New Delhi: This commentary will address two issues. The first is the growing authoritarianism of the Congress-led Central government, evidenced by the arrest of two Zee TV journalists. The second issue concerns the FDI multi-brand retail vote in Parliament, which the opposition can win outside the two Houses, on the street, where it most matters.

The Zee TV case is of course complicated by allegations of the Navin Jindal group that the media house tried to extort Rs 100 crores for obscuring its involvement in the coal scam. In the background of paid news and of editors and publishers reaping windfalls by virtue of their proximity to the ruling party, you cannot, on the face of it, give a clean chit to Zee TV or its journalists. There is also the fact, however, that Navin Jindal, who is at the centre of the controversy, is a Congress MP, and if he can succeed in frightening a major media group, the others will fall in line, and kowtow to the establishment, more than what they are doing. And for Jindal’s good work, surely he will be rewarded. All this is rather obvious, and for their own well-being and preservation of independence, the media as a whole must unite on this.

One needs to remember Martin-Niemoller’s poem, "First they came...."

The particularly troubling aspect of the Zee TV affair is the Delhi Police probe of a leaked Comptroller and Auditor General’s report concerning the coal scam. There is no reason why leaks cannot be probed, but in the context of the Central government’s ceaseless attack on the institution of CAG, and particularly its upstanding chief, Vinod Rai, there is more to it than meets the eye. Journalists cannot be interrogated for the sources of their stories, and the Supreme Court has made its position clear on this before, so any police pressure applied on Zee TV news staff on this count is illegal. It is clear that the Central government is behind the campaign against Zee TV, and the media must awaken to this threat of growing authoritarianism.

There is the related issue of the abuse of Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, on which the Supreme Court has thankfully now intervened. Forgotten in the Facebook controversy relating to two young Maharashtra women who made innocuous comments about events surrounding Bal Thackeray’s death is the arrest and detention of a Pondicherry businessman who alleged corruption against P.Chidambaram’s son on Twitter. There are no words of regret on this from the minister and no punitive action taken on those who made the arrest, whilst the errant officials in the Maharashtra case have been punished. Why this double standard? It is apparent that the Central government will not tolerate dissenting voices pertaining to its own venality and corruption whilst it will take a holier than thou stance on other cases. The Supreme Court and the media but above all civil society and the people must call the Central government to account on this.

Which brings to the issue of the FDI multi-brand retail vote in Parliament. As corrupt and venal as the Congress-led government at the Centre is, it has mastered the art of coercing, cajoling and blackmailing its coalition partners. So Congress’s UPA partners will vote with the government deploying any and all justifications for their immorality, including the fig leaf of secularism. The opposition, therefore, whilst not giving up on the parliamentary vote, must undertake a high-voltage campaign among the people exposing the perfidy of such Congress allies as DMK, BSP, Samajwadi Party, etc. This will send a clear message to UPA allies that they are taking a great risk by becoming identified with the anti-people policies of the government. This and other such actions will make an impact on the general elections a year from now (UPA-2 may not survive till 2014), and this is what the Opposition should work towards.