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A parable in plaques to two former PMs

New Delhi, June 19: If a keener nose for publicity and communication put a BJP Prime Minister ahead of his election rival, the process seems to have been repeated again in New Delhi this week.

Aptly, it happened at the government’s new communication hub, and was encapsulated in the Parable of the Pair of Plaques.

One of the slabs, which says then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee laid the foundation stone for the National Media Centre 13 years ago, had lain forgotten in an empty room, resting against a wall at a corner of the floor.

Since Tuesday, it has been proudly adorning the swank glass-and-mortar building’s front wall.

The other plaque, declaring that Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the centre on August 24 last year, is nowhere to be seen.

A fallout of government change? The truth goes a little deeper and seems to hold a lesson for the Congress.

The Vajpayee plaque’s return indeed owes to the new government’s alertness to opportunities for self-advertisement and communication, as partly evidenced by its leaders’ penchant for tweeting even minor developments.

But the disappearance of the other plaque seems to owe not a little to the Congress’s tendency to sometimes play catch-up in the publicity race.

Sources said that information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar spotted the Vajpayee plaque during his first visit to the building on Tuesday. He ordered his babus to have it displayed prominently at the front of the building. It was done within hours.

But what happened to the other plaque?

Press Information Bureau director-general Neelam Kapoor claimed it was in the building’s lobby. “The plaque mentioning Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s name was put up yesterday,” Kapoor told The Telegraph on Wednesday.

“When the building was being constructed, it was kept aside safely. Now both the plaques are there. The one with details of the inauguration is inside the building in the lobby area.”

But when this correspondent went to the lobby to check, the plaque wasn’t there.

Officials at the media centre said the Manmohan-Sonia plaque was a portable one — a metal plate on a pedestal — and had been in the lobby till sometime after the inauguration. Later, it was shifted somewhere — nobody was certain exactly where.

“Manish Tewari, the previous I&B minister, used to come here for media briefings but he never bothered about the plaque. So, the officials did not take it seriously, either,” a senior Press Information Bureau official said.

He added: “We have been planning to find a suitable spot where it can be embedded in a wall but somehow that never happened. Javadekar, on the other hand, noticed the foundation-stone plaque during his first visit…. Since he did not say anything about the inauguration plaque, nothing was done about that.”

The plaque on the front wall mentions that Vajpayee laid the foundation stone on December 5, 2001, in the presence of colleagues L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Ananth Kumar and Ramesh Bais.

The Rs 60-crore centre, standing on 1.95 acres of prime land in Lutyens Delhi, is equipped with state-of-the-art technology to meet the requirements of the international and Indian media.

But in this age of instant communication from devices that fit into one’s palm, it has been struggling to draw the expected press corps footfall.