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A Tribune Exclusive
Prasar Bharati can be India’s BBC: Pande
‘Institution a sleeping giant waiting to be aroused’
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 27
If Prasar Bharati were to be Mrinal Pande’s home, emancipation would be its loudest streak. Having limped a while along the path of freedom, country’s national broadcaster may finally find its feet, with reins resting firmly in safe hands - those of writer Mrinal Pande, whose powerful works and frank opinions have captured the Indian imagination for over four decades now.

Even today as the news came in that she had been appointed to lead the world’s largest public broadcasting corporation, Mrinal was busy today lending final touches to the collected works of her mother Shivani, a celebrated author, an inspiration to many. She will take charge of the Prasar Bharati shortly.

“We were lucky to have parents who allowed us the right to our opinion. We could always take our own decisions,” Mrinal told The Tribune, in an exclusive interview at her South Delhi residence, which still wears an old world charm, enhanced by the works of Tagore, Ram Kumar and Raza. “This one was Rabindra Nath Tagore’s gift to my mother, who was his student at Shantiniketan,” says the first woman chief of Prasar Bharati, pointing to a Tagore sketch and a photograph of his Shantiniketan class.

“Prasar Bharati is something we had the deepest faith in. Its first chairperson Nikhil Chakravarty was my ideal. We must restore the faith,” she says, describing the institution as a sleeping giant waiting to be aroused. “It has tremendous potential to be India’s own BBC, which caters to people by defying the rat race and commercial pressures and being what its creators wanted it to be,” Mrinal adds, calling herself the “first among equals” at the institution.

It is this legacy of wisdom that would set Mrinal apart in her new role as chairperson of the Doordarshan-All India Radio (AIR) combine. “I am happy, humbled, and touched,” she says as a first formal reaction to the move that brings in its fold both challenges and expectations.

And Mrinal is conscious of the tasks ahead, especially in times when private satellite TV channels are airing into homes content that is often profit-driven. To steer an ailing Prasar Bharati in such difficult times and steer it well may not be easy, but Mrinal has her priorities listed out. Trustworthiness of the brand, she says, would be her top concern, and trustworthiness is always above gender and politics. “Mine is a non-executive post. We also have great visionaries like Muzaffar Ali, Shyam Benegal, and Suman Dubey on the board. Hopefully, something good will come out of this,” says the journalist, who published her first short story way back in 1967, when women’s writing was still a virgin area. She, however, went on to become the editor of “Saptahik Hindustan” and then “Hindustan”, HT’s Hindi daily. In between, Mrinal continued to author books, bringing to her works a broad intellectual base she inherited from her parents. Mrinal’s father opened several schools in Uttaranchal after the Indo-China war. She herself went on to study English and Sanskrit literature, ancient Indian history, archeology, classical music and the visual arts.

That makes her profile at the Prasar Bharati enviable, and also raises hopes of fulfillment of the objectives of the Prasar Bharati Bill, 1989, which the Parliament passed in 1990. The Bill’s objectives were: “Prasar Bharati will be a genuinely autonomous body - innovative, dynamic and flexible - with a huge degree of credibility.”

Mrinal’s goals sound one with the Bill’s charter of giving a voice to India: “Prasar Bharati will give healthy competition to private channels but won’t succumb to market pressures. Service ethic must never be overshadowed by the money ethic,” she says.

“We will work to live up to the Indian expectations and be the true national broadcasters of information and entertainment,” she says, priding in the institution’s assets -- its cadre of editors, engineers and newscasters.

But AIR, it seems, would command more of Mrinal’s attention. “Radio has, on several occasions, offered seminal service to the nation. It was our own sole living contact with the world when we were growing up in the hills. Access to radio is a wonderful thing. It brings people together. The medium’s potential will be harnessed to the best service of people,” says the new Prasar Bharati chief, waking up to the onerous responsibilities of overseeing a massive public broadcasting network in times of cut-throat competition.

For the record - DD’s terrestrial signals reach 90 per cent of the Indians (119 million have TV sets) and AIR’s productions still have the power to lead you back to times you wished you had never lost. With Mrinal Pande at the helm of affairs, good, old times might be here again.



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