This is a tale of two ministers. Both are freshmen and both are well known. One is a former journalist and spokesperson. The other a former army chief. Of both a lot was expected.
Last Sunday, Prakash Javadekar, the information and broadcasting minister, stunned me by his candour and boldness. He spoke on a range of issues, all of which made news. But one stood out in particular.
Speaking without hesitation, he said that both “philosophically and ideologically” he believed his ministry ought not to exist. It has no place in a democracy, Mr Javadekar pithily added. And he hopes to work towards making it redundant.
Thereafter, everything else Mr Javadekar said, though no less important, simply did not attract the same attention. He said he would consider appointing a professional editor-in-chief for Doordarshan and AIR with full freedom to cover the news as he or she thinks fit. He promised not to interfere in Prasar Bharati appointments, transfers and promotions. He indicated he wanted to make the organisation accountable to Parliament and not “only” to the minister. And, finally, his aim is to re-structure the institution so that in terms of editorial freedom, parliamentary accountability and internal control over staff, it becomes similar to the BBC.
Not surprisingly, Mr Javadekar’s views won a lot of praise. Journalists, in particular, were loud in saying so. But there was something more which, even if people were slow to pick up, could possibly be more significant. Mr Javadekar addressed many of the apprehensions of critics of the BJP when he declared that he believed in “a rainbow of different opinions” and added “choice is critical for a democracy”. That’s truly comforting reassurance.
Let me explain why. It may not halt Dina Nath Batra’s mission to ‘censor’ books he does not like but Mr Javadekar’s willing concurrence with the view Batra is depriving the rainbow of some of its valued colours is a welcome contrary viewpoint. Few others in the BJP are prepared to speak so forthrightly or publicly.
In contrast, Gen VK Singh, minister of state for the North-East, unnecessarily stirred a hornet’s nest this week and all because he couldn’t resist the temptation to yet again taunt and criticise the army chief-designate, Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, who has been in his sights for over two years. By this one act of folly he embarrassed his government, annoyed the army and damaged his standing with the press. That’s quite an achievement for a single tweet!
For a moment consider the scale of his self-inflicted injury. He compared the army chief-designate to a criminal whilst accusing a unit of 3rd Corp of killing innocents and dacoity. It’s hard to believe a former army chief could have thus tweeted about one of his successors or the force he once commanded. With just 140 letters he’s denigrated the office of army chief and offended the sentiments of both officers and jawans. Apart from the rest of us, how must they view him?
The key question is what the prime minister thinks of his two ministers. Let me hazard a guess. Would he not thank the one who wins laurels and makes his government look good? On the other hand, there’s no great prize for working out what he would say to the man who foot-faulted the government and covered his own face with a generous helping of raw egg. I’m sure all of us have a pretty good idea!
The views expressed by the author are personal