A former Pakistani air force chief as an icon in a government advertisement against female infanticide in India? It is understood that the offending advertisement that caused much embarrassment to the government on the eve of the Republic Day was cleared at the "highest level", meaning either Minister of State for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath herself or her top officials.
As the Prime Minister's Office apologised for the lapse, the hunt has started for the creator of the advertisement and those in the government who approved it.
According to knowledgeable sources, the designing of the controversial advertisement was outsourced to a creative agency attached to a leading media house. The advertisement was cleared by the minister herself, the sources said.
When asked whether the advertisement was approved by the minister for women and child development, all a ministry official said to IANS was: "According to the media advertisement policy, it is approved at the highest levels. A joint secretary must at least have approved the ad. The inquiry is on."
The full-page advertisement published in a national daily on the occasion of National Girl Child Day carried a photograph of former Pakistan Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Ahmed, who was air chief 2006-2009, along with such national icons as Kapil Dev, Virender Sehwag and Amjad Ali Khan. The full-page ad also has the pictures of the ruling United Progressive Alliance chair Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Tirath.
The advertisement was issued for the ministry of women and child development by the government's Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP).
A DAVP official, however, denied any role of his organisation in the approval of the ad. "The ad was given to us on Saturday, a government holiday, and we released it as it was already approved by the ministry," the official told IANS, pleading that he not be identified as he was not supposed to speak to the media.
TV channels went into a frenzy after the gaffe was spotted. To scotch the controversy, the Prime Minister's Office apologised and ordered an internal inquiry into the lapse.
"The Prime Minister's Office has noted with regret the inclusion of a foreign national's photograph in a Government of India advertisement," the media adviser to the prime minister said in a statement.
"While an internal enquiry has been instituted the PMO apologises to the public for this lapse," he added.