The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sir, this exceeds the brief
- Garment guerrilla sends below-the-belt queries to PMO

New Delhi, Feb. 2: From the nuclear deal to alleged appeasement of minorities, Manmohan Singh has handled all manner of tricky questions. But Rakesh Agarwal’s posers have caught the Prime Minister’s Office in uncharted territory.

Agarwal, arrested by the Special Protection Group for stripping down to undergarments scribbled with anti-government slogans while the Prime Minister was speaking at a convention, wants clarification on his ‘under’-lying rights.

The east Delhi resident has asked the PMO for “specifications of undergarments” that can be worn before the Prime Minister.

Protesting against the Centre’s plans to remove file notings from the purview of the Right to Information Act, he disrobed “right in front of the Prime Minister”, Delhi police officials said.

The government has rolled back its plans, but Agarwal’s act still has the police red-faced. Initially unwilling to speak, they now admit the incident had left them “speechless”.

The incident took place at Vigyan Bhavan on October 10 last year but the police kept it under wraps till The Telegraph today got in touch with their spokesperson, additional commissioner of police Deependra Pathak, with documents.

“These are things which we hear happening in protests against political leaders abroad. We aren’t used to handling such scenarios in India,” said another senior police officer who was in the team that whisked Agarwal away.

“Do we, the citizens of India, need permission from the Prime Minister’s Office before we decide what underwear and vests we can wear'” is the first among 25 questions Agarwal has put before the PMO, in an application filed under the RTI Act.

He goes on to ask whether it is acceptable to wear a white vest and a “beige underwear with a bunny printed on it” --- as he was on that day.

“I was a guest at the convention and so was the PM. If his staff did not feel secure in my presence... the PM was at liberty not to attend the function. What gives him a superior and overriding right, as a guest, to have other guests thrown out instead of keeping himself away'”

In its response to Agarwal, the PMO has answered only one of his questions on how to seek an appointment with the Prime Minister.

Other questions have been forwarded to other arms of the government.

Doordarshan, which was broadcasting the convention, has been asked to specify what clothes are fit to be seen on telly. The SPG and Delhi police have been told to reply to queries like the Prime Minister’s “superior” right as a guest at a public convention.

Officials at the Central Information Commission, where Agarwal appealed against the unsatisfactory response, say the PMO could have saved itself some embarrassment by handling the RTI application better.

“The RTI can only be used to get documents, not opinions, as the appellant has in many of the questions. The PMO should have said as much in its reply instead of actually forwarding these questions to other departments,” an information commissioner said on condition of anonymity.

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