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Fitness freak and TV ‘star’ steps into Swaraj shadow

New Delhi, Jan. 30: He is known to be a fitness freak, likes long walks and a jog but Ravi Shankar Prasad, 49, is not making a dash to occupy the chair Sushma Swaraj vacated today in the corner room on the fifth floor of Shastri Bhavan — the office of the minister for information and broadcasting. Swaraj has straddled the ministry for three terms with a flamboyance that even the comparatively youthful “R.S.P” will find difficult to match.

Official sources said he will take office just after noon tomorrow. Polite inquiries as to whether Prasad has timed his entry into the office with an hour deemed auspicious by his astrologer elicited no response. Swaraj is a Cabinet minister. Prasad will be the minister of state (with independent charge) at the information and broadcasting ministry. (The minister of state in the information and broadcasting, Ramesh Bais, has been shifted to coal and mines.)

It does not necessarily mean a dumbing down of the Information and Broadcasting portfolio in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

But it is a definite elevation for the man from Bihar, lawyer, scion of a political family — his father was the founder of the Jan Sangh in his home state — who presents an affable face for the government and the BJP on the telly whenever there is a spot of troubleshooting to be done.

Prasad absolutely loves the television. His official bio-data — from the time he was made minister of state for law and justice in July last year — makes a virtue of his “frequent appearances on the television in international and Indian channels including the BBC, CNN, STAR News, Doordarshan, Zee News, Aaj Tak and other channels”.

Like Swaraj, he is articulate in both English and Hindi.

Unlike her, he is not a polyglot. He is trained in civil and constitutional law and has been one of the prime movers against Laloo Prasad Yadav in the animal husbandry scam case.

The bio-data further adds: “He is married to Smt (Dr) Maya Shankar who is a professor of history in the famous Patna Women’s College of Bihar. Her doctoral thesis on ‘Non Alignment and Indo-American Relations’ has been highly acclaimed.”

Prasad has already let it be known that he is pro-reform. This means, for one, he will take a re-look at the recommendations of the Expenditure Reforms (Geethakrishnan) Commission that had suggested a massive slash in the size of the I&B ministry. Swaraj zealously guarded the media units from the ERC and fought to keep all I&B offices intact.

Prasad has also intimated that the file on an immediate issue — allowing foreign news channels to uplink from India — will not go into the Cabinet straightaway before he has had a look at it.

Swaraj said today that the telecommunications ministry has sent its opinion on the matter and the home ministry’s report is awaited.

The subject might have come up in the scheduled Cabinet meeting tomorrow.

(STAR News, which is to go on air in its new avatar with NDTV’s departure from March, is dependent on the government policy on uplinking).

Prasad owes his links to the world of media not only to his television interviews but also to family connections — his brother-in-law is Rajya Sabha MP Rajiv Shukla, who used to be editor of the Hindi Ravivar.

Shukla’s wife — Prasad’s younger sister — is Anuradha Prasad who runs BAG Films, a content-provider to television channels.

Among Prasad’s priorities will be the implementation of the Conditional Access System — set-top boxes for cable TV subscribers — and, in the short term, the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority Bill.

Television broadcasters are wary of both — the first, because they say CAS is loaded in favour of operators, and the second, because a content-regulator can effectively act as a censor.

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