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Camera divides two debuts

New Delhi, Nov. 1: Click! The shutters whirred at one end of the corridor. They couldn’t have enough of the star.

Few cameras were in sight at the other end.

Seldom has the divide between two ends of a floor been so glaring. But that was how it was today at Transport Bhavan, which houses the ministry of road transport and highways as well as the ministry of tourism.

On one side, Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi was taking over as minister of state for tourism with independent charge. On the other, minister of state for transport Sarvey Sathyanarayana, an MP from Andhra Pradesh, was taking charge.

Sathyanarayana had visited the ministry on Tuesday to check out his room. He sat there for a couple of minutes while his personal staff went about asking all senior officials to come and meet their new boss.

The minister met a joint secretary before leaving after a couple of minutes.

“Since he is a first time minister they were not aware of the protocol. They do not have to request, the minister simply has to issue directions and everyone would have to come,” a senior official said later.

Sathyanarayana decided to formally take charge today. He was scheduled to take over at 11 this morning, around the same time as Chiranjeevi, but delayed it to 2 in the afternoon. His staff claimed he got held up by a meeting of ministers and later went to meet UPA chief Sonia Gandhi before reaching his office. Accompanied by family members, the minister performed a puja with his wife before taking over.

By then, Chiranjeevi had already wrapped up his meeting with the media.

The Andhra Pradesh-born movie star, dressed in a starched white kurta, walked into a packed conference hall, which was way too small for the size of the gathering.

Chiranjeevi declared he was going to be the brand ambassador for the ministry. He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told him he had been chosen to head the ministry because he was a “brand ambassador”.

“His words have galvanised me and brought a lot of josh. The Prime Minister told me my enormous experience in film industry and glamour adds to my portfolio. Like that he said.”

The actor tried his hand at Hindi, too, stealing glances at the Hindi press to check if his grammar was correct.

“We currently receive only 0.65 per cent of world tourists. Even if we manage to get one per cent, it will be a big achievement. Currently, tourism contributes only 6.5 per cent of the country’s GDP. We aim that tourism should earn 10 per cent of GDP.”

Chiranjeevi will have a bigger budget to bank on.

The allocation for the ministry in the 11th plan was Rs 4,900 crore. For the 12th plan period (2012-17), the allocation has been raised to over Rs 15,000 crore.

The actor promised to use his “friendship” with film stars to get them to promote the industry. “I will speak to stars of Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood and all other woods. I will seek their support and suggestions about increasing tourism,” he said.

Someone tried to needle him a bit: what is the difference between a reel politician and a real politician?

“You have to feel from here for both of it,” Chiranjeevi smiled, pointing to his heart.

Some journalists had stayed back to meet Sathyanarayana too. But they were mostly from the Telugu press.