Saturday, August 28, 2010

PIB PRO, a persona-non-grata here ?

This is the second time that we are commenting on the same issue in less than a year and to make it very clear to all, there is no malicious intent nor any other agenda, but to help improve the role of the media as a medium of keeping the people in touch with the security forces, if not directly or personally, but at least through the written words. How long has it been that the Army here has been functioning without a regular Public Relations Officer ? For the benefits of those at the Union Defence Ministry and Leimakhong, allow us to take the liberty of stating some facts. The last officially posted Army PRO here, was Colonel Rajesh Mishra, who came here as a Lt Colonel and got promoted to Colonel during his tenure here. Mr Mishra was posted here sometime in 2006 and he completed his term here in 2009 and left Imphal either on August 22, 2009 or 23, 2009. The exact date escapes our mind. There was a farewell dinner hosted by him for the press fraternity on August 15 at the Manipur Press Club, but to the surprise of some senior Editors, including the two Editors of The Sangai Express, (English and Manipuri editions), there was no fresh face to be introduced, contrary to earlier traditions that a new PRO or at least a PRO designate of the Army was present, for the 'introduction rituals.' That this came as something of a surprise may not have reached the ears of defence establishment for reasons best known to them, but the tradition for the outgoing PRO to host a dinner or a cocktail party to introduce the new PRO to the media persons in Manipur is or was still alive. It happened when Lt Col Mr Sinha left sometime in 2002 to pave the way for Mr SD Goswami, a Major at the time of his transfer here. The farewell dinner was hosted inside the Kangla , when it was still occupied by the 17 Assam Rifles with Brigadier EJ Kochekkan stationed there with other units of the Assam Rifles functioning under his overall command. There was no break in the tradition, when Mr Goswami was transferred and Mr Rajesh Mishra took over as the new PRO sometime in 2006. There was as usual a farewell dinner at the Manipur Press Club and the Editors, senior journalists and others were all introduced to the newly transferred PRO, Mr Mishra. This has been the tradition as far as The Sangai Express remember and we may be pardoned, if the tradition was otherwise prior to the period which we have just mentioned. From the response that we received from Leimakhong, when we commented on this rather uncomfortable subject (for them) the first time many moons back, a similar reaction will not surprise us or has the mindset changed in the interregnum ? This should be interesting. The PRO office at M Sector is presently functioning under an avuncular Head Clerk, who we all refer to as Sube Saab. Nothing wrong with this, as all the staff attached to this office are courtesy personified. The same thing goes for the big honchos at Leimakhong too. The present GOC of 57 Mountain Division, Major General DS Hooda is not only an officer, but a gentleman to boot and what is most remarkable is his accessibility to the media. Such an approach has of course gone a long way in somehow making up for the vacuum created by the absence of a regular PRO at M Sector. But a GOC is a GOC and it would be demeaning to his post and stature if we are to contact him for everything !
The reason why we have deemed it necessary to comment on this point again is to drill into the heads of the bureaucrats in their air conditioned rooms and air conditioned cars, such as the Defence Secretary, that a PRO is a PRO, a Public Relations Officer. Not by any stretch of the imagination should we come under the illusion that the office of the PRO is opened here merely to issue press releases of the Army, which are at most times not at all news worthy. The job of the PRO is much more than that. It not only means striking a rapport with the tribe, who goes by the name of journalists, but also reaching out and trying to understand the social as well as political trend prevailing at their place of posting. In other words, it is a way of getting to know the local people better and acting as the bridge between the defence establishment and the common people. This exercise is important given the fact that confidence building measures are needed in the face of so many allegations, some real and some cooked up, levelled against the men in uniform. Unfortunately Mr AK Antony, the man who has earned a name for himself as possibly the most upright and honest politician in the country, does not seem to have come around to this idea or fact. Upright and honest politicians are needed if India is to survive the global challenges, but these attributes alone will not stand in good stead, if one is not politically sensitive and matters of importance fail to register in their mind. Bureaucrats, who decide what the men in the field should do, has outlived its utility, to our mind, and the time is now to hunt for people who have experienced and seen it all, to advise the Defence Ministry on important internal issues. The office of the PRO at M Sector today looks like a forgotten son, uncared for and left to its own fate. It is baffling and defies logic that such a situation has been allowed to happen in a place like Manipur, which has earned the unflattering tag as one of the most disturbed States in India ? Or is the Defence Ministry and others from civilian background such as the Defence Secretary under the impression that the job of the PRO is just to issue press releases and photos of the top honchos of the defence establishments, especially when their seniors come from Delhi and meet the Governor or the Chief Minister ? Lest we forget, the Leimakhong authority in its response to our earlier comment on this same topic had given the telephone numbers and officers to be contacted when needed, but since then there has been no update and everyone knows the SIM cards keep changing. We hope the observations we have underlined, will have some positive impact or else, there will be the growing unhealthy belief that being posted as the PRO means a stop, if not a full stop, to the military career of an Army officer.

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