The Opposition is within its rights to boycott television anchors whom they see as rabid communalists disguised as nationalists because the right to boycott intemperate news anchors is a part of the right to freedom of speech of which press freedom is a species. This is why 57 years after the absolute malice test was devised by the U.S. Supreme Court, a Supreme Court bench led by CJI Dhananjay Chandrachud pronounced that it would be “egregious” to prosecute journalists for false statements in their news reports. What he may have meant was the apex court did not intend to prosecute “egregious’ journalists like the 14 news anchors whom the 28-party Opposition alliance has boycotted.
News analysts, lawyers and debaters who have flayed the Opposition alliance for boycotting these 14 news anchors do not realise the Opposition is exercising its fundamental right to stymie hatemongering under the guise of free speech which has been hemmed in by eight nebulous restrictions under which a plethora of laws emanate. The mainstream media ignored Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo campaign which is why the 28-party Opposition alliance has a right to name and shame ignoble news anchors who peddle hate speech under the guise of nationalism.
The judges of the Supreme Court extended protection from arrest of the three members of the Editors Guild of India for a controversial report on media coverage and the government handling of the ethnic clashes in Manipur. Most of the news anchors whom the Opposition have boycotted have peddled the government line on Manipur without delving deep into the issue to expose the fact that the Meitei chief minister of Manipur N Biren Singh may have partly been responsible for the ethnic violence in Manipur which cannot be solved without replacing him, according to Patricia Mukhim, editor of Shillong Times.
This is why the Opposition has a right to propagate its views by accessing news channels who are sympathetic to their ideology. For India, which is what the alliance has been named after, has metamorphosed into an amalgam of ideas never envisioned by those who framed the Constitution. And Bharat has now become the epitome of such a metamorphosis with economists like Bibek Debroy espousing the idea that we need to relook at our Constitution.
What he did not say is those who rule us may seek to revamp the Constitution itself as they have been elected and not selected like the judges of the Constitutional courts whom the former law minister Kiren Rijiju allegedly called “unelected officials” according to Karan Thapar, precipitating Rijiju’s exit. For the top judiciary found Rijiju to be immature without a full understanding of how precedents bind Supreme Court judges themselves.
The basic structure doctrine has been criticised by Constitutional functionaries like Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar and the former CJI Ranjan Gogoi who do not realise it was re-examined by another 13-judge bench comprising eight new judges because their predecessors had retired. The new bench was put together by the then CJI AN Ray, seen as an appointee of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
CJI Ray wanted to relook at the doctrine that Parliament could not amend the basic structure of the Constitution but was embarrassed when all the judges unanimously opined the earlier bench in the Kesavananda Bharati case of 1973 was right. He rose to declare: “This bench is dissolved,” thereby saving himself acute embarrassment as he was the only judge who felt Parliament had the right to revamp the entire Constitution. Justice Ray was the 14th CJI while senior advocate of the Supreme Court Jagdeep Dhankhar is the 14th Vice President of India, who has argued that Parliament is supreme in a democracy which is why the Supreme Court was overstepping its Lakshman Rekha when it devised the basic structure doctrine.
With the greatest respect to him, the Vice President of India, Jagdeep Dhankar and those who share his views like MP Ranjan Gogoi, who was earlier the 46th CJI, are wrong. It is the Constitution which is supreme in Bharat which was once known as India, and judiciary, the executive and the legislature derive their very existence to the Constitution.
This is why the right to remain silent which is concomitant with the right of the Opposition to boycott the 14 news anchors is as much a part of Article 19 (1) (a) as it is a part of Article 20 and 21 to insure criminals against incriminating themselves. For aggressive news anchors murder the reputation of individuals, institutions and ideas under the guise of free speech and nationalism. This took place in 1951 as well which is why the ambit of Article 19 (2) was widened to circumscribe and narrow the ambit of the right to free speech under Article 19 (1) (a).
Those who have flayed this boycott as boding ill for free speech do not realise the right to boycott is a species of the right to free speech. An invitee has the right to walk out of a televised news debate when he is not given an opportunity to rebut the allegations against him, his political party or corporate entity, to abuse free speech and brainwash gullible audiences whose emotions are roused when appeals to religion, caste or nationalism are made.
This is why if we do not prosecute egregious news anchors for what are admittedly false statements, we encourage yellow journalism. The erudite 50th CJI DY Chandrachud, with other Constitutional functionaries like Vice President Dhankhar and MP Ranjan Gogoi who was the 46thCJI, may all be wrong. Congress spokesman Adhir Ranjan Choudhary has alleged the Opposition was recently given a new Constitution wherein the preamble has dropped the two words “secular” and “socialist”.
Now if we read this allegation in conjunction with Bibek Debroy’s opinion that we need to relook at our Constitution, we must realise Bharat which was once called India, may be headed towards a theocracy disguised as a democracy when in fact it may be likened to a mobocracy.
Olav Albuquerque holds a PhD in law and is a senior journalist-cum-advocate of the Bombay High Court