The Big Story: Misusing a medium

On Saturday, national broadcaster Doordarshan decided to telecast Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s traditional Vijayadashami address, ignoring the widespread criticism that emerged in October 2014 when the channel decided to cover his speech live for the first time.

Bhagwat used the religious occasion to articulate his organisation’s positions on an array of topics, including cow protection, the Rohingya refugee crisis and Kashmir. Though the telecast of his speech on the state-funded channel has become routine, this year’s event was marked by a sharp irony.

Only in August, Doordarshan refused to broadcast the Independence Day speech of Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. The democratically elected leader’s address to the people of his state was halted at the last minute, as the Doordarshan management asked him to tone down some of his remarks, which presumably criticised the Narendra Modi government and its perceived divisive policies.

The RSS, the fountainhead of Hindutva, the ideology followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, is an organisation that has been banned three times since 1947. RSS chiefs have frequently made inflammatory comments that run contrary to the constitutional ideals of the country. On Saturday, Bhagwat chose to address the Rohingya refugees problem, describing the embattled community as a national security threat, an allegation the Centre is currently struggling to substantiate before the Supreme Court. He also chose to defend cow vigilantes, claiming that gau rakshaks were not involved in the incidents of violence reported against cow traders that have been over the last two years. In fact, he claimed that many gau rakshaks have themselves come under attack. On Kashmir, he sought amendments to the Constitution to protect Hindus in the Valley. The Jammu and Kashmir government and members of civil society have been up in arms against attempts to alter the state’s Constitution, a matter now pending before the Supreme Court.

By allowing Bhagwat’s comments but censoring Manik’s speech, Doordarshan, managed by the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry, has once again proved that it lacks the independence essential to run an impartial national broadcasting agency. Given the profound impact that unfiltered, divisive statements from the leader of a powerful organisation could have on social peace and their potential to undermine some of the very basic tenets of the Constitution, the foremost being its secular nature, broadcasting Bhagwat’s speech is positively dangerous. Doordarshan cannot afford to relinquish its responsibility to the Constitution and become a propaganda machine for the ruling party’s ideology.

The Big Scroll

  • RSS broadcast is only one indication of rising control over Doordarshan, insiders complain.
  • Censoring the Tripura chief minister: How Prasar Bharati became a propaganda tool for the Modi government.


  1. In the Indian Express, Avijith Pathak writes that Gandhi’s moral engagement with self and society must be revisited as a protest ideology.
  2. Mumbai cannot cope, let alone be true to its dreams, unless the confusion of multiple authorities is sorted out, Sachin Kalbag says in The Hindu on last week’s deadly stampede.
  3. Exclusive focus on demonetisation hides NDA’s broader economic mismanagement, claims Salman Anees Soz in the Times of India. 


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