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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Inside Track: Caught in the middle

The hapless Frank Noronha, who was on leave prior to retirement as PIB chief, was reportedly asked by the PMO to immediately issue the WhatsApp message declaring that the PM had ordered the I&B Ministry to withdraw its notification.

Written by Coomi Kapoor | Updated: April 8, 2018 12:15:54 am
Inside Track: Caught in the middle Smriti Irani’s grievance is that before adopting the guidelines “for fighting fake news”, she was in regular touch with two high-power TV anchors, who have since disowned their role.

Smriti Irani blames the retiring chief of the Press Information Bureau (PIB), Frank Noronha, and two senior broadcast journalists for her humiliation in having to back down over the draconian guidelines on media accreditation, which had the entire journalist fraternity up in arms. The hapless Noronha, who was on leave prior to retirement, was reportedly asked by the PMO to immediately issue the WhatsApp message declaring that the PM had ordered the I&B Ministry to withdraw its notification. The original framing of rules was put up on the PIB website by Noronha’s successor Sitanshu Kar. Irani’s grievance is that before adopting the guidelines “for fighting fake news”, she was in regular touch with two high-power TV anchors, who have since disowned their role.

Kids next door

Irani’s tendency to shoot from the hip without adequate consultation was seen on another matter. Some women felicitating the minister requested her for a crèche. Irani immediately ordered that the press facilities room next to the workplace for scribes in the Media Centre in Delhi be converted into one. Carpenters are at work in the tiny room, even though some journalists protested. They pointed out that kids bawling next door would prove distracting, that the space was too small for a crèche and that there were no special toilet facilities. Ironically, there are many vacant rooms at the centre. It is unclear whether those who petitioned for the crèche were accredited correspondents, who alone are allowed into the protected building.

In the dark

The old guard was clearly not consulted over the new appointments made by Congress president Rahul Gandhi. A group of senior Congress leaders, learning of the new names while in Parliament, were busy googling to find out the antecedents of Anugrah Narayan Singh, who has been put in-charge of Uttarakhand. Ashok Gehlot’s appointment as general secretary (organisation) is a double-edged sword. He now has a key position in the party, but has been distanced from Rajasthan politics, leaving the way clear for his rival, Sachin Pilot. Shaktisinh Gohil of Gujarat, who has a heart condition and avoids travelling, has been made in-charge of Bihar. Rahul’s favourite Rajeev Satav is in-charge of Gujarat. BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya gleefully tweeted an old letter of Satav criticising the Narmada dam project. The BJP’s propaganda that anti-Narmada is anti-Gujarat has embarrassed the Gujarat Congress.

Centre for alliances

Mamata Banerjee was the heroine of Parliament’s Central Hall week before last. Chandrababu Naidu was the cynosure of all eyes last Tuesday. MPs from opposition parties were keen for appointments with him. More importantly, NDA allies, including Ramdas Athawale (RPI), Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena), K C Tyagi (JD-U) and Naresh Gujral (Akali Dal), came up to him to congratulate him. Naidu is not just peeved over his state not getting special status. (Actually, Andhra has the highest growth rate of gross domestic product in the country in the last two years.) He believes that interested parties like Andhra Governor E S L Narasimhan and his sister-in-law and BJP MP, D Purandeswari, have egged on the BJP to treat him in a cavalier fashion. Naidu even suspects that the BJP may be in touch with his rival Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress. A day after Naidu’s visit, Akhilesh Yadav arrived in Central Hall with similar fanfare, leading a wag to remark that marriages are made in heaven and political alliances in Central Hall.

His father’s son

Former JD(U) MP K C Tyagi’s wife is accustomed to the media since her husband has spent a lifetime in politics. But she was taken aback by the brigade of journalists from New York and London media groups descending on her doorstep in South Avenue, wanting to speak to son Amrish. Amrish is currently getting more international media attention than his father ever did, because of his links to Alexander Nix. Cambridge Analytica, headed by Nix, is accused of harvesting Facebook data for election messages. His father says Amrish saw the advantage of using mobile phones and profiling voters early in life. He started by compiling WhatsApp groups and identifying voters in his father’s constituency on the basis of caste etc. Later, he reportedly utilised his skills for other politicians, from Rajnath Singh to Donald Trump. Tyagi Sr, who started life as a socialist, has uncomplimentary things to say about some of his son’s ex-clients. But he doesn’t interfere, realising there are no political loyalties in his son’s chosen field.

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