Prasar Bharati's translation of PM's Independence Day speech into Balochi may reflect Centre's assertive policy on region

Neerad Pandharipande

Six days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day address from the Red Fort, Prasar Bharati, the country's largest public service broadcaster, has released translations of the entire speech in fifteen foreign languages. Curiously, among the languages in which the speech was translated are Balochi and Pashto, both of which are spoken in conflict-ridden regions of Pakistan.

While Balochi is spoken primarily in Pakistan's restive southwestern province of Balochistan, Pashto is spoken in Afghanistan and the northwestern region of Pakistan. Pashto is the primary language spoken in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which borders Afghanistan.

Both Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have seen nationalist movements in the recent past. While the Baloch nationalist movement's demands include secession and political autonomy, the Pashtun movement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa seeks the creation of an independent Pashtunistan, and €" like Balochistan €" greater political autonomy. The Pakistan Army has been accused of using repressive tactics in both regions.

Prasar Bharati's translations of the prime minister's full speech in Balochi and Pashto can be interpreted as an extension of the Centre's increasingly assertive policy vis-à-vis Balochistan. In 2016, Narendra Modi said in his Independence Day speech, "In the last few days, people of Balochistan, Gilgit, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have thanked me, have expressed gratitude, and expressed good wishes for me." The surprise reference had set the cat among the pigeons across the border €" with Pakistan saying that the remark proves that intelligence agency RAW "has been formenting terrorism" in the region, and Baloch leaders thanking Modi for highlighting the "the atrocities faced by the people of Balochistan."

More recently, after the Centre invalidated Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said in the Rajya Sabha, "Today, we have reclaimed Jammu and Kashmir. Tomorrow, we will take Balochistan, PoK and I have trust that this government will fulfil the dream of undivided India."

While Raut's statement might not be reflective of the country's official policy on Balochistan, Modi's statement does indicate that India may not shy away from highlighting demands for autonomy being made in provinces in Pakistan.

However, speaking to Firstpost, Shashi Shekhar, the CEO of Prasar Bharati, said, "The All India Radio's External Services Division has services in various languages, and we asked the division to translate the prime minister's speech in all of these languages. The division has released content in Balochi and Pashto earlier as well. The only difference is that this time, the entire speech has been released instead of just the key points."

On the rationale for releasing translated versions of Modi's Independence Day speech, Shekhar said, "The objective behind it was to ensure that the prime minister's message gets wider resonance across the world, and to give a platform for giving the country a strong global voice. In recent years, we have attempted to reach out to the international community through digital fora €" such as the creation of an app and sharing content on YouTube. There is a lot of international attention on India's role and the views of the prime minister. So, we felt that translating key speeches in multiple languages would be a good addition."

This was the first year in which Modi's entire speech was translated into 15 foreign languages by the External Services Division. Earlier, All India Radio would only carry highlights of the prime minister's Independence Day speeches.

In 2016, a report in Economic Times had quoted officials as saying that Prasar Bharati was in favour of shutting down the Balochi service. However, Modi's Independence Day speech in that year is said to have pushed officials to revitalise the broadcast.

The other foreign languages in which the AIR's External Services Division broadcasts content are Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, Dari, French, Indonesian, Persian, Russian, Sinhala, Swahili, Thai, Tibetan and English (General Overseas Service).

Modi, in his Independence Day speech this year, did not specifically mention Pakistan or Balochistan, but made extensive references to terrorism. Significantly he said, "In any part of the world, an act of terrorism should be regarded as an attack on humanity. Therefore, I urge all forces to unite against those who promote and give shelter to terrorist outfits. India should contribute in exposing these anti-humanitarian activities and is resolute to unite all world forces to end terrorism."

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