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No, Madam Finance Minister, No!

If anyone thinks that news leaks can be prevented through such clumsy bans, they are clearly not living in the present

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The BJP, now the dominant pole of India’s polity, aspires to be sarvavyapi, samaveshi (all-encompassing). The party has expanded its influence at an astonishing pace in the last six years, emerging now as the world’s largest political party. It even rules most of the North-East.

It was not always like this, though. 

For a major part of its evolution, the BJP was branded as a Hindu-Hindi party – “a party that represented the interests of Hindus; a party that was limited to the Hindi heartland”.

The BJP’s relationship with the media, too, somewhat reflected its geographical spread.

Most of its spokespersons of the past traditionally spoke in Sanskritised Hindi, and rarely in English.

Two leaders who defied this and gave rise to a new culture in the modern BJP were L K Advani and Arun Jaitley.

Advani, who famously said that many journalists crawled when they were asked to bend, during the Emergency, was not a natural in Hindi. A born Sindhi, Hindi was an acquired language for him. Most of his articulations therefore were in flawless English. His writings and speeches were a subeditor’s delight.

It was, however, Jaitley who turned this practice into an art. Known for his persuasive skills, and known as a raconteur par excellence, Jaitley’s durbar, even during his opposition days, attracted journalists in droves. 

Of course, this drew uncharitable references too – for instance, it was said that “he acted as a bureau chief, even deciding the next day’s newspapers’ headlines!”

Most of the new-age spokespersons who today occupy high offices in the Modi cabinet have been Jaitley proteges. 

In Opposition, the BJP used to present a powerful team of spokespersons – Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, and so on. All of them have at some point or the other benefitted from Jaitley’s expertise.

One of them who stood out, however, was Nirmala Sitharaman.

She was a member of the National Women’s Commission in the Vajpayee regime, but she came into her own as a party spokesperson.

Hailing from Tamil Nadu, having Hyderabad as her new base, JNU educated, a background in student group “Free Thinkers”, she epitomised a BJP which aspired to be “sarvavyapi, samaveshi”.

Like Jaitley, she was a journalist’s delight. Once a regular on TV debates, she got an unlikely compliment from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who said that “she brought substance back into TV debates”.

Once the BJP led by Narendra Modi got the 2014 mandate, Sitharaman emerged perhaps as the most powerful BJP leader – having stints in Finance, Commerce, Defence ministries. She is now the country’s first full-fledged woman finance Minister.

With such an illustrious past, one would have expected that Sitharaman would be a jewel in Modi Cabinet crown. Instead, her ministry is now having to issue releases, attempting to justify a near-ban on journalists from the North Block that houses the Finance Ministry.

How did things come to such a pass? 

Surely, this was not expected from someone who comes from JNU, and has a background in defending the party on myriad issues everyday!

Taking on the media – whatever the provocation is – is never a good idea. Apart from getting a bad press, it shows that the powers that be are not confident about their fundamentals. It gives the Opposition a reason to invoke the dreaded “E” word. 

And, if anyone thinks that news leaks can be prevented through such clumsy bans, they are clearly not living in the present.

Professional critics argue that the Modi government is “nothing but a totalitarian regime”. The government actions, deeds and philosophy should ensure that these are nothing but empty rants.

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