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Assembly polls: The humble radio is at the forefront of BJP’s Northeast outreach

The BJP-led NDA government wants to ride the air waves to gain ground in the country’s northeastern states. With assembly elections coming up in four states across the region, the Centre is using the humble radio to build a communication highway that would showcase its flagship schemes and position the BJP as a key contender for electoral victory.

After announcing 90% subsidy for northeastern states to set up community radio stations and a new Doordarshan channel ‘Aruna Prabha’ dedicated to broadcasting local content, the ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) will expand the services of public broadcaster All India Radio (AIR) by offering programmes in 89 dialects. At present, it offers services in 28 dialects.

Sops are also being offered to private FM players operating in the region.

While 13 FM channels are already operational, 18 more have been proposed. The reserve price has also been capped at Rs 5 lakh for cities with a population of less than five lakh, and the licence fee has been halved.

Together with the public broadcaster, private radio channels will be used to create awareness on the government’s region-specific schemes, an official explained.

The BJP, which is already ruling Assam and Manipur, is eager to expand its footprint to Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland – all of which go to the polls in 2018. It has also set its sights on Sikkim, which will elect a new assembly in 2019.The issue of a “communication gap” between the northeastern region and the mainland was flagged at an information ministers’ conference last year. Officials from the Northeast pointed out how AIR and DD bulletins and programmes are mostly in Hindi, which is not spoken and understood in large parts of the region. Representatives from Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya underscored the “sense of isolation” experienced by residents in the absence of communication in a language they are familiar with.

Union I&B minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Tuesday announced that the government would not only bolster the communication mechanism in the region but also give due priority to skill development programmes, thereby generating employment.

“This will complement the ‘Act East Policy’ launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year by nurturing talent in the field of media and entertainment,” he said.

In the works is a Rs 200-crore Film and Television Institute of India in Arunachal Pradesh, and the establishment of a permanent Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) campus in Aizawl at a cost of Rs 25 crore. “The IIMC campus will also serve as a training hub for aspiring media and communication professionals from countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar,” a senior official said.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi uses Mann Ki Baat, a radio programme, to spread awareness on his government’s schemes and ambitions among the country’s rural populace.


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