Blocking Tripura CM's speech shows how Prasar Bharati is now part of BJP's propaganda war
The BJP-led Union government has hit a new level of brazenness by getting the public service broadcaster to allegedly block the Independence Day address of Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. With every passing day, the BJP is demonstrating that it is intolerant towards other parties and the ideologies they represent. Why else would it insult a state government like this and deny the latter the freedom of expression?
Sarkar has rightly slammed the move as "undemocratic, autocratic and intolerant”. Prasar Bharati is the public service broadcaster and the Union government cannot assume to be the sole custodian of the public's views. As the head of a democratically elected government, Sarkar has as much right to be aired on Doordarshan and All India Radio as Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sarkar's speech was recorded on 12 August and was to be broadcast on DD and AIR in Tripura on 15 August but was dropped altogether. A letter to Tripura government from AIR's Director General is doing the rounds
Attaching A copy of the letter asking Tripura CM to 'reshape' his I day speech. Hope that settles it. pic.twitter.com/xPaHeyDjpC— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) August 16, 2017
The letter reportedly says that the decision to cancel airing the speech was taken 'collectively' keeping in mind “the sanctity and solemnity attached with the occasion”.
The letter shows that Prasar Bharati displayed shocking audacity in asking the Tripura government to “reshape” CM's speech to make it eligible for broadcast. The Union government is now going to direct state governments what to say and what to avoid! Federalism just went for a toss.
Interestingly, DD Kendra, Agartala has refuted these allegations and has said that the speech was indeed broadcast for 12 minutes.
The CPI(M) has reacted strongly to this explanation. "Prasar Bharti is being too clever by half. They say 'we have covered the functions the CM attended' but the point is that they didn't cover his speech," said CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
What is it that Sarkar had said that riled the national broadcaster so much? In his speech, Sarkar merely flagged the key concerns that the country is facing. Along with inequality and unemployment, the CM also talked about the “spirit of secularism” being “under attack”.
He said “conspiracies” were being hatched to create “divisions” and that “our national consciousness” was being “invaded...in the name of religion, caste and community”. Minorities and Dalits were especially under “severe attack”, he asserted, adding that these incidents were “contrary to the goals, dreams and ideals of our freedom struggle”.
There couldn't have been a more pertinent Independence Day address in 2017, given the times that have descended upon the country in the 71st year of its Independence. Haven't there indeed been numerous attacks on Muslims and Dalits across the country in the last three years? Are the murders of Mohammad Akhlaq in 2015, Junaid Khan in 2017 and several others in between fiction? Is the flogging of Dalits in Una in 2016 an imaginary incident?
Forget average Muslims, even someone of the stature of Vice President of India has been attacked not just by right-wing trolls but by Modi himself, through brazen jibes delivered inside Parliament. The last incident in particularly telling. It shows how right-wing followers feel no inhibition in attacking those sitting in highest constitutional offices if they belong to or defend the minorities. Spare a thought for the powerless average Muslim.
Why shouldn't AIR and DD have aired this speech then? The answer lies not just in the shortcomings of the institutional set up of Prasar Bharati that gives it no room to function as anything more than the government's mouthpiece. The much more sinister reason is that this regime wants only kind of views to be propagated and all others to be blocked. Only that explains how the speech of an elected CM is not aired on Independence Day but what is duly aired is the Vijayadashami address by the head of an organisation that was banned for a large part of independent India's history.
This is only likely to worsen now with Prasar Bharati getting another major platform under its wings. After Venkaiah Naidu took charge as Vice President of India and Chairman, Rajya Sabha, the operations of Rajya Sabha TV, run by the upper house were handed over to Prasar Bharati.No data to display.
RSTV and LSTV are channels run by the Parliament and not the government. What is the point in handing over a Parliamentary channel to an agency that reports to the government? This practically amounts to transferring the domain of the legislature to the executive. That too it was done without taking permission of the Rajya Sabha.
This government is trying its best to promote only its own voice and muzzle all others. The alleged censuring of Sarkar's speech is yet another proof of it.