Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar was to air an address to his people at 6:30 AM on Independence Day. Prominently featuring in the speech, a copy of which Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Sitaram Yechury made public, is a call for unity in the face of divisive forces "inciting passions to convert India into a particular religious country and in the name of protecting the cow."
Doordarshan and All India Radio, both extensions of the government's communication systems, refused to air the speech, unless Sarkar "reshaped" it.
The move has obviously infuriated Sarkar and sparked a debate on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's heavy-handed approach towards anything remotely critical of its core policies, in this case, promotion of cow protection, that has seen incendiary comments from its top leaders and assaults allegedly by its workers at the grassroots on anyone suspected of breaking India's cow protection laws, in street vigilante-style justice, despite repeated condemnation from none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
The Times of India said it was in possession of the letter that was sent by Prasar Bharati to Akashbani Agartala.
"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. 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," assistant director of programmes (policy) for director general, Sanjiv Dosajh, wrote.
This is a paragraph from the speech that is understood to have troubled Delhi.
"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."
A Tripura government press statement, carried by PTI, alleged that Doordarshan and AIR had recorded Sarkar's speech on August 12, but on 14 August at 7 pm the Chief Minister's office was informed through a letter that his speech would not be broadcast unless he "reshaped it".
The CM reportedly stated clearly that he "would not change a single word" and described it as "unprecedented, undemocratic, autocratic and intolerant step."
In a strongly-worded statement, the Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) condemned the censorship and said it was 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 Polit Bureau demands action against those responsible for prohibiting the broadcast. The Modi Government should stop treating the Prasar Bharati as a department of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting," the statement said.
Here's the full text of the speech.
Sarkar, who is Politburo Member of CPI (M), is at the helm of the state for the fourth consecutive time. Sarkar has been critical in the past of the Modi government and slammed demonetisation, a project spearheaded by Modi, as a "gimmick" to "divert the attention of people of the country from real problems."