– by Brinda Karat
It is 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, courtesy of the national broadcaster Doordarshan. This is a complete misuse of official machinery to promote the ideology and leadership of an organization which has no constitutional status. It also signals an ominous development that under the Modi Government, the RSS will have access to the institutions of the State.
The explanation given by Doordarshan that the speech was broadcast because it was newsworthy is just plain stupid. 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? Get serious. 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 DD jumped to attention, rather like the swayam sevaks they were mandated to cover live.
The Director Generals of the News Divisions of All India Radio 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 Master’s 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 organization which does not claim to represent all Indians but just one section – those who are Hindus. It is an organization 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 communalized 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 recognized 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 recognized 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 Golwalkar, the RSS leader who epitomized Hindutva sectarianism, and that they should be equated as great leaders by Bhagwat?
In his speech, he referred to the RSS sevaks as a workforce “energized 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 energized with Hindu national identity, then why not Muslim national identity or Sikh national identity or Christian national identity? What happens to Indian national identity?
The Information and Broadcasting Minister has much to answer for.
(Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.)