Speaking up for government

The Modi government seems to have lost faith in BJP spokespersons. It’s increasingly turning to union ministers to brief the…

Speaking up for government

Piyush Goyal (Photo: Facebook)

The Modi government seems to have lost faith in BJP spokespersons. It’s increasingly turning to union ministers to brief the press, particularly when spin doctoring is required. Current favourites are Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman and Smriti Irani. Every now and then, they abandon official work to do a political briefing which should be the domain of party leaders. Goyal was fielded to defend Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah on his business dealings.

Sitharaman was pulled out of the defence ministry one morning to speak on Robert Vadra’s controversial land dealings. The next day, Irani called in the media to rake up the Bofors scandal and continue the attack on Vadra.

None of the issues they spoke on were related to their ministries. The trend of using ministers to speak to the press on political issues instead of party spokespersons has been evident for some time. Even at the recent National Executive meet in New Delhi, ministers like Arun Jaitley and Goyal briefed the media on the deliberations and resolutions instead of the spokespersons, BJP general secretaries or other senior party leaders The BJP has a large array of spokespersons who go from TV studio to TV studio every evening.


But clearly, the government doesn’t have much confidence in their ability to give the right spin on major political issues. This is why it has fallen back on ministers who were effective spokespersons when the BJP was in the opposition. The move to use ministers to speak on political issues on behalf of the party has raised eyebrows in political circles. It is being seen as indication of a defensive mood in the government.

The ruling dispensation has gone on the backfoot as criticism mounts on its poor management of the economy. Designated party spokespersons are simply not up to the job of deflecting the attacks.

Loyalist woes

Former Congress leader and recent BJP convert Rita Bahuguna Joshi is being blamed for stoking the Taj Mahal controversy. Joshi is the UP tourism minister. It was her ministry that lit the fire by dropping the world famous monument built by Shah Jehan from its new list of tourist destinations in UP. BJP circles say Joshi was being more loyal than the king in trying to curry favour with the RSS.

The Sangh believes that all monuments built by Muslim rulers were constructed on Hindu temple sites. The Taj Mahal, for instance, is said to be the site of a Shiva temple known as Tejo Mahalaya. Sangh historian P N Oak has written several books on this. It is not known whether RSS bosses appreciated Joshi’s genuflection to their beliefs. But the former Congress leader certainly annoyed her bosses in New Delhi who didn’t want a new controversy while they are firefighting domestic and international criticism on the economy.

The media brouhaha over Joshi’s ministry’s decision forced her to back track. The Taj was put back on the list of tourist destinations. But it was not enough clearly as the mockery on social media showed. That’s when the PMO pushed the chief minister to step in and Yogi Adityanath was forced to eat his own words on the Taj and defend it as a valuable tourist money spinner. Not long ago, Adityanath was a vociferous critic of the Taj Mahal.

Interestingly, the other two BJP leaders who fanned the controversy, Sangeet Som and Vinay Katiyar, are disgruntled people. Som wanted to be a minister but Adityanath refused to induct him in his cabinet. Although Som is a Thakur, he belongs to the camp opposed to the CM.

Kaityar, once a leading light of the Ram mandir movement, is now sidelined and on the verge of being phased out. His Rajya Sabha term expires next year and the buzz says, he will not get another stint in Parliament.

Full plate

There was widespread appreciation of the appointment of Nirmala Sitharaman as defence minister because finally, this important ministry had a full-time head with cabinet rank. But even before she has had time to settle down and understand the functioning of her ministry, she has been drafted in for political work.

She is the co-in-charge for the upcoming Gujarat assembly polls and has to attend regular strategy sessions on this crucial election. She is also back to her old role as spokesperson for the party, as evident from the surprise press conference she held last week to blast Robert Vadra. It is intriguing that the government has decided to make her wear two hats at this time when the border with China is hot and the Dokalam crisis remains unresolved.

When Jaitley was doubling up as defence and finance minister, the government was criticized for having part-time ministers in two critical ministries. Now, it has separate ministers for these ministries but the impression going around is that neither can devote full attention to their work because they are doubling up as political strategists and spokespersons.

Jaitley has been put in charge of managing the Gujarat assembly polls along with Sitharaman. This comes at a time when the government is under fire on the economy