The Telegraph
Saturday , January 4 , 2014
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The ringside view changeth

New Delhi, Jan. 3: If Manmohan Singh made news by just addressing a media conference, Manish Tewari did so by sitting next to him.

The “breaking news” was that it was the information and broadcasting minister who played the master of ceremonies at the media conference today.

Rarely has it happened so in recent memory. Just as an infantry officer would not relinquish his sidearm willingly, no media adviser to a Prime Minister would give up the coveted side seat. Till now, the best possible position for the information minister used to be in the front row facing the podium.

The roles were reversed today. While Tewari kept Singh company, the Prime Minister’s designated media adviser Pankaj Pachauri, a former journalist, was spotted among the representatives of the Congress’s media cell.

This was a far cry from the perching order when Sanjaya Baru was the media adviser. Singh’s comfort level was said to have been far higher with Baru than that with Pachauri.

Baru, an economist and an editor handpicked by Singh to advise him, had conducted two media conferences in his time and ensured that he ran the show.

Some Congress leaders recalled today how some of the I&B ministers of the time, ranging from Priya Ranjan Das Munshi to Jaipal Reddy and later Ambika Soni, were “displeased” on being kept out of the frame.

Before the February 2006 media conference, Das Munshi, who is now ailing, reportedly summoned Baru and insisted he should be on the dais by the Prime Minister’s side. The minister was graciously informed he would receive a special invite and he was most welcome to sit along with his senior colleagues. But no preferential treatment should be expected.

After he was re-elected, Singh could not succeed in bringing back Baru.

When Singh decided to meet the media today, he asked for Tewari. “It was his decision. Perhaps Pachauri’s lack of experience was a reason. Conducting an event like this requires expertise, familiarity with a huge press corps, knowing journalists by name and face,” an official source said.

Despite repeated efforts, Pachauri was not available for comment.

As a former Congress spokesperson, the articulate Tewari knows most journalists. This was the reason he did away with the practice of journalists identifying themselves with a placard to ask a question.