ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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All India Radio’s Glory Days and Its Search for Autonomy

In the recent row over the “autonomous corporation” status of the Prasar Bharati, the fate of state broadcasters like All India Radio is in a deadlock. In the face of competition with private broadcasters, the corporation cannot exercise full autonomy in managing the state broadcaster, even though the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990 has been passed. Functional autonomy remains a far-fetched reality with the government of the day finding it difficult to cut the umbilical cord with the state broadcaster. As AIR is reeling under the pressure of this managerial conundrum, one should not lose sight of its historic role as a nation builder, as well as its contribution to the cultural landscape of India. Many of the towering intellectuals, musicians, writers and theatre personalities of mid to late 20th-century India were associated with this remarkable institution.

Parts of this article first appeared in “Building Nationhood through Broadcast Media in Postcolonial India,” in Education About Asia (Spring 2017; special issue on Contemporary Postcolonial Asia).

As India celebrates 72 years as an independent sovereign nation, it would serve us well to remember the immeasurable influence of All India Radio (AIR) in shaping the cultural landscape and mindset of the nation. ­Despite India’s inherent diversity, the achievement of this sense of nationhood is to be lauded. The idea of nation ­included not just geographical unity, but also the social, cultural, economic and scientific developments that all Indians, irrespective of the differences in language and religion, could be proud of. In building a socially and politically cohesive ­national entity, based on democratic and secular principles, the services of AIR were used to educate the populace on what that meant and how it would work. In the decades following independence, AIR as the state broadcaster enjoyed a monopoly of the airwaves. It emerged as the sole source of news, views, knowledge and ­entertainment for the Indian audience. During the early years of independence, radios blared from every home, street, corner shop; and with the coming of transistor radios in the 1960s, from every passing bicycle. Since there was primarily one station, listenership of every programme was almost ­ubiquitous, thus influencing most of the Indian citizenry in common cultural patterns, and political, social and economic concerns. 

In pre-independence India, radio played the twin role of a medium of communication as well as a tool of propaganda. During World War II radio services were used by the military for internal transmission of strategies and troop movements. It was also vital as a medium to transmit news to the public. A shortage of paper and limitations of widespread delivery of printed matter made radio’s reach to a wide audience a boon. Furthermore, the delivery of instant news—live reportage from the field—assured radio’s popularity as a medium of communication. It was also a tool for propaganda in these years, used by both the Allied and the Axis powers. The efficacy of radio broadcasts was not lost on the Indian freedom fighters, either. During the Quit India Movement of 1942, a group of Congress freedom fighters started underground radio broadcasts, exhorting people to uphold the struggle and bringing to their attention news that was censored in print media and on the official news channels. A dangerous enterprise, the chief movers of this effort of Voice of Freedom radio were constantly on the run, broadcasting from different locations in order to avoid arrest. Mostly run by Congress stalwarts, the radio came to be called the Congress Radio. But, soon, the authorities found them, arrested all the leaders, and shut down these airwaves.

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Updated On : 18th Sep, 2018
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