October 12, 2014

Assault on the Constitutional Values of Secularism

Brinda Karat

THE Prasar Bharti which was ultimately set up by an Act of Parliament in 1998, having undergone several changes from the original version of 1990 was conceived to ensure a degree of autonomy to the public broadcaster while still maintaining Parliamentary oversight. In the section on its mandate, there are several clauses in the law reading from Clause A to Clause P. These provide the framework for the vision and approach of the public broadcaster.The very first clause reads, "The Corporation shall, in the discharge of its functions, be guided by the following objectives, namely: Upholding the unity and integrity of the country and the values enshrined in the Constitution." This legal mandate was grossly violated on October 3 when Doordarshan broadcast the speech of Mohan Bhagwat, RSS chief. It is indeed a reflection of dark times that the day after the country celebrated the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, an organisation which had been implicated in his assassination, gets to have the speech of its leader broadcast, and that too, live, through the courtesy of the national broadcaster Doordarshan. This is a complete misuse of official machinery to promote the ideology and leadership of an organisation which has no constitutional status. The explanation given by Doordarshan that the speech was broadcast because it was newsworthy has no credibility. The speech of the RSS chief is an annual event on Vijaya Dashami, which is also observed as the foundation day of the organisation. It may have warranted a para or two in the newspapers or even a mention in a news bulletin, but a live broadcast? It hasn’t happened in the decades since DD was formed. What is so special and newsworthy to warrant a live broadcast in 2014? The only difference is we have a pracharak as our prime minister. Who took the decision? It is an open secret that Prasar Bharti which is supposed to be an autonomous body had no idea of this plan. The supine bureaucrats in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry issued the orders and the directors of the Doordarshan, jumped to attention rather like the swayam sevaks they were mandated to cover live. The director generals of News Divisions of AIR and DD are appointed directly by the ministry without any consultation with Prasar Bharti. What worth is such autonomy, when the heads of news channels owe their posts to the government. Can any of them dare to refuse an order? There was a time under the Congress regime, when Doordarshan, when it had a monopoly of the airwaves was, referred to as his/her masters voice. The complaint was that it was the government and ruling party leaders which got all the coverage. But in this case, under the Modi dispensation, DD has gone a step further, and given live coverage not to the government at the expense of the opposition as it was earlier, but to an extra constitutional authority. The RSS is a self proclaimed sectarian organisation which does not claim to represent all Indians but just one section, those who are Hindus. It is an organisation which has been banned twice, which has been indicted by several commissions of inquiry as being responsible for the many cases of communal violence in independent India. More recently, its leaders and its cohorts have been instigating a highly coloured communalised campaign against so-called love jihad, spreading hatred against Muslims. If the speech of such a leader is broadcast live, it is an assault on the constitutional values of secularism. What is his locus standi? It also leaves the door wide open for leaders of other equally sectarian organisations functioning in the name of Islam or any religious sect or “godmen” and “godwomen” to demand equal time on national TV for the rantings of their leaders. When political parties recognised by the Election Commission of India speak on behalf of their parties during election broadcasts on Doordarshan, they have to submit written texts of their speeches which are then vetted by DD officials. Sentences and paragraphs are removed if they are not in consonance with the code of conduct set by the Election Commission. These, remember, are recognised political parties; yet even their leaders have to subject themselves to a code and are not allowed to make extempore speeches live. Did Mohan Bhagwat submit his speech to Doordarshan? Obviously not. He did not need to because it would seem that in Modi’s India, the RSS is above the law and has special privileges. Broadcasting the speech live, meant that words and ideas which should have no place in a secular society were beamed across the nation. It was shameful that Doordarshan should provide its platform for such a distorted perception of history and culture. The speech was replete with references to Hindutva and Hinduness as being the core of India. Bhagwat once again asserted “all encompassing truth is what we call Hinduism. It is our national identity.” Further, “unbroken current of national unity is known as Hindutva.” No religion can be equated with national identity in a secular country. India is not a Hindu nation. The founder of the Indian Constitution rejected Hinduism and wrote an impassioned document as to why he had converted and become a Buddhist. Is it then not abhorrent that Ambedkar should be referred to in the same sentence as Golwalker, the RSS leader who epitomised Hindutva sectarianism, equated as great leaders as Bhagwat did? In his speech he referred to the RSS sevaks as a workforce “energised with the pride of their Hindu national identity.” Is this the kind of sectarian stuff that the national broadcaster wants to promote? If you can propagate men being energised with Hindu national identity then why not Muslim national identity or Sikh national identity or Christian national identity? What happens to Indian national identity? Moreover the RSS chief made totally unwarranted and mischievious references to " jihadis" coming across the borders from Bangladesh to Bengal and Assam.He deliberately mixed up the issues of illegal migration to "jehadis." He spoke lies about the situation in Kerala and Tamilnadu. All this was broadcast live.This is a serious assault on the rights of governments of these states. We may and do have serious differences with these governments, but the irresponsible statements made by the RSS chief about the situation in these states were designed to create communal tension and disharmony. The information and broadcasting minister has come out in his true colours. He is prepared to subvert the law to serve the interests of the RSS. He has much to answer for.