Manik Sarkar I-Day speech row: Tripura CM says Prasar Bharati, Doordarshan trying to 'mislead people'

State-run broadcasters Doordarshan and All India Radio find themselves sandwiched as two political powers — one seeking to usurp and the other firm on retaining domination — prepare to lock horns in the electoral battle in Tripura due in six months. There are other players in the ring but the bulls with bigger horns matter for now.

Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar. Image courtesy PIB

Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar. Image courtesy: PIB

The Independence Day speech row which suddenly catapulted the tiny northeastern state and its chief minister to national headlines is another political drill in disguise to draw maximum mileage ahead of the polls to the 60-seat Assembly. BJP's posture as a conqueror may worry the Left Front in Tripura but it would be akin to building castles in the air if one expects the party that won 49 seats in the 2013 Assembly to surrender meekly.

Despite allegations by the BJP that the speech — which was not aired by the national broadcasters on 15 August — is an outright, unnecessary political assault on the central government, the chief minister rejected the charge vehemently.

"I have not said anything about the BJP. What I have commented upon is the stand of the Prasar Bharati with regard to my speech recorded on 12 August scheduled to be telecast on 15 August morning which they gagged. That is undemocratic, authoritarian, and an expression of intolerance," Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar told Firstpost from Agartala.

Significantly enough, although the speech was not allowed to be aired by Doordarshan and AIR, the criticism of their action by the chief minister (who called it "undemocratic, authoritarian, and an expression of intolerance") carried the same sentiment of the recorded speech. It now probably got delivered with a bigger bang.

"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 cow," Sarkar had apparently said in his Independence Day speech which was shared by CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury on Twitter.

Soon after the controversy erupted, the chief minister firmly said that he did not make any reference to or named any political party. Literally speaking, that cannot be contested but the speech itself was loaded with connotations that were meant to be read between the lines. It was quite obvious for the politically-inclined that the speech did target the BJP and right-wing fringe elements.

Unperturbed by the clamour on the content of the speech, the chief minister made it clear that it was the national broadcasters who requested for a speech from him which was supposed to be aired before the official flag hoisting on Independence Day.

"I have not said anything with regard to any political party in this regard because it was recorded by All India Radio and Doordarshan Agartala on the auspices of Prasar Bharati. They have actually raised the objection with regard to my recorded speech and they said that it should be 'reshaped', otherwise it can't go. I have to confine my comments on this, I won't like to comment on other things. It is not the proper occasion," Sarkar said, treading a rather thin line between political and non-political while indicating that he was not willing to say anything on the BJP.

However, the chief minister also clearly said "nothing of that sort" has happened yet when asked if the public broadcasters have tendered any apology. Finding itself under tremendous scrutiny for its role in the whole episode, Doordarshan Kendra Agartala did try to wriggle itself out free by issuing a letter to the editors of national dailies only to shoot itself in the foot.

In a release addressed to the editors of all national level dailies on Wednesday, UK Sahoo, head of office, Doordarshan Kendra, Agartala claimed that "the News Unit of the local station of Doordarshan at Agartala has given wide coverage to the public address of the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Tripura and the development activities of the State Government."

"On August 15, 2017, Doordarshan also gave wide coverage to the Chief Minister's Independence Day programme and telecast report running to 29 minutes and 45 seconds. Out of which, the Hon'ble Chief Minister's speech coverage was for 12 minutes. This was telecast at 1900 hrs," Sahoo said.

The chief minister simply refuted all the claims made by the Doordarshan station head in Agartala.

"That is also not correct. I have received it (the Doordarshan letter to the editors). It has also been clarified from our side. They have diverted the question. What they are saying is that on 15 August at Agartala at 9.10 in the morning, they (covered) the state central function where the chief minister addressed the people. Not only this, so many programmes were held. On 15 August in the evening, they did telecast the programme of the state which was organised in connection with the observance of Independence Day. In that programme, they have also telecasted the speech delivered by the chief minister on the Assam Rifles ground," he said.

The chief minister called the letter by Doordarshan a sheer attempt to deflect from the real issue.

"That is not the point from our side. Our point was this was what happened to the speech recorded on 12 August which was scheduled to be telecast on 15 August morning on which they have raised the question. They have not answered anything. Actually, now they are trying to mislead the people. They have now realised the reaction of the sensible people of our country. Because of that gusto, they have tried to escape. They have adopted this tactic now," Sarkar said.

It is quite evident that Doordarshan and AIR are mere pawns in this David and Goliath contest. Taken aback by this unusually sharp and indirect attack by the chief minister, the BJP did try to match in response.

"Whatever he said it is highly objectionable. The speech during the flag-hoisting has to be non-political. The chief minister must talk about achievements and challenges. What he did was to criticise the Centre in extremely bad words. The Tripura chief minister was mannerless in his conduct. However, we have not decided on our next course of action," BJP central observer for Tripura, Sunil Deodhar, had told Firstpost.

Although the poll bugle has not been sounded officially yet, battle lines are clearly drawn with BJP going out all guns blazing to end the four-term continuous trot of CPM strongman and Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. The party made its intentions already clear when in a swift and stealthy operation, it took Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress by surprise and roped in all six Trinamool MLAs to its fold.

Aware of the opponent's Mossad-like techniques to outfox its political enemies, Sarkar knows very well that he must up the ante to prevent a ripple from becoming a wave. The battle has only begun in Tripura and Narendra Modi is yet to land.


Published Date: Aug 18, 2017 07:46 am | Updated Date: Aug 18, 2017 05:09 pm