The Mamata Banerjee-led government’s decision to ban all dailies except eight vernacular newspapers in state-funded libraries to promote “free thinking” among readers, has drawn widespread criticism, including from those who once were close to the chief minister.
“The order is totally against democracy and the rule of law and at the same time it is laughable to say the least. Now the government will decide what one should read and what not… dailies, which are well known and have high circulation are off the list… don’t know what next they will come up with,” said educationist Sunando Sanyal, once close to Banerjee and head of the West Bengal Syllabus Committee for a few months after she came to power last year.
Sanyal, who staunchly supported Banerjee during her fight against the erstwhile Left Front regime, said the government was fast losing trust of people and this order would further damage its image.
Among the newspapers, which have been barred from the state-funded libraries, are the largest circulated Bengali daily Ananda Bazar Patrika, Bengali dailies Bartamaan and Aajkaal, and leading English newspapers The Telegraph, The Times of India, The Statesman and Hindustan Times. In fact, none of the English dailies feature in the list of newspapers permitted.
“In public interest, the government will not buy newspapers published or purported to be published by any political party either national or regional as a measure to develop free thinking among the readers,” reads the March 14 order issued by the department of mass education extension and library services.
The circular has specified eight newspapers that henceforth will only be available which includes five Bengali, one Hindi and two Urdu dailies.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Anisur Rahman described the order as an “unpardonable offence”. The opposition Left Front Tuesday protested in the state assembly against the order.
The Congress also came down heavily on the decision. “The government cannot decide what the people will read. It is an intrusion on the freedom of reading. We will protest this move,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, State Congress president.
Civil rights activist Sujato Bhadra also criticised the move and termed it as an “attack on democracy and the freedom of people”.
Trinamool Congress MP Kabir Suman, a known Banerjee baiter, said, “The government wants to show how much power it can wield. It wants to prove that it can do whatever it wants to. But it will soon realise that it can go on doing things which are unacceptable by the people.”
In the wake of widespread criticism, Library Services Minister Abdul Karim Chowdhury who reportedly was summoned by Banerjee yesterday, defended the decision.
“The government has a policy. We are implementing it. The order has been passed following all rules and regulations,” said Chowdhury after the nearly hour-long meeting.
The order which seeks to promote “free reading”, however, has on the list, a Bengali newspaper owned by the family of a Rajya Sabha MP from the TMC and its associate editor has recently been elected to the upper house of Parliament on a party ticket.
Also on the list are a Hindi and an Urdu newspaper whose MD and a senior journalist, respectively, have also been elected to the Rajya Sabha as TMC members.