The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Struggle to diagnose Shotgun ‘flaws’

New Delhi, Nov. 30: There have been more brickbats than flowers for Shatrughan Sinha since he acquired a new profile in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Cabinet. The health minister is clearly not used to such negative attention, having spent years in Bollywood where gushing fans greeted him at every step.

The staff in his office, too, are baffled at the criticism pouring in about the minister’s casual approach, lack of seriousness, prolonged absences from office and Parliament, and, most important, his failure to come up with a significant policy statement on health and family welfare.

Officer on Special Duty Prabhat Ranjan and the minister’s personal secretary Satya Gopal are “worried” about salvaging Sinha’s reputation. They want to put together a “damage-control” plan that will help Shotgun find his feet in the sprawling ministry.

Some of Sinha’s well-wishers have asked him to cultivate a “serious” image as opposed to his usual flippant and flamboyant style. But the minister’s staff wonder why there could be a problem with his penchant for rhymes. At a recent meeting, Shotgun, hoping to boost the morale of HIV/AIDS patients, said: “AIDS is not bad, it is very sad.” That’s Sinhaspeak, meaning there is no stigma in having AIDS and one should not give in to depression.

When some colleagues in the ministry pointed to the absurdity of the rhyme, Sinha’s staff protested, saying the minister put it so “nicely”. What could possibly be wrong with rhyming messages' Earlier, at a news conference, the minister had rhymed most of his answers, clearly indicating his inexperience in handling a press meet. The bureaucrats fielded all the questions and provided the necessary information.

An official said that by now, Sinha’s office should have advised the first-time minister to change his style. Instead of pinpointing Sinha’s vulnerabilities, the ministry grapevine says, his staff are wasting energy on finding “culprits” — those who are “leaking” information.

Every day, a pile of newspaper clippings with reports on the health ministry and its minister is sent to Sinha. The negative reports, till recently, were dismissed as the result of a “conspiracy” hatched to defame the minister.

Sinha, so far, has been quite brazen in the face of the bad press. He has asked reporters to “write what they wished” but he would not answer their questions on his innumerable foreign trips. Recently, when the minister went to the US, his staff refused to give details of Sinha’s programme. The minister, too, bluntly turned down all questions.

Later, his absence from Parliament and his failure to keep appointments with doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the Safdarjung hospital again triggered a flurry of criticism, even from MPs. But Sinha and his staff are still at a loss over what the minister is doing wrong. Consequently, they can’t figure out a strategy for damage control.

But the continuing flow of criticism — the latest volley fired from RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya — is beginning to rile. And Sinha’s office is finally waking up to the call of duty, if not common sense.

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