Not the President, I&B Minister chose 11
The National Film Awards just got bigger, literally and metaphorically. Instituted in 1954 with 20 categories, the number went up to 125 this year. An unfortunate controversy erupted after more than 50 recipients skipped the award function in protest against the change in protocol. Their main grouse: Only a few of them were picked to get the coveted award from the President; the rest were to get it from I&B ministers, Smriti Irani and Rajyavardhan Rathore. Irani is not new to controversy, but for the quiet President Ram Nath Kovind, it turned rather unpleasant. That “the President is (rather) upset” Rashtrapati Bhawan did not bother to hide. About a year ago, right after he was sworn in, President Kovind laid down a few ground rules.
He made it clear that for any convocations and award ceremonies, he would only be available for an hour. And, he was in no way the first President to do so. Before him, Shankar Dayal Sharma, KR Narayanan and even APJ Abdul Kalam laid down similar preconditions. It was always left to the I&B ministry to chalk out the details of the National Film Award ceremony, within the given time frame. In Kalam’s tenure, the speeches were cut short to accommodate the awardees. The President’s office had conveyed the time constraint to I&B officials five weeks ago. The ministry, in its own wisdom, decided the President would give away only 11 awards within the hour, the rest would be given by the minister herself. Earlier, on two occasions, when Sharma and Pratibha Patil were indisposed, the awards were given out by the Vice-President. President Pranab Mukherjee once fell ill in the midst of the ceremony and had to rest; the minister waited. What has surprised observers is that never before has a minister taken over the duties of the President, the highest constitutional authority, as per a pre-rehearsed script.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have got the dates mixed up, but he may not have been too off the mark on his narration on the Nehru Government’s problems with the two legendary generals from Karnataka, Cariappa and Thimayya, particularly the latter. As military historians and the PM’s supporters crossed swords, threw history at each other, then Defence Minister Krishna Menon’s memory was revived in public mind. BJP strategists claim it was deliberate. On the receiving end of the Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s jibes on his China visit, on the overall handling of relations with Beijing, the PM decided to pay back. He reminded the Karnataka voters about an uneasy past, and restarted a debate on the 1962 war. Both apparently to show up Nehru’s record. Well, it was Krishna Menon who was held responsible for the unpreparedness of the Indian Army and had to resign from the Nehru Cabinet, post-war. The debacle, it’s said, broke Nehru, brought about his death. But sure enough, as the controversy simmered, several long forms were out on the period, the focus, needless to say, on controversial Krishna Menon and the Congress.
MEA: Only XP to speak
That the Modi Government has an issue with journalists getting free access to senior bureaucrats, through their Press accreditation cards, is well-known. After several plans on restricting media access to ministries came unstuck, the External Affairs Ministry devised a novel idea. The visiting cards of officials, particularly of the joint secretary level, are now carrying the number of the MEA spokesperson (XP), rather than their own contact numbers. So, little scope of a quick phone conversation or a special debriefing. This was, apparently, after the Cabinet Secretary’s classified note asking to limit Indian Government’s presence at the Dalai Lama’s events in Delhi or elsewhere got leaked to the media.
Sharad Yadav’s party
Ousted by Nitish Kumar from Janata Dal (United), Sharad Yadav is all set to float his new party, Loktantrik Janata Dal, on May 18, from his old address. The court refused to put an immediate stay on his disqualification from Rajya Sabha, in the sense that he cannot attend the House, but has been allowed to draw his salary and perks, also retain the Lutyens’ bungalow. The relief has come as a surprise. Usually, in such matters, the ruling of the presiding officer, in this case RS chair Venkaiah Naidu, is taken as final.
The author is Political Editor, TNIE. Email: email@example.com