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Neutral For None

In his bid to appear 'fair', I&B minister Jaipal Reddy earns the ire of the Left and saffron right in equal measure

Neutral For None
Jayachandran
Neutral For None
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
Also See: The Red List

The liberal in the Union cabinet perhaps thinks the term implies someone who manages to constantly annoy both ends of the political spectrum. Either that or the UPA's information and broadcasting (I&B) minister S. Jaipal Reddy has taken Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's line of equal distance from the "left and right fundamentalism" too literally. Nothing else explains the minister's gradual shift from complete inaction to sudden fits of 'detoxification' that have invited the wrath of the right and are seen as 'too little, too late' by the leftists.

While the Left has clearly spelt out the names of the people they want out of the departments headed by Jaipal, the minister says he has to be fair in taking any decision. When contacted by Outlook, Jaipal said: "The government cannot be seen to be biased. There is a certain procedure involved when people are appointed in institutions. That procedure cannot be circumvented."

Jaipal fired the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Anupam Kher on October 12 after the CPI(M) politburo member, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, attacked him for not sacking Kher and other "pro-RSS" heads of institutions. The Bollywood actor got his marching orders on October 13 and promptly went to town over what he said was "victimisation and vendetta" on the part of the ministry under the new regime.

But Kher, though an outspoken specimen of NDA-style moral policing and partisanship, is not the only person Surjeet and his comrades want out. There is a long list of 'candidates' and Jaipal has not obliged so far. I&B ministry sources say he wants to be careful enough to avoid every decision from becoming controversial. But when this gingerly approach is compared to 'detox' operations in other arms of the government such as the hrd ministry, Jaipal clearly appears in the eyes of the Left to be ineffective.

He defends this equivocal stance by saying the government should avoid a public backlash against such visible and overstated "detoxification", asserting this is of a piece with the PM's stated policy of being "fair and neutral". Sources close to the minister say that if every move of the ministry is seen to be ideologically motivated, it can boomerang badly. "If the PM has sent a clear signal that government should be impartial, how can the minister overstep that limit?" ask sources.

The general feeling among Left parties is that the I&B and culture ministries, both headed by Jaipal, are not doing enough to get rid of the "communal" elements installed there by the previous regime. "These thousands of RSS men sitting in various positions all over the country are capable of doing incalculable damage to our secular ethos and composite culture. In fact, this is one of the most serious dangers facing the nation today," said Surjeet.

At the same time, the largely 'liberal' artist-intellectual community has been carrying out a campaign against the I&B ministry and the censor board for not allowing 'anti-BJP' films to be part of the national film awards. In fact, the row over the censor's 'ban' on Rakesh Sharma's documentary on Gujarat, Final Solutions, is believed to be one of the reasons why Kher was shown the door. The latest instance, though, inverts the victimhood: filmmaker Prakash Jha, whose film on Jayaprakash Narain wasn't shown on Doordarshan because it attacked Indira Gandhi for the Emergency.

While Jaipal has managed to only partially placate the Left by sacking Kher, the actor is not about to go without a decibel-attack on the "totally unfair" decision. Histrionics of the kind only a Bollywood actor is capable of are in store for the minister, who embarked on a tour of China a day before Kher was sacked. "I am not going to let this government attack my credibility in this manner.They are playing politics at my expense. I am not going to take it lying down.This militates against any claims to fair play. They have to tell me the reasons for sacking me. It is not as if my livelihood depends on this job. But I was asked to do it and I have done it to the best of my ability. Let them tell me why they are doing this to me," Kher told Outlook. He has also served a legal notice on Surjeet for maligning him.

Not be left behind, the Sangh parivar too joined the chorus. The attack on Jaipal from the liberal-left circles was only matched by the shrillness of the campaign mounted by the BJP, which promptly issued a statement after Anupam Kher was sacked. Party general secretary Arun Jaitley termed the move as a new record in the government's "policy of vendetta". "Some issues cannot be guided by ideology or party labels. Mr Anupam Kher cannot be identified with any one group. It is a case of downright vendetta, intolerance and political narrow-mindedness," Jaitley charged.

The issue of Kher's sacking threatens to snowball into a rather noisy controversy while Jaipal is yet to deal with several other pro-RSS individuals against whom the Left has declared war. Ministry sources say Jaipal has a specific plan in mind but he would be very careful in how he implements it. "Certain procedures have to be followed. People like Sonal Mansingh and M.V. Kamath have been appointed by the President. How can they be removed in a ham-handed manner?" sources ask. Correcting all the 'wrongs' done by the previous government cannot happen overnight, I&B ministry officials point out. The Left, of course, manages to see only one long night.

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