Asianet News Editor MG Radhakrishnan had taken to his social media recently sharing screenshots of an article he had written in the Open magazine. “An article appeared on November 9 issue but mysteriously disappeared from all digital platforms the next day,” he posted.
The article was seemingly published in the Open magazine published by the Open Media Network, which is a media venture of RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group (RPSG). Another relation they have with Kerala is their joint tie-up with Ram Prasad Goenka Group (PRG) — Harrisons Malayalam. The article opens with the tale of a young 30-something-year-old in bloody clothes, coming out of jail after the emergency, voicing powerful prose against the then Chief Minister K Karunakaran. Radhakrishnan begins that article with the speech that made Pinarayi Vijayan and then goes on to explain how it is this same leader that has brought out the latest amendment.
The article is currently missing from the online page, as well as the digital copy of the magazine. A quick perusal of the pages reveals that the story is missing from the contents section. The title, however, is indicated on the cover page of the magazine but is missing inside.
Meanwhile, Radhakrishnan’s Facebook post indicates that the article’s page numbers are from 42 to 44, the same pages missing from the digital edition. Page 46 follows 41 in the digital version. The article titled ‘Has Kerala become a police state?’ talks about how the state under Pinarayi Vijayan is resorting to draconian laws to intimidate and suppress critics. Radhakrishnan takes note of the new police act as well as the state’s comfortable use of the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The magazine has reportedly not hit the stands in Kerala. However, if that is the case, then that seems to be very indicative of certain assumptions placed upon the incident.
Is it because the owners were scared by the new amendment or was it another political pressure altogether? Harrisons Malayalam, while a powerful force, has had its run-ins with the state government several times since the LDF govt came to power. A few years ago, the government had arranged for the seizure of around 30,000 acres land owned by the plantation company in five districts — in the name of “taking back illegal landholding”. In 2018, the Kerala High Court had returned the land claiming that the decision of the government-assigned officer was “legally unsustainable”. One missing article isn’t the problem. The missing article was talking about a leader, who had recently passed an amendment with the power to curb free speech, and published in a magazine owned by a company that had quite a few run-ins with the same leader. All of this combined is indicative of a scare tactic sponsored by the state.
‘LDF will come, everything will be set right’ was the alliance’s tag line for the 2016 Assembly elections. The party had been gaining a momentum thanks to their efforts against the UDF government and the various controversies that seemed to have swallowed the Congress party. Fast forward five years later, and the LDF and the CPI (M) find themselves in a similar or worst situation. Several central agencies have zeroed in on Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office. The arrest of the latter’s Principal Secretary M Sivasankar by the Enforcement Directorate and now the Customs in the gold smuggling scam, and their addition of his name in various other crimes seems to be hitting close to home for the CPI (M)-led government.
Meanwhile, the former party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son Bineesh Kodiyeri has also been named by the ED and is under Narcotics Control Bureau’s radar in the Bengaluru drug case. This turn of events has invited criticism from the public as well as opposition parties.
But how should a democratically elected government deal with critics? If we were to go with how the BJP-led Centre and states work, then there would be a curb on free speech. However, would a government led by a Communist party, which has constantly criticised the Centre for curbing free speech and limiting individual liberty, using draconian laws ever take such a step? One would be surprised.
Kerala Governor Arif Muhammed Khan had recently signed into ordinance a piece of amendment in the Kerala Police Act that had disastrous effects on free speech. The ordinance was pushed by the Left government in the state, mainly the CPI (M). Section 118 (A) of the Kerala Police Act allowed the police to suo motu file a case against anyone for spreading information that can hurt or defame through any media. Although the government had explained it away by claiming that it was to protect children and women in digital spaces, critics say that the wording was suspect.
The state has already proved itself capable of bringing a law to scare critics and suppress free speech through whatever means necessary. While many applaud the reversal of the decision, it should be understood that any law should be brought as democratically as possible and anything other than that should be a matter for concern. Next, the idea that such an article criticising the state and its measures hasn’t had any presence in the state is something that could have been the norm if the Police Act amendment had stayed. Here, it is suspect that the article, written by a senior journalist, hasn’t been available for the public.