Hunt worthy of Jim Corbett

2-hour window is now a talking point in the middle of a tragedy and diplomatic stand-off

By Piyush Srivastava and J.P. Yadav in Lucknow/New Delhi
  • Published 23.02.19, 3:56 AM
  • Updated 23.02.19, 8:38 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
Jim Corbett Wikimedia Commons

Few would have thought that nothing less than the famed tracking skills of Edward James Corbett would be required 64 years after he passed away to find out what the Prime Minister of India did between 3.10pm and 5.10pm on February 14, 2019.

By most accounts Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at the national park named after Corbett, better known as Jim Corbett, the celebrated hunter, tracker and naturalist.

The Prime Minister was apparently being filmed for a Discovery programme on the noble causes that the channel usually promotes.

Unfortunately, the two-hour window has become a talking point in the middle of a tragedy and diplomatic stand-off with dangerous overtones because the Modi government is refusing to clear the air. 

The question aired by the Opposition — what the Prime Minister was doing between 3.10pm and 5.10pm — cannot be dismissed as trivial because the Pulwama attack took place at or not too long after 3.10pm. Government sources are insisting the attack took place at 3.33pm and by then the film shoot was over.

But accounts from the ground suggest the Prime Minister was in the area till it turned almost dark. He addressed a meeting over the phone around 5pm but did not make any mention of the Pulwama attack. Which raises the unavoidable question whether he was kept in the dark.

The problem is that precise information is being given out so far only by “government sources”, not by the Prime Minister himself or any government spokesperson on record.

On record, this is what law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Thursday when a reporter quoted the Congress as saying the shoot continued till 6.30-7pm. (An official told this newspaper the shoot had taken place sometime between 2.30pm and 5pm).

Reporter: Did the Prime Minister not get information about the attack and if he got it, why was the shoot not stopped…?

Prasad (intervening before the reporter finished speaking): “This is totally baseless, this is totally baseless….”

As the reporter tried to complete the question, Prasad snapped: “I have answered your question. Now don’t argue with me. I deny it completely. Thank you.”

In his initial media address before the question-and-answer session, Prasad had claimed the Prime Minister was in Uttarakhand’s Ramnagar (where the Corbett park is located) for an official event related to tiger conservation and refrained from making any mention of the photo shoot.

However, a front-page advertisement issued by the Uttarakhand government on February 14 did not mention anything about the Rampur programme. The advertisement was only about inauguration of two schemes by Modi in Rudrapur, 110km from Rampur. Usually, if the Prime Minister attends multiple official programmes, different advertisements are issued.

It was the Rudrapur meeting that Modi addressed around 5pm from Rampur over phone because of inclement weather, which still leaves intact the riddle on why he went to the park.

A BJP MP told reporters on February 14 night that the Prime Minister announced a wildlife rescue centre and a tiger safari in the national park, which were not mentioned in the advertisement taken out hours earlier.

A website had reported on February 19 that Modi would feature in a Discovery documentary that would recall his days of spiritual sojourn in the Himalayas and that the exclusive shooting was held at the Corbett park. The site said the documentary was slated for release later this month.

Usually, TV channels are eager to publicise events, especially if they feature a Prime Minister. However, Discovery sought time when this newspaper asked questions since Thursday evening as basic as whether indeed there was a shoot of Modi on February 14 at the park.

“We have no information at all,” an executive said on Thursday.

On Friday evening, a senior official of Discovery said: “I can’t tell you anything. Please understand. Give me time. I will get back to you.” He could not specify when the response would come. 

Additional reporting by Sudeshna Banerjee