In just the last few months, at least eight politicians from Karnataka — all from the BJP — have approached courts and obtained injunctions against the media publishing any ‘defamatory’ material against them. The latest to join the long list of these politicians is MLA MP Renukacharya who had made headlines in 2007 when a woman had accused him of sexual harassment. Ahead of the Cabinet reshuffle in Karnataka, Renukacharya who had hoped to get a berth, had got an injunction from the city civil court. But he did not make it to the Cabinet anyway.
A few days before him, Sadananda Gowda, who was then a Union Minister, had also obtained a similar injunction from the XIV Additional City Civil Judge Bengaluru before the reshuffle of the Union Cabinet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The order says that publishing ‘false and frivolous’ news against Gowda “will affect badly on his political career” and that some people will “take benefit of such reckless statements trying to create an uncomfortable environment to remove the plaintiff from his portfolio”. In this case too, despite this injunction, Gowda did not make it to the Union Cabinet. An injunction is a restraining order that one can obtain from a court, that prevents the media from publishing news.
In March, 2021, Ramesh Jarkiholi, who was embroiled in a sex-for-job scandal was made to step down as a state minister. After a huge political row over the alleged sex CD, he had obtained an injunction against the media airing the contents of the CD, from a civil and sessions court in Bengaluru.
More interestingly, immediately after, six ministers — Dr K Sudhakar, Shivaram Hebbar, BC Patil, ST Somashekar, Narayan Gowda, and Byrati Basavaraj — filed a joint plea in the additional city civil sessions court and got temporary injunctions even before any CD surfaced. Incidentally, all of them were new entrants into the BJP, having jumped ship from either the Congress or the JD(S).
Though the media has no business publishing any material about consensual relationships, in the above 8 cases, it is not even clear if there was any defamatory material doing the rounds.
Other than these 8 leaders, Mines and Geology Minister Murugesh Nirani and Yeddiyurappa's son and BJP party vice-president BY Vijayendra secured injunctions against reporting their alleged connection to certain scams.
While many are questioning Karnataka politicians’ penchant for injunctions and the courts’ alacrity in handing them, senior advocate BT Venkatesh says the precedent for all this was set almost 40 years ago. “In the 1980s, Karnataka saw the first of such injunctions when the then DGP BN Garudachar got an injunction against publication of allegations of corruption among other things. This became a precedent for cases with people saying that their names are being maligned and it is obstructive to their discharge of duties,” he tells TNM.
Going forward, many politicians too cited this case to obtain similar injunctions, Venkatesh says. “A good number of politicians have used this. One of the earliest instances of a politician using it was in the early 2000s when Ananth Kumar, former Union Minister, had filed a suit against Gauri Lankesh and got an injunction against publication of any defamatory material,” he adds.
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In the more recent past, BJP Rajya Sabha MP, and now Union Minister of State, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, in 2017 had obtained an injunction from the 40th Additional City Civil Court Judge in Bengaluru to stop The Wire from communicating, exhibiting, publishing, distributing, providing access to or sending any information or communication, with respect to two articles. The HC struck down this injunction and reminded that the press is functioning as the watchdog of the constitution.
Sadananda Gowda, in the past, had resorted to a similar tactic in 2014 while obtaining a temporary injunction against the media telecasting allegations made by a young woman who had accused his son Karthik of rape.
Another BJP leader, Tejasvi Surya had gotten an injunction even before he contested in his first election in 2019. During the campaigning for 2019 Lok Sabha election, Surya who was contesting from the Bengaluru South constituency, was accused by a woman of sexual harassment. After the media reported this, he got an ex-parte injunction against 49 media outlets from reporting ‘any defamatory statement in any manner’.
While leaders of other political parties in India too, like Congress’ JT Patil and HY Meti have also resorted to gagging the media using injunctions, BJP leaders overwhelmingly dominate the list.