It was an Oscar-worthy non-performance. “Unprecedented” is a word that must be used with circumspection when referring to any form of protest in this country, yet over 50 winners of the National Film Awards declining to participate in the awards-presentation ceremony does not speak well of how the information and broadcasting ministry managed an event in which the President featured prominently.

The artists who stayed back at the Ashok Hotel rather than participate in the “glamour show” at Vigyan Bhawan contend that theirs’ was no “boycott” and no insult was intended to the office of the President of India nor, personally, to Mr Ram Nath Kovind.

Yet they do make a point when complaining it was only at a rehearsal they were informed that Mr Kovind would be presenting only a limited number of awards ~ not as mentioned in their invitations ~ and which had prompted them to ask family, colleagues, friends etc. to come to the Capital for the function.

Traditionally the awards are presented by the President: so they deemed the ones to be handed over by the I&B minister and her minister of state to be of a lower category, which they perceived as insulting.

Rashtrapati Bhawan insists it had informed the ministry that the President now spends a maximum of an hour at such events. So who bungled: the I&B ministry for not working out a fresh format for the ceremony, or Rashtrapati Bhawan for stepping in only when too late to avert bruised egos? This is a matter that needs to be settled, the President is the star of awards-ceremonies of different categories, civil or military.

It is a unique honour to accept an award from the highest in the land, it matters as much as the award itself ~ though some might argue what will be remembered later is the award, not who presented it. Still, a photograph of receiving an honour from the President captures a special place in the heart ~ and the mantelpiece.

A protocol needs to be devised to prevent any repetition of the unpleasantness of Thursday. The President must not be dragged into unbecoming controversy: fortunately none in authority have thus far alleged “political motivation”, and it is to be hoped that Opposition parties do not try and throw dirt around ~ as they relish doing.

It is, however, difficult not to perceive this blockbuster of a bungle in isolation from several other recent scrapes involving Smriti Irani’s ministry. Is there an overdose of arrogance that causes the ministry to ride roughshod over the media, the film community…. ? The PMO intervened recently to avert another controversy from erupting, but every major decision cannot necessitate fire-fighting.