The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Diplomacy keeps entertainer Prasad and Pak guest apart

New Delhi, Nov. 10: Foreign affairs is not entertaining for Union information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad whose team of officials has been kept on a tight leash for the Saarc information ministers meet to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tomorrow.

Prasad, whose portfolio practically vests in him the responsibility of being minister for entertainment, has been wanting to meet his counterpart from Pakistan, Sheikh Rasheed, who is here for the meeting and who is likely to present proposals for a more intensive exchange of artistes and entertainment programmes between India and Pakistan.

In effect, though, such a proposal would be interpreted by New Delhi as only reciprocal.

Prasad’s endeavour has received some encouragement with India deciding to send a cricket team to Pakistan for a full series and a tournament in March.

But the information and broadcasting minister has been told by the external affairs ministry that he cannot hold a formal meeting with Rasheed on the sidelines of the Saarc ministers’ conference to discuss bilateral issues. Prasad has been told that till official level talks are held between the Indian and Pakistani governments, such a move would be frowned upon.

Prasad, however, has made up his mind to raise the issue of exchanging artistes with his Pakistani counterpart.

The official Indian position is that New Delhi has not barred Pakistan Television from being broadcast in India, nor has it barred Pakistani artistes from performing here. It is Pakistan that has to reciprocate.

The entertainment industry, chiefly Bollywood, has been urging Prasad to take up the matter on the sidelines of the meet.

The external affairs ministry has also circulated among officials of Prasad’s ministry confidential minutes of the previous Saarc information ministers’ meet held in Islamabad last year.

The minutes note that the Pakistan delegation was under instructions not to confront the Indian team in the Saarc context.

The Pakistani team went out of its way to project a “moderate, progressive, South Asian image of Pakistan”. Also, Pakistani protocol “went to great lengths to extend courtesies, to the extent that other Saarc delegates must have felt ignored”. It has also been noted in meetings that there was an increasing proximity between Pakistan and Bangladesh in the Saarc forum.

Despite these, Prasad has tried to raise the issue of India contributing more to the Saarc deliberations and even offering funds to a Saarc media development corpus. Prasad has been arguing for an arrangement to exchange more films among Saarc member states.

On freer movement for media personnel, Prasad has been briefed on the complexities. In particular, it has been pointed out to him that he should steer away from proposals for visa free movement of media professionals.

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