The Modi government did something very unusual on the evening of Friday, 29 April that largely went unnoticed. At 20.39, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) put out a long, 1,346-word statement with the headline “Government clarification on issues regarding M/S Agusta Westland International Limited (AWIL)” on its website.
Nothing unusual one might say. It’s the PIB’s job to issue policy statements, clarifications etcetera on behalf of the government. Okay. What’s unusual is this: The distance between the PIB headquarters at Shastri Bhavan on Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road and the BJP central office on Ashoka Road, New Delhi got reduced.
That’s not much of a physical distance. But in a democratic setup, that distance must remain. The government and the ruling party must maintain their separate identities.
The BJP crushed the PIB identity that day and virtually merged the government and the party wings into one. It had happened once in the country before- during the Emergency.
When I read the PIB’s statement on Facebook wall of a political reporter within half an hour after it was issued, I was shocked. The PIB had issued a political statement. When did the PIB become an extension of the BJP? Is this a part of the Modi government’s new media plan one has been hearing about?
The PIB statement begins like this: “In the matter pertaining to acquisition of Agusta Westland helicopters, the undisputed central issue that stands out is corruption, especially bribery. Any other line of assumption, approach and effort, as is being attempted in some quarters, is misleading, tries to hide the wrongdoers and is driven by instincts of self-preservation.”
And sample this: “It is indeed tragic that a small section of the Indian polity has attempted, unsuccessfully, to divert and diffuse the public discourse on this matter. They question the speed of the government processes, especially the investigation. But, they do not ask how the corrupt influenced the process of acquisition in the first place and bled the nation. They do not admit corruption; they instead boldly proclaim, "catch us if you can."
And this: In their drive to divert the public attention from their own corruption, some have said that the Modi government permitted Augusta Westland to bid for 100 Naval Utility Helicopters in April, 2015.”
Who are “some quarters,” “small section of the polity,” and “they” that the PIB’s statement is referring to? Obviously, the PIB is referring to the Congress and those who have questioned the veracity of the government and the BJP’s claims on the AgustaWestland scandal.
There is a reference to the controversy arising out of Christian Michel’s claim that Modi had cut a deal with the Italian Prime Minister on the release of the two marines in return for evidence against the Gandhi family in then chopper case.
The PIB statement says, “Those who cannot see Prime Minister succeed even hint at him cutting a deal. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Prime Minister Modi did not cut any deal of any sort. His only goal and priority is the development of comprehensive national power, and empowerment of our masses.”
Is the job of a government department to take on opposition party or parties? No.
The government’s information and publicity wing, at least at the level of Central ministries and departments, maintains a discreet distance from the party. The government’s information departments present facts; they even dish out lies, distort facts and figures and spin webs but they don’t join political slugfests. That is left to the party and the organizational wings to lead and carry on political fights against rival parties.
The clear and distinct separation of roles between the executive and legislature or organizational wings has so far been maintained with utmost care. In a one-party rule system, such as in China and former USSR, for instance, the crucial distinction between government and party gets blurred.
On the evening of 29 April, it appears that some spin doctors of the BJP drafted the statement on the AgustaWestland issue and passed it on to PIB to be uploaded on its website. But it’s not easy to pass off party statements as government communiqué or handouts. The style of writing of press releases by government agencies is markedly different. They are formal, they often use archaic, worn-out phrases and are not aggressive or hard-hitting against ‘some quarters’ or ‘some sections.”
The Hindu in its edition on Sunday, 1 May has carried a small report by Smita Gupta that quotes former Information and Broadcasting Minister and Congress leader Manish Tewari. He says, “This is not the language that is used by the PIB. It’s just not their style.” “From the manner in which the statement has been put out, and its tone and tenor, it is very obvious that the PIB was merely asked to upload it.”
“His assertion was later confirmed by PIB officials,” reports Gupta.
Have the RSS/BJP apparatchiks taken over the PIB, the government’s nodal information department? The government must come clean.
Updated Date: May 02, 2016 07:27 AM