“Many newspapers were printing wrong news to incite and mislead the people. Our purpose right now is to ensure that the current situation is one of peace and stability. This is the meaning of censorship.”
Indira Gandhi expressed the above sentiment in 1975 on an All India Radio broadcast informing the public about the proclamation of the Emergency. The message issued by Mrs. Gandhi finds agreement in the core philosophy adopted by several political leaders in recent times. While the common man may easily lament the incomplete democracy India harbours, our fourth estate had always enjoyed extensive freedom in its coverage and reportage of varying issues and opinions. Over the years, however, we’ve witnessed a curbing of our freedom of speech and expression with a multitude of examples of such instances around us and it’s caused a number of questions to come up. When and how did this sudden need to constantly prove our nationalism/patriotism arise? Does criticising the ruling government make you anti-national? How can you stop a democratically elected official from addressing his state? Is concealing facts to maintain peace responsible journalism?
There is a fine line that many have often had to tread between professional and personal responsibility, but one thing that has always been clear is that in a healthy democracy, leaders are elected by the people, and for the people. There is no state diktat on being a true Indian, and media cannot and should not be framed and tailored to suit the popular political narrative, just to soothe egos.
The good thing though is that in times of turmoil and chaos there are certain gems that are unearthed and shine through. People come together in ways that would amaze you, proving that democracy does exist as long as we practice and enforce its principles.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar is one of those people that help us put faith back in our politicians. CM Sarkar’s Independence Day speech is the speech we, as a nation, needed to hear, but instead it was blacked out by Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) as per PTI’s report. The speech was recorded on August 12 and his office was informed two days later that unless the CM agreed to “reshape the content making it suitable to the solemnity of the occasion and sentiment of the people” it would not be aired – a decision that a letter from the Assistant Director of Programmes (Policy) for Director General AIR states was taken in consultation with the Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharati. Prasar Bharati is an independent, autonomous broadcasting agency where state censorship and rules has no place.
CM Sarkar, a Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) politburo member has previously delivered the Independence Day speeches through the AIR and DDK, so what changed now? Most would argue that our current political climate plus our nation’s governance would have more than a little to do with it. We were curious to see just how ‘unsuitable’ the CM’s speech was, and thankfully, managed to get access to a transcript. The CM’s office issued a statement in which they elucidated that “The Chief Minister clearly stated that he would not change a single word and described it as unprecedented, undemocratic, autocratic and intolerant step.”
We read his speech to see the inflammatory statements that harmed the ‘sanctity of Independence Day’ and honestly, didn’t find any. What you will read below is a public statement of India’s current troubles and perils; real issues that need to be addressed. Providing hope and instilling optimism is all well and good, something that Sarkar too does at the end, but first is an acknowledgement of India’s current situation. How do we improve and move forward as a country, if we can’t even recognise our own faults? Stopping others from doing so isn’t going to help.
The following is the full text of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s speech:
Dear People of Tripura
On the occasion of Independence Day, I convey my greetings and best wishes to you all. I pay my homage to the great memory of the martyrs of India’s freedom struggle. I would also like to offer my profound regards to those freedom fighters who are amongst us today.
Celebration of Independence Day is not just a ceremonial occasion. Keeping in view the historical significance and tremendous emotional attachment to this day for Indians, it has to be treated as an important ceremonial occasion for national introspection.
Before us on this year’s Independence Day are quite a few relevant, important and contemporary issues.
Unity in diversity is India’s traditional heritage. Great values of secularism have helped in keeping Indians together as a nation. But today, this spirit of secularism 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. Because of all these people of Minority and Dalit communities are under severe attack. Their sense of security is being shattered. Their life is under peril. These unholy tendencies cannot be harboured or tolerated. These disruptive attempts are contrary to the goals, dreams and ideals of our freedom struggle. 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. Every loyal and patriotic Indian must take the pledge today to remain committed to the ideal of a united India and to counter the attempts towards such destructive conspiracies and attacks. We must all work and collectively strive to ensure security of the Minorities, Dalits and preserve the unity and integrity of our country.
Today, the gulf between the have and have nots is speedily widening. Nation’s vast resources and wealth arc being concentrated in the hands of a very few. A large majority of our people are suffering from poverty. These people are the victims of inhuman exploitation. They are being deprived of food, shelter, clothing, education, health care and security of job for assured income. This is contrary to the aims and objectives of our Independence struggle. Our current national policies are squarely responsible for this state of affairs. Such anti-people policies shall have to be reversed. But words alone will not achieve this. For this, we need the deprived and the suffering Indians to arise, become vocal and to protest fearlessly, collectively in a ceaseless manner. We definitely need an alternative policy that serves the interests of the vast majority of Indians. To bring this alternative policy into reality, the deprived and suffering Indians need to take a pledge on this Independence Day to launch an economic, political and social movement unitedly in a broadway.
The mounting problem of unemployment has created a sense of despondency and gloom in our national psyche. On one hand. lakhs of employed are loosing their jobs. On the other hand, crores of unemployed youth are waiting for jobs, which is nothing but like a mirage to them. It is not possible to solve this gigantic national problem without reversing the national economic policies which work to strengthen the very small group of profiteering corporates, and without increasing the purchasing power of the common people of India. Hence, the students, youth and working classes will have to take a pledge on this Independence Day to launch a collective and continuous movement to reverse these destructive policies.
In contrast to the anti-people policies of the Government at the Centre, the State Government of Tripura despite its limitations has been pursuing policies for the welfare of people in all walks of life with a special focus on the downtrodden and to advance forward with their cooperation. This is a totally different and an alternative path. This path has been able to not only attract the people of Tripura but also elicit a positive response of the downtrodden people of our country. This is not being tolerated by the reactionary forces here in Tripura. Hence, conspiracies are being hatched up one after another by the enemies of the people to disturb peace, fraternity and integrity of the State. And at the same time attempts are on to disrupt the realm of developmental works. We need to counter all these unholy designs and isolate the reactionary forces. In this background, on this Independence Day, all the right thinking, peace loving and development seeking people of Tripura need to take a determined pledge to come forward and to work unitedly against such disruptive forces.
Feature image courtesy of PTI