Prasar Bharati wants Manik Sarkar to reshape his address to the people, in what could be interpreted as an open incursion on freedom of speech
Doordarshan and All India Radio recorded the Independence Day speech of Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar on August 12. But two days later, Prasar Bharati, the body that controls DD and AIR, informed Sarkar’s office that it would not broadcast the speech in its current form, and asked the four-time chief minister to “reshape” the content. It’s not clear whether Prasar Bharati acted on its own or was obeying orders from the BJP government at the Centre. Either way, it’s not difficult to guess what in the speech provoked those in Delhi to take this extreme step.
The BJP is touchy when it comes to criticisms on rising violence against minorities and Dalits since it came to power. One such reference by Hamid Ansari, about the minorities feeling insecure, had turned the whole BJP machinery against him on his last day as Vice-President earlier this month. Right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vice-President-elect Venkaiah Naidu to BJP leaders and cyber soldiers unleashed taunts and attacks against Ansari. In his speech, Sarkar said the sense of security Dalits and minorities felt was being shattered and that India’s secularism is under attack.
“Unity in diversity is India’s traditional heritage. Great values of secularism have helped in keeping Indians together as a nation. But today, this spirit of secularism is under attack. Conspiracies and attempts are underway to create an undesirable complexity and divisions in our society; to invade our national consciousness in the name of religion, caste and community, by inciting passions to convert India into a particular religious country and in the name of protecting the cow. Because of all these people of Minority and Dalit communities arc under severe attack. Their sense of security is being shattered. Their life is under peril. These unholy tendencies cannot be harboured or tolerated. These disruptive attempts are contrary to the goals, dreams and ideals of our freedom struggle. The followers of those who were not associated with the Independence movement, rather sabotaged the freedom movement, were servile to the atrocious. plunderer and merciless British, aligned with the anti-national forces having decorated themselves today in different names and colours are striking at the root of unity and integrity of India. Every loyal and patriotic Indian must take the pledge today to remain committed to the ideal of a united India and to counter the attempts towards such destructive conspiracies and attacks. We must all work and collectively strive to ensure security of the Minorities, Dalits and preserve the unity and integrity of our country.”
These words may probably have ruffled many feathers in Delhi. According to a letter Sanjiv Dosajh, assistant director of programme (policy) at Prasar Bharati, sent to the Tripura CM and was tweeted by journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, they discussed the speech’s content with Prasar Bharati CEO and decided against broadcasting it. The letter says:
Reference your mail on the above subject
The matter cited above has been considered and keeping in view the sanctity and solemnity attached with the occasion the broadcast is meant for, the CEO Prasar Bharati was also consulted the collective decision taken at Delhi advises that the broadcast may not go with its existing content.
AIR/Prasar Bharati will however be more than happy if the Hon’able chief minister agrees to reshape the content making it suitable to the solemnity of the occasion and sentiments of the people of India at large.
Assistant Director Programmes (Policy) for Director General
Both Sarkar and his party, CPI(M), later confirmed that the DD and AIR refused to broadcast his speech unless he changed the content. The CPM Polit Bureau issued a statement on August 16 evening, saying the Prasar Bharati decision was a “gross infringement on the right of a Chief Minister to address the people of his state on Independence Day.”
“The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) strongly condemns the refusal by the Doordarshan and All India Radio to broadcast the customary Independence Day address of Manik Sarkar, Chief Minister of Tripura.
The Doordarshan and All India Radio had recorded his speech for the occasion. However, they subsequently informed him that the speech cannot be carried as it is and asked him to “reshape” it.
This is a gross infringement on the right of a Chief Minister to address the people of his state on Independence Day. This act is reminiscent of the Emergency days and goes beyond as it seeks to gag the elected Chief Minister of a state. The Central Government is trampling upon the autonomy of Doordarshan/AIR and Prasar Bharati by such acts of censorship.
The Polit Bureau demands action against those responsible for prohibiting the broadcast. The Modi Government should stop treating the Prasar Bharati as a department of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.”
The BJP’s caustic approach towards the Tripura CM, who is known for his clean, corruption-free image in politics, is not a secret. Recently, for instance, BJP workers gheraoed Sarkar’s residence alleging that his government had failed to remove the indefinite road and railway blockade by Indigenous People’s Front Tripura (IPFT) demanding a separate State. And Sarkar has been a sharp critic of the Modi government and its socieconomic policies. As recently as last Sarkar had said “all the agents of corporate houses are in Niti Aayog”, the NDA’s pet economic think tank which replaced the erstwhile Planning Commission, which the BJP would like to call a socialist relic. Now, with the I&B Ministry-controlled autonomous Prasar Bharati censoring Sarkar, the spat is set to snowball into a larger political controversy.