Perry's unexpected saviours               Virendra Kapoor
   July 2, 2002

No one is willing to own responsibility for the futile witch-hunt against Time correspondent Alex Perry. But it was clear Perry was to be made an example of, Emergency-style, for having written certain unpleasant half-truths and quite a few lies about Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's health and demeanour.

The Foreigners Regional Registration Office, which summoned him post-haste following the publication of the controversial article, had egg on its face when the British high commission explained Perry's passport, with its two separate additional booklets each carrying a different number, was quite in order.

The summons, which were most ill-advised and ill-timed, smacked of official vendetta. The FRRO comes directly under the administrative control of Home Minister L K Advani. Thanks to the needless fuss, the article got all the more currency, with even regional language papers publishing it prominently.

When asked whether they had forgotten their bitter complaints against Indira Gandhi for having hounded out the foreign media during the Emergency, and for pummelling the local media into submission, a senior official at the Prime Minister's Office said the campaign against Perry "assumed a momentum of its own. It became very difficult for us to control the events when the Samata Party, at its convention, passed a suo motu resolution against Time and Perry and sought official action against the two. Once it criticised the article in question, the BJP felt it could not be left behind. So you had the BJP spokesperson, Sunil Shastri, demanding action against Perry."

The campaign against Perry by a section of the ruling alliance, coupled with reports suggesting the hand of Advani's acolytes behind the article, obliged the home ministry to try and twist young Perry's arm for no other reason than to show it was second to none in defending Vajpayee's honour. Of course, Advani was nowhere in the picture.

An equally scurrilous piece against Vajpayee appeared around the same time in London's Daily Telegraph. It was as if someone had launched a concerted campaign to tarnish Vajpayee's image.

Even when the first reports about the summons to Perry appeared, no one in authority had the sense to tick off the FRRO for embarrassing the prime minister. Neither the PMO nor anyone responsible in the home ministry showed the initiative to order the withdrawal of the summons.

Which is when this correspondent asked the prime minister's senior aide: Doesn't the prime minister read the papers? Why didn't he pick up the phone and call an immediate end to the action against Perry? The response he received says something about the way this government functions. Vajpayee's media aide said, "We do not interfere in what the home ministry does and the home minister does not interfere in what the PMO does." No wonder the government's image is as bad as it is.

Courtesy Kamal Nath

Officially, the Congress maintained a stiff upper lip on the Perry affair, refusing to commit itself on the veracity or otherwise of the things said in Time against Vajpayee. It did not have much of a choice, given its record in targeting the Western media for its alleged bias against its leaders like Indira and Rajiv Gandhi

In private, senior Congress leaders could hardly hide their joy at Vajpayee's discomfiture.

Since the US weekly sells only about 40,000-odd copies in this country, most of it by subscription, quite a few Congressmen showed extraordinary enterprise in popularising the article. An owner-editor of a Hindi newspaper was only too pleased to oblige his Congress friends by carrying its verbatim translation. Congressmen encouraged other language papers across the country to carry the same translation. And, in order to make sure that influential names in business, politics and media did not miss the article, Congress leader Kamal Nath mailed them photocopies with his compliments.

Swaraj is my birthright

Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj has two lists: one names those she likes to see on government-controlled television and radio and another lists those who shouldn't be seen anywhere near it. Clearly, like several of her Congress predecessors, she too believes the I&B minister is master of the public broadcasting system and free, therefore, to mess around with it in whatever way she likes.

The other day she ordered that Shastri Ramachandran, senior assistant editor, The Times of India, should not be called for analysis/discussion programmes on radio and television. Reason: she was incensed by his comments on the horrendous events in Gujarat.

Shastri, it seems, was responding to questions from a radio correspondent on one of the FM channels one evening when a Sangh Parivar activist took umbrage at his criticism and told Swaraj to knock him off the list of guests on the public broadcasting system.

Nandu Babu's downward spiral

The Planning Commission's loss is the Reserve Bank of India's gain.

N K Singh, Planning Commission member, was a strong contender for the post of RBI governor upon Bimal Jalan's completion of his term.

Nandu Babu, as he is called by friends and foes alike, had set his heart on the post. It was his ambition, say his critics, to cap his long career in government with a job that would allow him to put his seal and signature on high denomination currency notes.

Singh, unfortunately, was tripped by his reputation. Even though he enlisted the support of a self-righteous Cabinet minister with his roots in the national capital, the prime minister played safe and ordered a two-year extension for Jalan.

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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