THIS Independence Day, the Modi government has yet again made it clear that in our country, none but one person has the freedom of speaking his ‘Mann ki Baat’. Not even the democratically-elected chief minister of a state.
Before the Independence Day, Doordarshan Tripura had recorded a speech of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, which was to be telecast on August 15. But a day before the scheduled telecast, the Prasar Bharati sent a letter to the chief minister’s office saying that the speech was not in line with the “sanctity and solemnity attached with the occasion” and that it would telecast the speech only if the chief minister agreed to reshape it.
Before coming to the question as to whether this can be done or not, let us ask if this is the “cooperative federalism” that our prime minister refers to every time he speaks. Because what we see here is not cooperation but an untoward competition. A communal outfit like the RSS is trying to compete with democratically-elected governments to curb the constitutional provisions and make the country run on its terms. And what is even more horrifying is that some of the central governmental agencies and autonomous organisations, running with tax-payers’ money, are brazenly siding with the RSS in this “competition”.
If anyone had felt that the chief minister had made any provocative or unconstitutional statement in his speech, in violation of rules, he/she could have used the constitutional provision to lodge a complaint. But what right do the officials, including the CEO of the Prasar Bharati, have, to take policy decisions to the extent of trying to censor the head of an elected government?
After this issue emerged in the public domain and questions were raised, apologists of the government tried to put up a feeble defense saying that it might have been an act of one or few “overenthusiastic staff” working for DD Tripura, and that the central government cannot be blamed for this. However, had that been the case, then one would have expected the information and broadcasting ministry to come out with a clarification, apologising for the incident and condemning the so-called “overenthusiastic employees” for showing this unconstitutional audacity of trying to censor an elected chief minister.
Prasar Bharati had a problem in broadcasting the Tripura chief minister’s speech. But as one would remember, in 2014, soon after Narendra Modi assumed office, this same Prasar Bharati went out of its way to broadcast the Vijaya Dashami speech of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. And Bhagwat clung to the opportunity to do what he does the best – propagating hatred. Throughout his speech, he went on from spewing venom against the minorities and dalits to giving lessons to women living in this country as to how to live a ‘sanskari’ life. Clearly, the present policy makers of the Prasar Bharati find communal bashings and hate speeches more worthy of being given a platform than voices advocating plurality, inclusivity and human rights in this country.
The Supreme Court judgement on the basis of which the Prasar Bharati was formed clearly reads, “It should be operated by a public statutory corporation or corporations, as the case may be, whose constitution and composition must be such as to ensure its/their impartiality in political, economic and social matters and on all other public issues. It/they must be required by law to present news, views and opinions in a balanced way ensuring pluralism and diversity of opinions and views.” So, what we see here is not only a violation of the judgement but also a major departure from the basic idea of having a free broadcasting media like the Prasar Bharati. Now we know that any voice not falling in line with the dominant narrative will not be allowed to use the common broadcasting infrastructure of this country.
Manik Sarkar, one of the longest-serving chief ministers of India, is accepted across political lines as someone who indubitably epitomises sense, sanity and honesty in Indian politics. If this voice of sanity is stifled by forces desiring hegemonic control, then along with it, the silent majority who strive for peace, national unity and harmony in this country are momentarily stifled. And if they become convinced that the democratic system has become non-functional in this country, then it does not augur well for the development of the motherland.
And finally, there is not much disagreement on the fact that Prasar Bharati’s actions reflect the central government’s intentions. So, if they cannot accept some of the statements of Manik Sarkar, it means that the government at the centre is finding them unacceptable. And what exactly are those statements? They are the ones in which the chief minister of Tripura had asserted the need to protect the idea of India. A bunch of bureaucrats trying to teach an elected chief minister what is to be said is outrageous. But what is more alarming is that the Prasar Bharati found those parts of the chief minister’s address ‘unacceptable’ which spoke of combating the politics of communal genocide and upholding the secular values enshrined in the constitution. The Modi government not being comfortable with Manik Sarkar’s speech yet again asserts the fact that at present the Indian constitution is not in safe hands. After all, why does the chief minister of Tripura have to be censored if he speaks of India being a pluralistic and diverse society? What is wrong if a chief minister urges upon the people of his state to unite and safeguard the secular fabric of the society? Why should a chief minister not say that killing human beings in the name of protecting cows is unacceptable? If the central government thinks that something is wrong in these statements, it yet again tells the people of India that something is seriously wrong with the central government.