On August 16, TOI had front-paged a story of a clash between Tripura's Left Front government and Prasar Bharati over refusal by Doordarshan and All India Radio to air the CM's customary Independence Day address, advising him to "reshape" the speech after it was recorded. The public broadcasters had written to the Tripura CM asking him to "reshape" the content of his speech "keeping in view the sanctity and solemnity attached with the occasion the broadcast is meant for." The official communique from Prasar Bharati to Akashbani Agartala had also said, "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."
When the Tripura CM refused to change his speech and lodged his protest, the speech that was recorded by DD and AIR on August 12— to be aired at 6 am on August 15— was not broadcast.
On Wednesday, however, a letter issued by UK Sahoo, office chief of Doordarshan Kendra, Agartala, overlooked Prasar Bharati's August 14 communique to the Tripura government asking the Tripura CM to carry out changes in his speech. In the August 16 letter, Sahoo said, "I would like to state 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 hours." Sahoo also said the Doordarshan Kendra had been giving wide publicity to the CM's speeches for 25 years, since its inception.
Sahoo's note did not clarify whether he was referring to Sarkar's pre-recoded I-Day message, or a separate speech delivered on Independence Day.
When TOI reached out to the Tripura government for confirmation, officials said the speech mentioned by DD Kendra Agartala was not the same the CM had recorded for playout on August 15. Senior government functionaries also said Manik Sarkar's disputed recorded message was six minutes long and it was difficult to understand, therefore, how DD could have played it out over 12 minutes. "On the 71st Independence Day... the speech of CM of Tripura was recorded by DD and AIR Agartala, on their request, in the evening of 12 August in the office of the chief minister. It was scheduled to be broadcast through All India Radio and telecast by Doordarshan Kendra Agartala in the morning of 15th August, 2017....On 14 August, Prasar Bharati said...the recorded message could not be broadcast and telecast because...it was not befitting to the occasion of Independence Day."
While the Tripura government did not deny that Sarkar's Independence Day address during the flag hoisting ceremony was aired, the CM's office added, "DD Kendra Agartala have not responded in their refutal about their decision to ask the CM to reshape his recorded speech with CM denied to do. Prasar Bharati is now trying to mislead the people about their undemocratic and authoritarian stand."
The CPM, meanwhile, said it would use Prasar Bharati's ban on Tripura CM Manik Sarkar's I-Day speech to to intensify their efforts to cobble together a larger non-BJP opposition unity. The Left party had emphasised at the opposition meeting led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on August 11 that the opposition needed to build an alternative popular movement to counter the BJP. The chief minister's speech being banned has now offered the CPM an opportunity to lead an opposition attack against the ruling BJP.
On Wednesday, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said he will discuss the matter with other non-BJP chief ministers at the meeting convened by Sharad Yadav's on Thursday. "I will have a conversation with the other chief ministers who are in attendance at Sharad Yadav's meeting. We will take a call on how to move forward against this authoritarianism. CPM will not cower before such censorship," he added.
Leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said, "With each passing day, it has become hard for the Opposition parties to make their voices reach the people of the country. This type of censorship has not been seen in any country in the world. It is shameful for this government. They should just declare Emergency and impose news censorship so that we will at least know nothing can be shown because there is an Emergency, a prohibition."
CPI general secretary Sudhakar Reddy, meanwhile, condemned the high-handed behavior of the state media asking the Tripura CM to amend his speech and refusing to broadcasting the same. "It is not the business of the broadcasting authorities to demand to amend facts on unemployment, economic independence of the country and on the question of dividing the country by some vested interests," a statement issued by the Central Secretariat said.
Yechury questioned the government's appointment of the same individual as the chief executive officer of Prasar Bharati and of Rajya Sabha TV and said it made RS TV susceptible to serving as a mouthpiece of the government. Sharpening his attack on Prime Minister Modi and the BJP government, the CPM general secretary also referred to present-day India as the "post-truth society", where "facts and reality don't matter; what matters is propaganda and personality cult."