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MEHRU JAFFER | 11 NOVEMBER, 2016

A Page From History


It is not the first time that this has happened to us. It happens all the time and the consequences are always disastrous for those who try to snatch civil liberties from the people and to throttle the media. Yet they try their luck again and again. And each time it is the will of the majority who are also the poor and the illiterate in society, that always triumphs in the end.

Closer to home, autocracy tried its luck during the Emergency imposed upon the country in 1975 by Indira Gandhi when civil liberties were suspended and the media was made impotent. After having made citizens suffer for nearly two years, Mrs Gandhi's style of politics was wiped out from the face of the country through the ballot box and just a few years later she paid with her life for all the wrong political decisions she had made during her tenure as Prime Minister of India.

There is a far worse example of another autocrat, on another continent. Adolf Hitler who came to power after democratically held elections in Germany in 1932 is a great lesson in what not to do while in power. Once that brute and such an apology for a politician was chosen as head of state early in the following year, one of the first things he did was to end Germany's multi-party political system. The politics of opposition was one of the first casualties of Hitler's Germany.

Media was the second casualty.

Within weeks of coming to power, Hitler's Nazi Party began to take over the media. He announced a brand new ministry of propaganda to feed voters lies about his achievements. The media came under the tight control of the ministry of propaganda and all access to any alternative news was snuffed out.

Thirty five year old Dr Joseph Goebbels was chosen as head of the new ministry, also the youngest minister in Hitler's cabinet. Embarrassed at the obvious implications of the word propaganda, he had wanted to disguise the work of his office by calling it the ministry of culture and public enlightenment. But Goebbels idea was dismissed and he was instructed to concentrate instead on opening a propaganda wing in every other ministry as well in an attempt to control the work of key ministries like foreign affairs and education.

The German press was totally under the thumb of Goebbels ministry of propaganda. According to a new Editors Law of 1933, only racially pure people were given jobs as editors and journalists. In paragraph 14 of the law, the ministry warned working editors not to publish anything that might harm Germany.

Before it came to power, the Nazi Party had owned less than three percent of Germany’s 4,700 papers. Later it owned nearly all of the country's media outlets. Those newspapers still in the hands of private or institutional owners operated in strict compliance with government press laws and published material only in accordance to directives issued by the ministry of propaganda. Those who defied government orders were marched off to one of the many concentration camps built by the Nazi Party, and killed.

Hundreds of newspaper offices were shut down during the decade long reign of the Nazi Party and many of these newspapers were published by political parties banned by Hitler. Goebbels had liberally used both the print and broadcast media, including theatre and films to create fear against a takeover of Germany by communists. This helped the government to consolidate the day to day anxieties and insecurities of ordinary citizens who very soon suffered a complete clamp down on civil liberties, and democracy came to an end in the country.

Naturally when people are jobless, hungry and homeless they find it bothersome to imagine non tangible merits of democratic ideals like freedom of expression and one man one vote. After winning over their trust by spreading lies in society, the Nazi Party stole the voice of the people who could do little after that happened except watch political pimps go on a rampage and do whatever they wanted to do to make sure that they remained in power.

(Cover Photograph: Joseph Goebbels, German propaganda minister during Hitler’s rule, speaks on the night of book burning Berlin, Germany, May 10, 1933)


Nazi Party thugs were allowed to roam free. Fearlessly they took to the streets to bully, arrest and to kill political opponents in public. They arrested people on whim and sent millions to detention centers to perish.

A totally disfranchised population was rendered powerless in the face of such political thuggery. In the absence of an outlet to voice the collective opinion of people all it could do was to look at opposition political party offices stormed and taken over by force and family, friends and neighbours murdered in cold blood.

In the name of purifying the nation, an attempt was made to Aryanise the media as well. Many of its previous owners were booted out of Germany and unable to cope with the cruel circumstances around them, a large section of German population fled the country on its own. Professional journalists were replaced by any one loyal to the Nazi Party.

If ever you sense something similar happening around you in India today, do spread the word and stand together to fight similar injustices if only as precaution against excesses suffered by citizens like in Hitler's Germany not so long ago.

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