Censoring Tripura CM Manik Sarkar's speech reeks of BJP politics

It would be foolish to only attack Prasar Bharati and not see an ulterior motive.

 |  4-minute read |   16-08-2017
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The BJP has launched an aggressive Northeast campaign over the past decade and it has been very productive for the party. They are in power in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. They are part of the ruling alliance in Nagaland and Sikkim. One of the states left to conquer seems to be Tripura. Here also, the BJP has made inroads, after the six suspended Trinamool Congress MLAs joined the party recently. There is still one big hurdle that the party faces in Tripura, a man called Manik Sarkar.

Manik Sarkar has led the CPI(M) government in Tripura for almost 19 years. Media reports often hail him as one of the most honest (and poorest) chief ministers in India. His simple ways have made him immensely popular in Tripura and that has resulted in a consolidation of seats in the state Assembly.

Tripura also represents one of the last strongholds of the Left. Therefore, for the BJP, it also becomes an ideological battle, however symbolic it might seem. It was not completely surprising then, when the news broke out on Tuesday (August 15) that the Prasar Bharati had refused to broadcast his Independence Day speech on Doordarshan and All India Radio.

All this took place due to the direct interference from the Prasar Bharati CEO and one might assume, in turn, the I&B ministry at the Centre was involved. Sarkar was instead sent a letter saying they would broadcast his speech “if the hon'ble 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”.

tripura-cm-manik_081617050454.jpgImage: PTI phtoto

One might naturally ask what was in his speech that made it unsuitable for the solemnity of the occasion and what were the things he said that might have harmed the sentiments of people of India at large.

One thing that comes out clearly from the text is that his speech is a political one. But Independence Day speeches have often been political. They are meant to be political since it is important to talk about the country in some context. One might say that it is imperative for leaders to build a narrative. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to highlight his achievements in the development of the country, the Tripura CM concentrated on what he perceived as threats to Indian democracy.

In his speech, Sarkar talks about the threat to secularism, especially the growing cow vigilantism and instances where minorities have been suppressed. He invokes history to take a jab at the BJP and the RSS.

“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.”

The speech also pleads to loyal and patriotic Indians to pledge "to remain committed to the ideal of a united India and to counter the attempts towards such destructive conspiracies and attacks".

It is surprising what problem could the Prasar Bharati have with such a speech. For one, it has no authority to judge the speech of an elected leader of a state just because they are ideologically different and have political sensibilities that don’t match with theirs.

Secondly, some of the points, especially about cow vigilantism are points that the prime minister has himself raised when he appealed people not to indulge in such acts and let the law prevail.

Thirdly, these are some things many Indians are talking about, so who are they to speak on behalf of the "people of India at large". This action comes across as illiberal, dictatorial and against the spirit of our democracy.

But it would be foolish to only attack Prasar Bharati for this move. As an institution, it is ultimately just a government body and has hardly shown any signs of autonomy in its years of existence, regardless of the political party in power. It is just sticking to the narrative which the government at the Centre wants.

Politically, these are signs of an upcoming election. Of course, for some, not all parts of Sarkar’s speech were statesman like. But the BJP is hardly the party which can criticise people for lack of statesmanship.

They clearly showed us how they can belittle an outgoing vice-president just to score brownie points. This is clearly grand gesturing by the Centre, sending signs that they are ready to lock horns with Manik Sarkar in 2018.

With all the Machiavellian might of the BJP against him, it would be interesting to see how Sarkar saves his chair and one of the last bastions of the Left.

Also read: Censoring Tripura CM’s Independence Day speech is a travesty of freedom


Abhishek Anicca Abhishek Anicca @gumnaam_musafir

The writer is interested in politics, music and gender. International development professional without the international experience. Has worked in Bihar on multiple public health projects.

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