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On speaking terms

columns Updated: Jan 29, 2012 01:59 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
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Even as the stupid who think they are smart won a battle against the smart last week (the stupid who know they are stupid have no bone to pick with the smart), another development high up in the longish list of inconsequential things took place recently. In a convoluted way, this, too, was about freedom of expression. Except in this case it was about the mechanism that helps our prime minister, not quite the Great Communicator, to express himself to the world outside his head. And no, it's not a stiff drink.

I've never met Harish Khare, and I was so looking forward to meeting the PM's media adviser for the first time last month at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. But he never showed up — apparently on the advice of his boss who Khare, in turn, had allegedly advised not to attend the summit for reasons known only to knowledgeable institutions like the Darul Uloom Deoband and the PMO.

Now it turns out that Khare has resigned from his job as the PM's media adviser. The news is that he left his job in a bit of a huff after the PM's shiny new principal secretary brought in a communications adviser to the prime minister. Now, I'm not the Great Nijinsky with semantics, but a communications adviser sounds to me to be pretty much the same thing as a media adviser, unless I'm missing some great protocol nonsense (the media adviser reports to the PM; the communications adviser reports to the PM's principal secretary). In any case, Khare must have felt the pangs of a full-blown dhoka when he found this new appointment having been made without his knowledge.

From what I've heard, Khare is an affable man with the reputation of having been a fine journalist. He has now stated that he's keen to "rediscover the joys of being a reporter". Well, I'll be damned. How many former bureau chiefs (Khare held that position with The Hindu before joining the PMO) and ex-PM's media advisers can say that, considering I've heard far too many reporters dying to discover the joys of being a government man? Perhaps one day, I will bump into him at the Press Club where — after duty, of course — he could regale me with Manmohan-Sonia-Ahmed Patel stories over a drink or two or three.

But whatever may have been the machinations at the PMO and however excited Khare may be about reporting the real story of Congress largesse to the people of Bundelkhand, my real query is: what is a media adviser? The last time there was someone really advising the prime minister on what to tell the media and how to make them sing his tune (essentially, it's about that, isn't it?) was Sanjay Gandhi to his mum. Our PMs, especially the current one, do need help in the communications department.

Things in India may not be like in the US, where presidential candidate Richard Nixon lost the race to John F Kennedy largely because of a televised debate watched by 70 million Americans in 1960 in which the former had pasty skin, wore a 5 o'clock shadow on his chin and was sweating profusely in contrast to the visibly tanned and debonair JFK. Ted Rogers, Nixon's media adviser at that time, couldn't do much to convince his boss to wear make-up. But with the entry of Pankaj Pachauri as communications adviser to the PM, we could see the Great Mumbler seem (without becoming) a bit more accessible to the outside world.

Pachauri's first act on his new job was to get the PM a Twitter account. The idea is right, unfortunately the execution is all bonkers considering that it would have been better if the Twitter account was @PMIndia rather than @PMOIndia. And on the most 'personalised' of all media platforms, what's the first tweet that the PM(O) sends? "You make all of us proud" followed by Singh's picture with recipients of a bravery award. B-o-r-i-n-g.

If I was Manmohan Singh's temporal lobe, the area of the brain where a person processes one's speech, or his media/communications adviser, I would have corrected that gaffe by making my boss respond warmly to model-wannabe stripper Poonam Pandey's encouraging Tweet she sent to the PM(O): "#iHeard @PMOIndia is on Twitter, does he Knows that @iPoonampandey is on Twitter too..so a Welcoming Pic" — the accompanying picture being of herself in a bikini. A response on the lines of "#Thanks PP. But what happened to your World Cup victory promise?" would have made the PM(O) not only seem human but also warm and almost cuddly.

The other PP (Pankaj Pachauri, that is) can look into this matter and maybe we'll finally see an un-robotish prime minister emerge just in time to reclaim our faith in the man who now speaks in Morse code. That is if the Strong and Silent One wants him to speak.