Apology after ad showing 'enemy' - Where a Pak picture can provoke shame, where statute on a jumbo can pump pride

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By CHARU SUDAN KASTURI
  • Published 25.01.10
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The Pakistani officer’s picture (left) in the ad

New Delhi, Jan. 24: Picture this: the Pakistan air force is allowed to land a bombshell on lakhs of Indian breakfast tables despite the Republic Day alert.

No wonder the country’s high and mighty are having one bad-picture-day in office after another.

A government advertisement against female foeticide published in newspapers today included the photograph of a former Pakistan air chief, the bloomer triggering howls of protest and forcing an apology from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

This a day after the Bengal government was left shivering in its socks after an Opposition politician discovered that Netaji’s portrait at Calcutta’s Writers’ Buildings had not been garlanded on his birthday.

Today’s advertisement had photographs of Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and women and child development (WCD) minister Krishna Tirath at the top.

Below, Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed, Pakistan air chief between 2006 and 2009, appeared cheek by jowl with cricketers Virender Sehwag and Kapil Dev and sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.

“Where would you be if your mother was not allowed to be born?” asked the advertisement, one among a slew that the WCD ministry released on the National Day for the Girl Child, being celebrated on January 24 since last year.

The TV channels trembled with “outrage” at Ahmed’s unintended intrusion into India’s government advertisement space. The BJP demanded the resignation of Tirath, who ordered an inquiry after initially downplaying the faux pas.

Sources said preliminary inquiries had established that the Ahmed photograph had been downloaded from the Internet using Google Images. The WCD ministry had indicated to the government’s directorate of advertising and visual publicity (DAVP) that it wanted the advertisement to carry the images of public persons from different professions.

The directorate, it is learnt, proposed the pictures of several cricketers, film stars, musicians and defence personnel. The sources would not confirm whether it was the directorate or the ministry that finally proposed Ahmed’s image.

“In either case, it is extremely embarrassing because we obviously didn’t notice that the uniform worn by the officer wasn’t Indian,” a source said.

A PMO statement said: “The Prime Minister’s Office has noted with regret the inclusion of a foreign national’s photograph in a Government of India advertisement. While an internal inquiry has been instituted, the PMO apologises to the public for this lapse.”

The PMO, sources said, had indicated more than regret to the WCD ministry, and was “unhappy” at the embarrassment it had caused the Prime Minister.

Late in the afternoon, Tirath met senior ministry officials and decided to set up a probe under an additional secretary.

Women’s activists too are angry — because they feel the error and the controversy it has triggered have clouded the focus on the girl child.

Criticising Tirath, activist Ranjana Kumari asked what the minister had achieved in over seven months in office. “On top of that, they go and make this error that has stolen the focus away from the girl child,” she fumed.

Such advertisements are drafted jointly by the DAVP and a joint secretary-level officer at the ministry concerned. The DAVP had in this case taken the help of a private publicity organisation, a practice that is allowed in principle.

After the joint secretary and the DAVP agree on the content of an advertisement, it is cleared by the minister. Additionally, if — as in this case — the advertisement carries an image of, or a message from, the Prime Minister, a joint secretary-level officer at the PMO must vet the content.

minister regrets ad

Minister of state for child development Krishna Tirath, whose department was at the centre of the storm over an advertisement featuring a former Pakistani air force officer, addresses a gathering in New Delhi before a ballet on the occasion of the National Girl Child Day on Sunday.

Echoing the Prime Minister’s Office, Tirath apologised on behalf of her ministry for publishing the photograph.

“Whatever happened was a mistake. Somewhere, something went wrong. I regret it. I apologise for it on behalf of my ministry,” Tirath told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting. Tirath had earlier in the day said she saw nothing wrong in the advertisement, adding that the message was more important than the photograph. (PTI)