There is a sense of disquiet in Rashtrapati Bhavan after the unprecedented public spectacle of around 50 award-winners boycotting the National Film Awards because they were told last-minute they would not get the award from President Ram Nath Kovind but from I&B Minister Smriti Irani and her colleague Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
Rashtrapati Bhavan, sources said, is upset because the President’s Secretariat was in touch with the Ministry over the event and, as early as March, had let it be known that the President would spend only an hour at the event and, therefore, not give away all the awards.
“By end March, all discussions about logistics were finalised. It was left to the Ministry to decide how many awards the President would give and who else would be there on the dais,” said a source. Yet, the Ministry’s invitation to the award-winners mentioned that the President would give the awards. It was this that sparked off the protests by the winners.
Sources said I&B Secretary N K Sinha met President Kovind on May 1 to inform him about the number and categories of the awards he would give.
Rashtrapati Bhavan sources said not only had the Ministry been informed in advance, there were several discussions on the venue too after the Ministry suggested changing it from Vigyan Bhawan — where the awards have traditionally been held — to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Subsequently, both sides agreed that Rashtrapati Bhavan does not have an auditorium large enough to accommodate an event of this scale and, therefore, Vigyan Bhawan should remain the venue.
Said Ashok Malik, press secretary to the President: “I have already said earlier that the Ministry was informed well in advance that the President would not spend more than an hour. This has been the case from the beginning of this Presidency and has been conveyed to all ministries, institutions etc that invite him. I&B ministry was informed several weeks ago.”
Asked if the I&B Minister met Kovind, Malik said: “I am not aware of any such meeting in the context of the film awards. As for the invite, it says President will be there at 5.30 pm, which he was. What happens before or after that is not our lookout.”
The Indian Express sent a questionnaire to I&B Secretary N K Sinha and ADG, Directorate of Film Festivals, Chaitanya Prasad. Asked who decided how many awards would the President give the Ministry’s spokesperson said: “The Ministry of I&B does not comment on decisions taken by the Hon’ble President’s Office.”
If the Ministry had been aware that the President would only give a few awards, why was this not shared with the winners? Asked this, the spokesperson said: “The Ministry of I&B through the Directorate of Film Festivals informed the winners of the changed format during the rehearsal ceremony held prior to the National Film Awards.”
That rehearsal was on Wednesday when the winners were told that the President would give away only a select few awards — 11 of the 70 categories and the rest would be given by Irani and Rathore. Many of the awardees felt that this created a hierarchy in the awards and was also contrary to what their invitation had said. Irani is said to have assured them that she would “convey” their “sentiments” to the President’s office.
An estimated 50 did not show up at the ceremony — the names of around 30 of them were not even announced. Asked if the format of Thursday’s ceremony would be followed the next time around, the spokesperson said: “No comments.”
Sources said the I&B Ministry is said to be finalising a protocol under which, in the future, the President may only give the Dadasaheb Phalke award while other awards will be given by other dignitaries, most likely the I&B Minister of the day.