The official Prasar Bharati website describes Doordarshan (DD) as “an ‘autonomous’ public service broadcaster founded by the Government of India.” The keyword here is “autonomous”. DD is an entertainment service, supposed to function as an autonomous institution without fear or favour, or any pressure from the ruling regime.
However, there are at least two specific incidents and accounts of past events, which suggest that in the Congress-era, Doordarshan couldn’t always function as an independent institution it was meant to be.
Folk singer Malini Awasthi’s censorship allegations:
Noted folk singer Malini Awasthi made a major allegation during an interview with News Nation in the month of March. According to Report Wire, she said, “There was a time when I was appointed to sing for public broadcaster Doordarshan…I offered to sing a hymn on Lord Rama’s birth. Initially, they agreed to it but when I started, it included a stanza that mentioned Lord Rama’s birth in Ayodhya. Suddenly, they came and told me this cannot go on air and asked me to sing another hymn.”
Awasthi added, “Since I am inquisitive by nature, I asked them what’s the problem with this composition. They said it refers to Lord Rama’s birth in Ayodhya. Being a follower of Sanathan Dharma, this was unacceptable to me. We have celebrated Lord Rama’s birth in Ayodhya for years. I told them I cannot record any other hymn if you are seeking to deny the truth.”
Malini Awasthi further alleged that the concerned officials told her that they didn’t have a problem with the hymn that she was singing, but they were only following the orders given to them. She also said that she stormed out in anger without recording any hymn.
— मालिनी अवस्थी Malini Awasthi (@maliniawasthi) March 6, 2021
Attempts to make the Ramayan ‘Secular’:
The Ramayan is a Hindu epic and stands at the core of Hindu theology. However, “An Epic life: Ramanand Sagar: From Barsaat To Ramayan”, a book written by Prem Sagar, son of the Ramayan TV show Director Ramanand Sagar, revealed how attempts were made to secularise the television show on Ramayan.
Sagarika Ghose’s father and then Doordarshan Director General Bhaskar Ghose had allegedly refused to give 26 more weeks to stop the show midway. However, the show had become so popular that it simply couldn’t be stopped like that.
Doordarshan rejected ‘Chanakya’:
Chanakya, a 47-part drama revolving around Indian economist, strategist, and political theorist Chanakya was telecast on DD in 1991 and 1992. The show that was written and directed by Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi turned out to be a grand success.
Yet, Dr Dwivedi revealed, “I had pitched it sometime in the mid-1980s. The response I got from them was that the show didn’t fit the channel’s scheme of work but they had liked my skill as a writer. It baffled me because they had historical shows like Tipu Sultan but did not feel that a show like Chanakya would work for them.”
Dr Dwivedi added, “Eventually, the broadcaster took cognisance of my proposal. By that time, several prominent producers wanted to make Chanakya and had been sending their proposals to the channel.”
He also said, “Although I was a newcomer, they gave me the chance and asked me to submit my proposal again around 1986-87. It was in 1988 when I made the pilot and the show was approved.”
Ramayan and Chanakya’s life lessons are some of the most important parts of Indian history and civilisation. As such, DD, India’s public service broadcaster was supposed to promote them. However, it seems that in the Congress-era, artists promoting India’s civilisational heritage were actually facing bureaucratic and administrative trouble in promoting India’s cultural heritage in the garb of secular policies.