Along an extensive and ill-defined Indo-China border, from Ladakh in the north to Bihar in the east, Chinese radio and television fare streams freely into Indian homes, aiming to enhance China’s sphere of influence.
For six hours every day, the Chinese broadcast a rich mix of multi-lingual news, political commentary, interviews, cultural programmes and even Mandarin language classes from across stations based in Nepal. In pockets with weak Indian signals, Indian listeners are warmly greeted by the Chinese radio, with its growing Nepali network.
Amid China’s growing engagement with Nepal, the state-run China Radio International (CRI) three years ago acquired the "downlink" permission to rebroadcast its programmes across Nepal, with Nepali, Chinese and English content.
The CRI now has a Kathmandu bureau staffed by locals and its programmes are further relayed by more than 200 smaller Nepali FM stations into India with a "domino effect".
The programmes have alarmed India’s security establishment, prompting the information and broadcasting ministry to mount a technological upgrade of border broadcast infrastructure through Prasar Bharati, India’s public broadcaster.
After several rounds of interministerial consultations, involving the home ministry and the National Security Adviser, among others, the information and broadcasting ministry has planned a Rs 3,500-crore "Broadcasting Infrastructure and Network Development" fund for Prasar Bharati to ramp up border transmission facilities by state-owned Doordarshan and All India Radio.
The proposal, which has been cleared by the finance ministry and is being moved before the Cabinet, also aims to "counter terrorist activities" across the border.
India aims to retain its clout with Nepal after the 2006 ouster of monarchy, a steadfast Indian ally, with free trade totalling nearly $2 billion (about Rs 11,000 crore). China, jockeying for more influence, has more than doubled its annual aid from $22 million (about Rs 121 crore) in 2009, mostly for infrastructure projects.