Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar
Tripura Chief Minister Manik SarkarWikimedia Commons

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar has alleged that Doordarshan and the All India Radio (AIR) refused to broadcast his Independence Day address that was scheduled to air on Tuesday as they felt it was an "undemocratic, autocratic and intolerant step." The broadcasters had also said that they would not air the address unless he "reshaped" it.

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However, when the public broadcasters sent Sarkar a letter asking him to "reshape" the content, he refused to do so.

The public broadcasters had recorded Sarkar's speech on August 12. But on Monday, 7 pm, they informed him that they would not be able to broadcast it.

Here's what the letter said

The letter was sent by Prasar Bharati to Akashbani Agartala, in which assistant director of programmes (policy) for director general, Sanjiv Dosanjh said: "Keeping in view the sanctity and solemnity attached with the occasion the broadcast is meant for, the CEO, Prasar Bharati was also consulted and the collective decision taken at Delhi advises that the broadcast may not go with its existing content," according to the Times of India. 

The letter also said, "AIR/Prasar Bharati will however be more than happy 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 Chief Minister Manik Sarkar
Tripura Chief Minister Manik SarkarWikimedia Commons

Powder keg ignited

The prohibition had earned a lot of criticism from CPI(M), the ruling party of Tripura.

The Politburo Member of Communist Party Sarkar, in his speech, had said, "Unity in diversity is India's traditional heritage. Great values of secularism have helped in keeping Indians together as a nation. Today, the spirit 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."

The CM's office not only said that Sarkar would not change the content but has also described the actions of the public broadcasters run by Prasar Bharti as an infringement on the right of a Chief Minister.

"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 CPM politburo said in a statement. 

Sitaram Yechury
In picture: CPI-M leader Sitaram YechuryCPI-M official website

Meanwhile, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury took a dig at the ruling party of India and said that Doordarshan was "not the private property" of the BJP-RSS. He also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of "instructing his cronies to black out voices of the opposition including an elected CM."

"BJP's model is to remote control Tripura from Delhi. CPI(M) will fight for Tripura's rights and honour against BJP's dictatorial centralism," Yechury said in a tweet on Wednesday.

"Modi government should refrain from using Prasar Bharati as a department of the ministry of Information and Broadcasting," the politburo release stated.

However, a senior government functionary has said that BJP had no hand in the censoring of CM Sarkar's speech. "No rule was violated and the call was taken by the broadcasters, at their own level. DD or AIR was not nudged to act in a certain way. If that had been the case, we would have had problems with other chief ministers as well," the functionary told Times of India.

Meanwhile, the Prasar Bharati chairman A Surya Prakashhas refused to comment on the incident.