By K Raveendran
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut is not known for his oratory. But his one-liners have been straight to the point and often controversial, at times without any justification. But on many occasions his comments were noted for the insight these provided to behind the scene activities. Recently, he said the relationship between Shiv Sena and BJP was not like ‘India-Pakistan’, but rather like the one between Bollywood power couple Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, who recently announced their separation, although they said they would continue to collaborate at the professional level.
Some time ago, Raut’s confession that he always took medicine from the compounder and never from the doctor had stirred up a hornet’s nest and placed him at the receiving end of the ire of doctors of all hues. His target was the World Health Organisation, which he described as a ‘useless organisation’ and responsible for the outbreak of Covid pandemic.
Probably his best yet was reserved for the ouster of law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad from the Modi cabinet, ahead of the jumbo cabinet expansion. “Ravi Shankar Prasad always used to boast about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions terming them as masterstrokes. However, this time this ”masterstroke” seems to have rebounded on him,” Raut said. He could not have been more right.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, by way of his body language as well as abrasive ways, had become an icon of intolerance, which critics have been seeing as the most pronounced trait of the Modi government. He was apparently conjuring up of himself as a super minister who had more powers and authority that those conferred on him by way of his official position as the law and IT minister. In fact, it was suggested in one of the columns here that his face was perfect as an emoji for intolerance and arrogance. He apparently thought his ‘Modi bhakti’ was a benediction that would provide sanctity to all his actions.
The conflict of interest between the social media giants and the ruling establishment is a universal phenomenon. The likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp often breach the contours of operational good conduct in the pursuit of their business interests and have faced administrative action and massive punitive responses from governments which recognise individual privacy and freedom as one of the most fundamental tenets of democracy. Anti-trust actions against these platforms, which often act like predators, occur as a matter of routine. So there was nothing unusual about the clash between the Modi government and the social media platforms.
But Ravi Shankar Prasad made it look like a personal fight between himself and these platforms. And his utterances often bordered on arrogance and arbitrariness that allowed the platforms to play the victim. It caused a huge embarrassment to Prime Minister Modi, whose respect for freedom of expression was always viewed by the outside world with suspicion even otherwise. At a time when Modi’s credibility as a ruler in effective control was on the block for his inability to deal with the second wave of the pandemic, an embarrassment on the social media front was eminently avoidable. And somebody had to pay the price and in this case choice was not at all difficult.
Prakash Javadekar keeping company with Prasad on the exit came as a big surprise to most, as the affable minister of information and broadcasting, environment, public enterprise and heavy industries was just the opposite of whatever Ravi Shankar Prasad was. Perhaps, Javadekar was too polite and good-natured to be an effective minister, otherwise the commonality between the two was only in terms of domains that belonged to IT and IB ministries, both of which had to do with information and freedom of expression.
Modi’s advise to the new ministers immediately after the swearing in had clues to what had gone wrong with those who were asked to leave, particularly Ravi Shankar Prasad. Modi is reported to have told the new ministers their efforts should be such that their work shines instead of they themselves. The prime minister also advised his ministers to avoid making ‘unnecessary statements’ in the media, and rather channelise their energies into ministerial work, rather than self-promotion.
But despite all his failings in terms of mutual respect, Modi was more diplomatic than Ravi Shankar Prasad in all his interactions, whether with the media, players of the domains he was in charge as minister and even the opposition parties. Modi told the ministers to meet their predecessors and ‘learn from their experience’. Even if he had intended a pun, it was well-disguised, an art that was completely alien to Ravi Shankar Prasad. (IPA Service)