Wednesday, 18 June 2014 – 8:10am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Party scans newspapers everyday to keep tabs on who is talking to the media; daily briefing by BJP has been scrapped
  • BJP daily briefing (above, before the polls ) has been scrapped

The Narendra Modi government seems to be running on silence. Key secretaries are mum. There’s no media advisor to the PM. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) has hardly any information. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has scrapped its daily briefing, which was the lifeline of the political beat for many years.

What has stumped hardcore political journalists in Delhi is that the numerous BJP blowhorns like Prakash Javedkar, now I & B minister, Ravi Shakar Prasad, now law minister, and even Arun Jaitley, who sometimes spent the entire day in front of TV cameras patiently answering questions ranging from politics to social propriety and offering advice to the nation, at large, are nowhere to be seen. The byte has gone out of the BJP.

What is even more damning is that the daily briefing in the BJP headquarters at 11, Ashoka Road, which converted the drab morning hours to prime time TV, has been stopped. OB vans no longer line this beautiful boulevard. The once-accessible friendly BJP office-bearers have “gone underground”.

A BJP worker said newspapers are scanned every morning to keep tabs on who in the party and government was talking to the media and on what.

The newly appointed spokesperson M J Akbar is nowhere to be seen and has not briefed the press even once. Subramaniam Swamy, who tweeted endlessly with often bizzare allegations, seems to have developed arthritis of his thumb.

That there is no media adviser to the PM, even after 21 days of Narendra Modi being sworn in, is glaring. Jagdish Thakkar, a Gujarat officer has been appointed as the PRO to the PMO, but according to a Gujarat daily he will be no Sanjay Baru or Pankaj Pachauri and will not be briefing the press.

The 70-year-old official will most probably be pointing out negative reports or bringing some such crucial information to the attention of the PM.

Ministers of the Modi government have been instructed not to speak to the media. That’s the job of the ministry spokesman or of a government spokesman, if a particular ministry does not have a dedicated spokesman. BJP MPs have been warned of the possibility of a Bangaru Laxman-type sting!

The point is, ever since May 26, very few Union ministers have addressed a press conference. Shortly after he was sworn in as prime minister, Narendra Modi called a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party in the Central Hall of Parliament, where he gave them what the Congress has dubbed “10 commandments”. One of them was: “Avoid speaking to the media. There is no need to speak on national issues unnecessarily.”

The MPs were on cue. As they trooped out, they refused to give bytes to the waiting media. Since then, very few ministers have interacted with the press. The council of ministers has had only one meeting and the government’s mind on various issues is only a guess, hazy at best.

Government briefings have stopped. When the UPA was in power, there was a Group of Ministers (GoM) on Media that used to meet everyday at a fixed hour to analyse the events of the day GoM has been scrapped, along with the others.

Journalists who have been covering BJP for years and were on wonderful terms with party leaders are suddenly finding it hard to get through to them. Even when they do breach the wall, wanting to speak on a certain issue, all they get is a “cannot say anything” comment.

The government seems to have no media policy. Scanning government websites is a waste of time. Even the PMO website is more or less moribund. It’s not yet updated. There is mention of ‘Quest for Transparency’ but RTI on officials in the PMO and their service details are not fully transparent.

Even PIB officials say they rely on Twitter to get to know what the government is up to and what and how much of the information should be told to the media. Press statements are drafted, based on tweets posted by the PMO. Narendra Modi has already underlined the importance of social media to interact with the people.

Delhi, where a hot news or a spicy gossip blew in with every gust of wind from the Yamuna, is looking like a parched state, looking for succour. The byte has gone out of the BJP.

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