Smriti, Kovind locked horns over National Film Awards

Controversy shrouded the 65th National Film Awards ceremony with 56 out of the 140 honorees skipping it on Thursday. It was the result of disagreement between Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting not being on the same page. Both continued to issue contradictory statements till the day of the ceremony.

As reported earlier, President Ram Nath Kovind had agreed to give awards to only 11 winners in various categories. This was unprecedented and a clear violation of the convention. As the news of the President not giving away awards to all winners surfaced, many of the awardees felt slighted and got furious. Adding to salt to the injury was the news that the rest will be given awards by Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani, who is not exactly known for her championship of free speech.

Meanwhile Rashtrapati Bhawan issued a press note: “President attends all award functions and convocations for a maximum of one hour. This has been the protocol since he took office. It was conveyed to I&B Ministry several weeks ago and the Ministry knew this all along. Rashtrapati Bhawan is surprised by the 11th hour questions that have been raised.”

In effect it meant that the mess was all the doing of the I&B Ministry; Rashtrapati Bhawan, which made its position clear about the protocol “several weeks ago,” has nothing to do with it.

But, evidently, the I&B Ministry was unaware of Rashtrapati Bhawan’s views on the subject till a few hours ago. The I&B Ministry and the Directorate of Film Festivals under it issued an advertisement in The Times Of India in its May 3 edition, saying, “65th National Film Awards 2017: The Dadasaheb Phalke Award and other awards will be given away by Shri Ram Nath Kovind, Hon’ble President of India, in the presence of Smt. Smriti Zubin Irani, Minister of Information & Broadcasting and Textiles, and Col. Rajyavardhan Rathore (Retd), AVSM, Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting…”

I asked Ashok Malik, Press Secretary to the President of India, why Kovind breached the 67-year-old tradition. “Since he became President, he has been following this protocol [of attending any function for one hour],” Malik said.

But can an incumbent President’s protocol be at variance with a decades-old convention? He refused to answer, saying that he didn’t want to enter into a debate.

Why were invitation cards sent to all invitees in the name of the President? “I have no idea. Ask the Ministry [Information & Broadcasting].”

But TOI carries an ad on the very day the awards are about to be presented. “I haven’t seen the ad.”