On July 26, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told select journalists over lunch in a conference room in Shastri Bhavan that he is available to them whenever they want to speak with him.
He was joined in this exercise in humility by other stars of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's Cabinet like Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Ambika Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad, V Narayanswami, and Pawan Kumar Bansal. They are part of recently formed Group of Ministers for media.
The United Progressive Alliance is suffering from crisis after crisis like price rise, allegations of serious corruption and drift in governance. But, their spokespersons are unable to give spin or facts to the media to get positive stories because none of them seems to be having direct contacts with either Dr Singh or with Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Their defence of the government or the party is weak because they don't give listeners image of being 'well-informed' leaders having inside information.
So, here comes Chidambaram, who is articulate and powerful and knows well what's happening in the government.
These ministers while briefing and responding media-persons queries conveyed that the Lokpal bill will be okayed by the Cabinet this week and will be tabled in the coming Parliament session.
It's likely to go to the standing committee. As is known, the bill of government's team will not include office of prime minister and judiciary under the ambit of the Lokpal.
It's clear from the talk of the senior ministers that Anna Hazare and the members of civil society have been successfully marginalised and the politicians have taken over the Lokpal issue.
Chidambaram did much of talking in the meeting that lasted for almost two hours. He regretted that media is not writing enough on "twenty years of economic reforms."
These ministers are meeting select group of editors and senior reporters every week to put forward their viewpoints. The wooing of journalists at the ministerial level is unprecedented and shows the defensive mood prevailing within the government.
In the meeting, Chidambaram, who heads the GoM on media, was asked many questions that, traditionally, are responded by director of the Press Information Bureau or spokesmen of the ruling party or media advisors of the prime minister. The interaction got a mixed response from members of the media.
It was an off the record conversation of star ministers with journalists but a senior editor, who participated in it, said, "I am not sure if such a meeting serves any purpose."
A senior journalist, who knows the Congress culture well, says, "Such meetings are like giving a patient a heavy dose of antibiotics for a routine cold. There should be an occasion for senior ministers to speak. Also, when such senior ministers speak they would speak for themselves. It's an image building exercise for them. They are deep in the game, so how will they give unbiased opinions to defend their government?"
"However, such an unusual meeting is nothing more than a public relations exercise," said a senior editor who participated in the meeting, "because even minister like Chidambaram don't come forward to give 'any bigger picture' of the government's vision."