Bihar political rivals Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad shared the dais after a long time and embroiled themselves in a war of words instead of pleasantries.
The two leaders were together on the occasion of the launching of the Patna edition of a Hindi Daily and Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde sat between them.
Launching an attack on the chief minister, Prasad without naming him said the state government was ‘controlling’ the media in an attempt to ‘black out’ news of rivals like him.
“A few persons in an attempt to create history are hogging all the space in the newspapers on the basis of lure of advertisements … The newsmen are dishing out news that suits the government like parrots,” he said.
Even Press Council Chairman Markandey Katju has questioned the freedom of press in Bihar, he said to drive home his point.
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Kumar did not miss any opportunity to take potshots at his bete noire when his turn to speak came.
Taking a jibe at Prasad for opening an account on twitter, he said “Some people of the old generation are also becoming victim of latest fads of social media.”
“One can understand that it is a fashion among younger generation but its unimaginable that people of older generation have also started practising it … One should draw a line somewhere,” said Kumar, who has only a blog account.
Pouring criticism, he said the dictionary meaning of twitter is sweet chirping of birds in the morning hours but people by trying to monopolise it were trying to transform it into a jarring sound.
“People forget the time when they used to decide which photograph and which news will appear on which page of the newspapers,” Kumar said referring to the erstwhile RJD rule in the state.
While Kumar was speaking Prasad was heard muttering no newspaper in Bihar can run without dishing news about him.
To this Kumar suggested newspapers to print photographs and news of Prasad only.
Shinde and the gathering were seen to be bursting out in laughter at the exchange.
Kumar said he has never interfered in the working of any media organisations to ‘influence’ news in his favour.
“Nobody can say I ever telephoned any editor of a newspaper or electronic media to complain about any news … There is complete freedom whether you give news in favour of us or criticise us.”
“I gloss through each and every newspaper to look for prevailing problems which can get corrected,” he said adding the people are the ‘best judge’ of performance of a leader.
“It is written in each person’s destiny as to who will go where and be in power for how long,” he quipped.
Shinde in his speech did not refer to the spat between the two Bihar leaders but spoke on freedom of media stating ‘honest’ journalism was a challenge of the time.