Prior to the birth of the electronic media the ministry for agriculture and food was dubbed the “graveyard” ministry until the green revolution ended fears of a famine. Now that dubious distinction has been conferred on the information and broadcasting ministry ~ the legacy of VC Shukla and the Emergency, some might say.
The latest casualty, Smriti Irani, actually dug her own grave. Basking in the 24×7 publicity the job ensures, a degree of arrogance marked her functioning ~ traces of which had been displayed during her two-year stint as HRD minister, after which she was shifted to the “minor” ministry of textiles.
However, the favour she regained when replacing Mr M Venkaiah Naidu when he was elevated as the Vice-President did not last long. In less than a year she has been reduced to handling textiles alone ~ becoming the only minister in Mr Narendra Modi’s council to have been shunted twice. She may retain cabinet rank, but she has lost out in terms of credibility and status.
The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was her bungling the management of the ceremony at which National Film Awards were presented.
The President, Mr Ram Nath Kovind, went on record to express his dismay over the “boycott” of the function by an estimated 50 awardees who accused Mrs Irani of misleading them when they protested that they would not receive their honour from the highest citizen in the land.
Rashtrapati Bhawan made no secret of Mr Kovind’s displeasure, just as it insisted that the I&B ministry had been informed well in advance that the President spent no more than one hour at such events. The minister’s head was on the chopping block, the axe fell on Monday.
That her junior, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was entrusted with independent charge to replace her is an indication that the Prime Minister no longer perceives her through “blue eyes”.
The mess of the film awards was no isolated blemish. Mrs Irani insists that the media got it wrong over the “threat” to cancel the accreditation of journalists who spread “fake” news ~ something that prompted the PMO to undertake a damage-control exercise.
An authoritarian streak was also visible in the manner in which the Press Council of India was re-constituted, and then “control” was sought to be imposed on news portals.
True that such moves must have received higher clearance, but her ham-handed manner punctured the repeated assertion of the government that it cherished, and was committed to ensuring, an independent media ~ a decline in an international rating on Press Freedom did not help.
Nor did Mrs Irani’s unabashed squabbles with I&B ministry organisations like Prasar Bharati, the Press Information Bureau and the Indian Information Service help her cause.
Two important points have been made with this change ~ Mr Modi has no time for mistakes, not even when they are made by a prominent Rahul-baiter and, second, in the run-up to the 2019 election, the government will want to take no chances with its management of the media.