Jaitely wines and dines the hacks

Shourie shakes the Trimurti

Jaitely wines and dines the hacks

By

Faraz Ahmad

Even as the Budget session of Parliament is coming to an end, media circles are agog with the gossip about Finance Minister Arun Jaitley hosting exclusive parties for select journalists every week.

The first session was held soon after Arun Shourie’s interview with Karan Thapar appeared on Headlines Today some two weeks back, questioning Jaitley’s credentials both as a competent and credible second lieutenant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also pointing at the ineptness of the Trimurti as Shourie described the trio of Modi, Jaitley and BJP president Amit Shah.

The invitees included Jaitley’s closest confidants P R Ramesh ex- Political Editor of Economic Times who was sent up to head Open magazine just before the last general elections, after its ownership changed hands and all non Sanghis chucked out to lead a Modi campaign in the magazine along with his wife and Times of India Special Correspondent Bharti Jain. Then there was Jaitley’s best and most trusted friend and Ramesh’s godfather Diwakar the Times of India Political Editor accompanied by his side kick Arindam Sengupta, the figurehead editor of the ToI. Also invited were Jaitley’s all–time favourite Shekhar Iyer and his guru  Rajagopal of Vaartha,  the man who has been feeding the gossip columnists of Delhi ever since I arrived in Delhi way back in 1985. Navika Kumar of Times Now, accompanied  by her ‘Nation Wants to Know” boss Arnab Goswami also graced the occasion. And of course there was Coomi Kapoor whose source for her gossip column has always been Jaitely. PTI CEO M K Razadan also sauntered in ostensibly in a desperate bid to save his job, despite achieving superannuation more than a decade ago. All because the media circles are agog with rumour that Jaitely, handling the I&B portfolio as well, is inclined to make Diwakar or Ramesh the head of PTI.

Modi arrived there in person and chatted with the excited anxious lot for exactly 15 minutes on both occasions and left. Liquor flowed only after Modi left. The next session was held earlier this week with some additions to the guest list, like Deepak Chaurasiya, The Week Editor Sachdianand Murthy and some other close friends of Jaitely in the print media.

Privately this was described as Modi’s informal interaction with the media in the runup to his government completing one year in office because Modi appears disinclined to hold a press conference lest some journalist may throw some unpleasant question at him. It is said that soon after assuming office Modi did invite some select journalists to an informal interaction where a senior journalist from Business Standard asked him about his wife Jashodaben, her status and future. Modi froze, did not answer the question, ended the interaction abruptly and has not thrown the door open to all and sundry from the media that day onwards.

So now the I&B Minister, a master spin doctor, is given the task of selecting only trustworthy pen pushers and idiot box mandarins, who are under strict instructions not even to mention “sources” when they write anything, leave alone attributing it to Jaitley or Modi.

But all this only proves Shourie’s basic premise that this is the most inept and incompetent Government the nation has seen since independence only busy managing the media rather than show any competence. On May 6 the Rajya Sabha and then on May 7, the Lok Sabha passed unanimously the Land Swap Bill allowing India and Bangladesh to swap some enclaves in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha complimented External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for taking along the entire House and for acknowledging and complementing the  previous UPA government for this. On her part Sushma said she did not change a comma or full stop in the original Bill and presented it in detto. After its passage she went up to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and thanked him profusely. In the Lok Sabha Modi himself thanked Sonia Gandhi for allowing smooth passage of the Bill.

Sushma was right in saying this because she did not even change the year in the title of the Bill. This was a 2013 Bill and when presented in 2015 it should have read ‘2015’ instead of 2013. On the face of it this is a minor mistake. Also the PTI pointed out some discrepancy in the number of the Constitution amendment Bill earmarked in the Bill passed.

Strangely the Bill passed at least twice through the Union Cabinet, first when as per the BJP line it was confined only to West Bengal and then later when the Government did an about turn and included Assam and Tripura as well, as per the UPA Government agreement with the Bangladesh government. But none in the Cabinet including the legal eagles noticed the basic error, till it reached President Pranab Mukherjee who returned it and thus it is listed again for passage on Monday.

This is the first time such a faux pas has been committed by any government. Shourie and Jethmalani must be laughing in their sleeves. That is why Modi and Jaitley need to meet the media selectively.

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