Internet zindabad

These are bleak times. The economy is in bad shape. Parliament has become an arena for noise instead of lawmaking. National power grids collapse with frightening speed. Crusaders against corruption become politicians overnight. And Supreme Court judges and auditors usurp the right to govern India. As a political commentator, I have found few cheerful subjects to write about. That is until the government announced its plans to censor the Internet.

Why should this announcement have cheered me up? Quite simply because it reminded me that however bad India looks at the moment, it is nowhere near as bad as it used to be in those socialist times when I began my career as a journalist. I joined The Statesman newspaper two months before Mrs Gandhi declared the Emergency and imposed press censorship. The Statesman, like this newspaper, chose to defy her diktat and was forced to submit to pre-censorship. On some days, the newspaper was returned so late at night that it became pointless to print the next day.

As a humble reporter, it was not my job to report on the momentous political changes of the day so I was secretly thrilled to become a victim of censorship personally. A series I did on Delhi hospitals was considered too dangerous to be published. This occasioned my first visit to the Press Information Bureau (PIB) in Shastri Bhawan that in those Emergency times was the nerve centre of Mrs Gandhi's exercise in totalitarian rule. The officials who manned the PIB had a full sense of their power and did not take long to convert the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting into Orwell's Ministry of Truth. It is important to remind you here that Indira Gandhi herself realised what a big mistake censorship was and admitted it was one of the reasons why she lost the 1977 election.

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