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Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, the man who banned AXN and Fashion TV, passes away

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Dasmunsi — former I&B minister, All India Football Federation chief, and Bengal political heavyweight — dies after nine years in coma.

Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who banned satellite channels AXN and Fashion TV as India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister, passed away Monday after nine years in hospital. He was 72 and is survived by his wife, former MP Deepa Dasmunsi, and a son.

Dasmunsi was one of the Congress’s political heavyweights in West Bengal, as well as the president of the All India Football Federation from December 1988 to the time he slipped into a coma in 2008.

Illness

In October 2008, Dasmunsi suffered a cardiac arrest, followed by hypoxic brain injury leading to a coma, from which he never recovered. Despite stem cell therapy in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 2009 and a host of other treatments, including a visit by Baba Ramdev, nothing could revive him, and he lived out his days in Apollo Hospital in Delhi.

His hospital expenses were about Rs 30,000-40,000 per day, and were taken care of by the Union government. After the NDA government came to power under Narendra Modi, there was speculation about discontinuing these payments, but in June 2014, then-Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan clarified that the government would continue to foot the bill for his treatment.

Channel bans

In January 2007, Dasmunsi imposed a two-month ban on the Sony-owned AXN channel for airing a programme called ‘World’s Sexiest Advertisements’ which, in the government’s opinion, was not in accordance with Indian culture. The ban was lifted when the channel apologised and promised to regulate its content as per Indian tastes.

Then, in April 2007, Dasmunsi banned Fashion TV. Once again, the reason given was that its programmes were “not in good taste”, but for Fashion TV, it was a second ban, after a week-long sanction imposed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government in 2002.

At the time, Dasmunsi drew a lot of flak from within the Congress party, but he remained unfazed.

“He would never think about the outcome, or who said what. If he thought something was right, he would go ahead without worrying about the repercussions,” said Sudip Bandopadhyay, senior TMC leader, who worked closely with Dasmunsi and was his additional private secretary when he first became a minister under Rajiv Gandhi’s premiership.

Political journey

Dasmunsi had the reputation of being a fearless student leader from Kolkata, who was opposing the Left and the Naxal movement at their peak. Many of his friends and supporters were killed, but his protests were unabated.

He won his first Lok Sabha election at the age of 26 in 1971 from Calcutta South, a seat the Congress had never won since Independence. The same year, he became president of the West Bengal Youth Congress. Later, he took over the Youth Congress at the national level, despite opposition from Sanjay Gandhi, and helped it become an organised, well-oiled machine.

In 1984, he became Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, at a time when the Congress’s two biggest names from West Bengal – Pranab Mukherjee and A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury – were left out of the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet. Then, in 1985, he replaced Mukherjee as the West Bengal Congress president, leaving Mukherjee so miffed that he left the Congress to float his own party.

Dasmunsi went on to lose three successive Lok Sabha polls from Howrah – in 1989, 1991, and 1996 – but that didn’t reduce his political heft. In 1999, he contested from Raiganj and won, retaining the seat in 2004 as well.In 2007, Dasmunsi became West Bengal Congress president for the second time, defeating the heavily-backed Somen Mitra, and stated his intention to join hands with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress to tackle the Left regime in the state.

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