The "ban" on journalists from entering the North Block, the headquarters of the finance ministry, was the talk of the town in media circles this week. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman making her side of the government secretariat out of bounds for reporters naturally made even those like us who cover the Home Ministry on the other side of the North Block feel threatened.
But reassurance came from the highest level – Home Minister Amit Shah himself. He said he would not restrict entry for his beat reporters. "I am a large-hearted person. I don't impose such restrictions," he told a group of reporters. This decision of the minister has been applauded by every reporter on my beat.
Normally, reporters are the most-criticised lot in any news office. We are accused of rehashing old articles, often Googling stuff or simply doing stories based on WhatApp forwards. Sometimes we are even accused of bias. the life of a reporter is not easy.
As someone who has been doing this for 20 odd years now, I can say with certitude that it's an everyday struggle.
The Finance Ministry's decison to deny journalists access to its offices was criticised as arbitrary.
Especially covering a beat on daily basis. For television journalists, it is more difficult as even when you are "shooed" away, you have to hang in there. Naturally, reassurance from the home minister is music to the ears.
In fact, the openness with which the most powerful minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been meeting media personnel lately is surprising. It also goes on to show the level of confidence the new minister has in tackling tricky questions from reporters. Many of us feel it's after a long time that we have a home minister who is so open and clear in his views.
Among reporters, it's often accepted that netas and babus who shy away from the media don't have confidence in their abilities. The general idea is that the ones who avoid us are the ones who are not aware of the facts.
I have been covering the Home Ministry for over 10 years now. I have seen the functioning of four home ministers – P Chidambaram, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Rajnath Singh and now Amit Shah.
Each minister had a different style of working but one does not fail to notice striking similarities between P Chidambaram and Amit Shah (though, I am sure, neither will like this comparison). Both are supremely confident, clear on what and how they want as policy and both are sure of their facts. both have intimidating personalities but are always surrounded by journalists. Both also monitor the media very closely.
Home Minister Amit Shah had assured reporters that he would not put restrictions on their entry.
Officers in the ministry disclose that like Mr Chidambaram, even Amit Shah reads files and papers marked to him to the last detail. And babus are as apprehensive about the new minister as they were of Mr Chidambaram – because they need to prepare briefs keeping the cross-questioning in mind.
But perhaps the most striking similarity is that like Mr Chidambaram, Mr Shah also appears to give weightage to beat reporters covering the ministry. This is important as we were often left clueless during the tenure of the two other recent home ministers – Sushil Kumar Shinde and Rajnath Singh. Both trusted reporters who covered the party more than the reporters who covered the ministry.
Officers who have worked and are still working in the Home Ministry state that despite similar working styles, both ministers approach issues very differently because of the ideologies they follow. Be it the issue of Kashmir, Naxalism or the North East – three core areas of the Home Ministry – the two have different approach.
Amit Shah has the added advantage of being a trusted aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; no one dares to negate him on any issue. In the case of Mr Chidambaram, one can only say he did not have many friends within the Congress party and also did not enjoy the confidence of its first family.
Interestingly, when Mr Chidambaram was the Home Minister, the CBI was investigating a case against Amit Shah. the wheels of fortune have turned and Mr Shah is heading the same ministry and the former home minister has been named an accused in cases registered by the CBI.
We can only hope that the Finance Minister takes a cue from the Home Minister and lifts restrictions on PIB-accredited journalists.
(Neeta Sharma is Editor, Strategic and Security Affairs at NDTV India)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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