the director of GSTV and the publisher of the popular Gujarati daily Gujarat Samachar. Here is what he had to say:
How did you present your case in the inter-ministerial committee meeting of June 24?
I said we have done nothing wrong. I said that our programme is within the stipulated framework of the ministry’s guidelines.
I also clarified the point on Godse: Gandhi was the most popular leader of his time – like Modi is popular now. After 60 years of Gandhi’s murder, Godse is being deified, there are temples being built in Godse’s name. I said that a criminal act can’t be justified. People of this country wouldn’t appreciate this.
Curiously, neither the programme on your channel nor the I&B ministry’s show-cause notice mentions the name of the “esteemed leader” whose reputation you have allegedly hampered.
They asked why I had done this, why I had mentioned Modi’s name in the programme. I said I didn’t, there was only a reference to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. There was no intention to criticise the government or the prime minister, there was nothing personal about it
Do you think the show-cause notice amounts to curtailing the media’s freedom?
Yes, absolutely. With cases like this, all successive governments would want to ensure that the media toes the line of the government. At the end of the day, that’s what all governments want.
Does this have anything to do with the fact GSTV is a Gujarati channel — that the prime minister belongs to Gujarat?
That I don’t know, honestly.
If by any chance your channel gets suspended, would you appeal against the verdict?
Yes, naturally, we would appeal in the court. But I really don’t know how the judiciary is going to respond. It’s already been lying there for six months.
A suspension would certainly affect our revenues negatively. But we’ll lose more than that: we would lose not only viewership, but also our prestige.