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P R Dasmunshi: Mr Policeman?

February 09, 2007 11:18 IST

Anyone following the spate of protests following the SEZ policy in West Bengal would remember one picture of Nandigram in vivid detail.

That of information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi riding pillion (standing no less) on a motorcycle, since all other modes of transport and roads appeared to be blocked. The motorcycle belonged to a Congress worker who offered a ride to the minister when his car was not allowed to go further.

In fact, private sports broadcasters should have kept this tenacity in mind when it came to sharing live sports feed with Prasar Bharati, a negotiation that was brought to an end through an ordinance, a non-navigable road if ever there was one.

Dasmunshi 's combative style was honed in West Bengal under Left rule, a lonely existence indeed for a Congressman. He joined the Congress in 1970, and had to watch the party stay out of power after 1977. He cut his teeth on the fiercely divided political environment in the state.

For many Congressmen, Rajiv Gandhi's fiercely young Cabinet was where they cut their teeth as far as Central politics was concerned.

It was no different for Dasmunshi , he was made Union minister for commerce in 1985, when Rajiv Gandhi was elected to a brute majority in Parliament. He was also made the West Bengal Congress committee chief during 1985-88, in the years when Pranab Mukherjee's star was in eclipse.

Luckily for Dasmunshi, he was not an MP during the Narasimha Rao years in Delhi, thus escaping the fratricidal wars within the Congress and the Ayodhya debacle that tainted many others.

Many of his aides feel that it was during the decade that the Congressmen sat in the opposition benches that really proved to be the making of Dasmunshi . He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the third time in 1996 and then for a fourth term in 1999, when he was made chief whip of the parliamentary party.

His stint as chief whip saw many firsts, not least being the fact that for the first time in the history of Parliament, the main opposition would walk out of the house everytime Tehelka-tainted defence minister George Fernandes rose to speak.

Dasmunshi 's tenacity was yet again on display when he managed to hold on to the presidentship of the All India Football Federation since 1989.

What's more, he managed to get the scholarly Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to actually kick a football to start off the inaugural match of a tournament, a feat the Prime Minister probably had not accomplished ever since he grew out of short pants.

It is, however, his banning of AXN channel and threatening to ban at least four other channels for so-called obscene content that has surprised many. Dasmunshi is a published author and poet with novels like Anek Rakhta Anek Nam and Maner Manush and poetry collection like Bhorer Sanai to his credit. Durga Pujas see him writing stutis or songs in praise of the goddess in local Bangla newpapers's special puja editions. Such intolerance was not expected.

One laughing explanation offered for the spree of bans is the fact that Dasmunshi is a doting father to Michil (which means "protest rally" in Bangla) who is yet to hit double digits in age. He is known to be a devoted husband and father, and perhaps as a father his concerns about television content have guided his actions.

With Dasmunshi, however, you never know just what triggered the ban on AXN. Except the certainty that whatever the case, there will be no tame surrender and certainly yet more action before AXN is beamed back into Indian homes again.

As for the other four channels that may face the axe, Dasmunshi is keeping his cards close to his chest, telling those who want to know that he fears that his interest in them may raise the TRPs of those channels. "I can't be accused of that," he said with a laugh.

Nistula Hebbar