Sunday, July 03, 2005

AIR waves out of reach for Indian missions abroad

Dipankar Chakraborty
in New Delhi
July 3. — A “Mission Report” comprising a survey of India’s missions all over the world came out with a startling revelation some time back. None of the diplomats serving in foreign missions were aware of the existence of the External Services Division of the All India Radio, let alone its usefulness in India’s external affairs management.
Nonetheless, historically speaking, even after more than 75 years of its existence, the very purpose for which AIR’s External Service Division was set up by the British colonial regime in India on 1 October 1939, as a medium for launching a propaganda blitzkrieg against the Axis powers during the second World War, has far from outlived its utility in modern day diplomacy.
That external broadcasts by radio can be used as a potent weapon to unnerve and bamboozle opponents, especially in a theatre of war, was in recent times best exemplified by its extensive use by the USA a little ahead of its oust-Saddam Hussain campaign in 1993.
Radio stations operating from American planes in the no-fly zones in Iraq would transmit messages five hours a night, dissuading the Iraqi military from supporting Saddam.
It is a pity that today, in the scheme of affairs in the ministry of external affairs, the ESD of All India Radio does not fit in anywhere.
“Even till 1982, the MEA and AIR’s External Services Division used to hold regular review meetings to work out a joint plan of action for targeted audiences in neighbouring countries and other parts of the globe and to counter the electronic propaganda unleashed on us by other countries. The last review meeting was held in October 1982,” a senior official in South Block told The Statesman.
“The problem basically lies in the mindset of the people in the corridors of power and it unfortunately has percolated so deep down their psyche that it has posed a serious question mark on the actual utility of the ESD,” the official said.
The irony is Voice of America radio broadcasts have been reaching Indian households for over four decades now.