Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said The Hindu was being targeted for having been “brave” enough to expose the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Rafale deal.
His comment came in the wake of the Centre’s contention that the Rafale files had been “stolen” from the Defence Ministry and that publication of news reports based on these files, including by The Hindu, was a violation of the Official Secrets Act (OSA).
Other Opposition leaders, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, also expressed disquiet over the government’s threat to invoke the OSA, condemning it as a move to muzzle the media.
Climate of fear: Naidu
“Instead of coming clean on the alleged irregularities of the Rafale deal brought out by The Hindu and Mr. N. Ram, the Modi govt. is trying to silence the press through unconstitutional means by creating a climate of fear. It signals an imminent possibility of the breakdown of democracy,” Mr. Naidu tweeted.
Ms. Banerjee said in a post on Twitter, “I strongly condemn threats by BJP govt. to one of India’s Very most senior & respected editors, N. Ram. Invoking Official Secrets Act to browbeat journalists is a shame. They cannot control freedom & rights of the press as per their convenience.”
On Wednesday, AttorneyGeneral K.K. Venugopal told the Supreme Court that the “secret” documents published by The Hindu on the purchase of Rafale jets were “stolen” from the Ministry of Defence, probably by former employees. The government was thinking of taking “criminal action” under the OSA as the publication of the documents had put national security at risk, he contended.
BSP chief Mayawati said the Rafale issue had now become more than just an issue of corruption and instead a matter of national security following the government’s “sensational disclosure” that documents had been stolen. (With inputs from Omar Rashid in Lucknow and Suvojit Bagchi in Kolkata)