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PM plays perfect host on Women's Day

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
March 08, 2003 23:16 IST
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Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Saturday celebrated International Women's Day in the company of nearly 500 women, all from the media.

"It is an occasion for tea and snacks, so there is no need for pens and notepads," he said as he welcomed his guests on the lush lawns of his 7, Race Course Road residence.

In a brief speech, the prime minister spoke about the situation in West Asia.

"War clouds are gathering; war can break out anytime.

"UN weapons inspectors have found some weapons of mass destruction and Iraq has promised to destroy them. In this situation, peace must be given a chance. But be prepared for war," he said.

But despite the talk of war, the atmosphere on the lawns was anything but tense; it was relaxed and cheerful.

The only other men present on the occasion were Ashok Tandon, Officer on Special Duty in the Prime Minister's Office, Special Protection Group personnel and staff of the Ashoka Hotel and Hyderabad House, who made the dishes.

Most of the journalists, writers and columnists came with their handbags and the security guards were caught unawares. Three tables were not sufficient to keep them all. So many bags were collected at the entry point that the SPG had to arrange for a few more tables.

After the speech, Vajpayee sat down on the dais and the journalists started requesting for a group photo. The young and smart women from ZEE TV, Aaj Tak and Star TV rushed for a picture with the prime minister.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj introduced them to Vajpayee.

A sub-editor of The Times of India, who was looking beautiful in a pink and yellow kurti, wanted Vajpayee's autograph.

Manisha Dube of The Indian Express said, "In my office half the new recruits are girls. Nowadays there are many girls in media offices."

Most women looked urban and upper or upper middle-class.

A senior journalist with 23 years of experience said, "So many well-known women journalists are present here but none of them enjoy real power."

She added, "Nobody present here has an exclusive and regular access to the PM or Congress president Sonia Gandhi."

Another senior scribe, Neerja Chaudhry, said there are very few women editors in the country. Most of them are either resident editors or senior editors.

The only editor who was there was Mrinal Pande.

Madhu Trehan, TV journalist and one of the founders of the India Today, is writing a book on Tehelka. She said, "Even today it's difficult to grow for women. In the media there is a glass ceiling for women. Look around and you'll know."

The PM's foster daughter, Namita Bhattacharya, was also present.

The prime minister was looking good in his blue bandh-gala suit. Thanks to his strict diet, he also seemed to have lost weight.

Asked if Indian women were changing, he told "Not enough. Indian women are changing, but slowly."

There were a lot of mouth-watering dishes at the function.

The corporate chef of the Ashoka Hotel, Madhusudan Gupta, said, "Only women were coming for the gathering so I kept chat, pani-puri, pau-bhaji and aloo-tikki. Indian women are very found of chat-puri."

He was right. Sevanti Ninan, Monika Chopra and Aarti Jerath, all veteran journalists, enjoyed it. But Gupta proved wrong in his other assumption.

He said, "They didn't look at my deserts. May be they are calorie conscious."

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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