The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Two ministers, same difference

New Delhi, Nov. 11: Sheikh Rasheed wears a suit with a white shirt and a red tie. Ravi Shankar Prasad, a black bandhgala. One is a minister for information, the other is the minister for information and broadcasting. So what'

Same difference.

Here, at the third conference of Saarc information ministers, India and Pakistan are news for not talking. Just as at the last Saarc summit in Kathmandu, they were news for talking, when Musharraf shook Vajpayee’s hand.

Prasad and Rasheed do not meet, save in public and in a group. Prasad does not seek a formal meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. Neither does Rasheed. Both have been told by respective masters that such niceties have to await clearance at the political level. Same difference.

Rasheed gives an interview to Doordarshan. Prasad to Pakistan Television. Rasheed grandstands for his audience in Pakistan through Indian media. Prasad for his audience at home through Pakistani media. Same difference.

“Peanuts,” says Rasheed of suggestions that Pakistan should allow greater exchange of artistes and media professionals. “That’s peanuts. I have come to make way for larger issues. If you speak with love, so will we.”

“This (Saarc) is a multilateral forum,” says Prasad. “We are not discussing anything Pakistan-specific. Differences will always be there but geography has drawn us close There is great scope for people to people contact.” Same difference.

In his interview to Doordarshan, given in public view, Rasheed is treading on familiar terrain. Do you condone terrorism' he is asked.

“I have been federal minister five times, this is my third time as information minister, I am a Kashmiri myself,” Rasheed emphasises. “I want to see my ancestral property, visit my family’s graves. There is a difference between terrorism and a freedom movement.”

In front of the PTV cameras, Prasad is on familiar ground too. “They asked me about the United Nations resolution on Kashmir,” he recalled. “I asked what about Shimla' What about Lahore'”

Asked what stopped Pakistan from giving visas to Indian artistes, Rasheed, for once, spoke on peanuts. “Sukhbir (Punjabi folk singer) is welcome. I have heard him. He is very good. Lata Mangeshkar is welcome. Saarc issues, fine, but why not start a dialogue first! Peanuts.”

Prasad was forthcoming, too, on an issue that is so dear to India’s entertainment industry.

“Why only Lata Mangeshkar' Why not Jagjit Singh' If Adnan Sami and Ghulam Ali can come here, why cannot our singers go there. I told PTV what a voice Fareeda Khanum has!”

Like a cracked record. Same difference.

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