Cong targets Modi over press freedom

New Delhi: Congress today charged Narendra Modi with destroying media freedom in Gujarat and questioned his promise of ridding politics of criminals when he “embraces” accused like Amit Shah and Babubhai Bukharia.

Taking a dig at the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate over his extending greetings to journalists on World Press Freedom Day on March 3, Congress spokesperson and Law Minister Kapil Sibal said Modi’s regime in Gujarat epitomizes unparallelled intolerance not witnessed in any other state in the history of India.

To buttress his point, he said there were “rampant” instances of “sedition” cases against mediamen in Gujarat.

“Given an opportunity, Modi has violated the freedom of press both in letter and spirit. He destroys freedom of the press, whenever he gets a chance,” Sibal said insisting that Modi targetted the media if they wrote against him.

Sibal said his words of greetings sound hollow when one looks at the “track record of Modi government”.

He also attacked Modi over his claims that he would rid Parliament of criminals, saying the Gujarat Chief Minister has himself “embraced” criminals in his state.

“Amit Shah is accused of triple murder in Sohrabuddin fake encounter. His minister Babubhai Bukharia, convicted for three years under the Prevention of Corruption Act, continues to be in his Cabinet and another minister Purushottam Solanki continues while he is being prosecuted,” he said.

Sibal also reiterated his “potential accused” sobriquet for Modi. The BJP’s PM pick has in a media interview attacked Sibal for use of this term.

The Law Minister also targetted Modi for daring the Election Commission to file another case against him.

“This amounts to threatening the Election Commission. I do not recall that anyone else in independent India has talked in such a manner. Our misfortune is that such a person is a PM candidate and such a man with a dubious distinction seeks to occupy the top post in the country,” Sibal said.

Accusing Modi of “destroying” everything that he talks about “protecting”, he said Modi “does exactly the opposite of whatever he says. He talks of freedom of press but attacks the media.

“Modi says Parliament will have to be freed from criminals. Yet he embraces criminals. The biggest criminal is Amit Shah, who is BJP’s campaign in-charge for Uttar Pradesh,” Sibal charged.

Mentioning specific instances in which sedition charges were slapped against journalists in Gujarat, he asked whether a case of sedition should not be lodged against Amit Shah for describing Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh as a den of terrorists.

Sibal said that a Hindi news channel, which was going to telecast Tehelka’s sting operation that “exposed involvement of top BJP leaders” in communal violence in 2002, was stopped from airing the programme in 2007.

“In 2006, the editor, circulation manager and a computer manager of a newspaper in Surat were arrested on the charges of sedition after it published an article on the state governments’ mismanagement in releasing waters from the Ukai dam leading to the flooding in Surat. The editor was released after 39 days in jail after he apologised.

“Editors of a newspaper in Bhavnagar and Rajkot were arrested and charged with sedition in 2004 after it published articles exposing scandals in the local police. Another editor was arrested on sedition charges the same year for writing an article alleging that the state government was aware that a local company was involved in arms smuggling.

A senior reporter of a national Hindi news channel was charged with sedition charges in 2003 after his report alleged that the government neglected the rehabilitation of an orphan, who has lost his parents in the criminal violence in 2002. Modi called for a ban on a channel in 2002, which was highlighting police and state complicity in the communal violence in Gujarat,” Sibal said.

Maintaining that hard facts tell a different story from what Modi says or tweets on various issues, Sibal alleged, “the art of fooling people has been perfected by him. We worry about the future of India when a man with dubious intentions seek to occupy the office of the Prime Minister of India.”

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