EYE ON PARLIAMENT

In curious move, Rajya Sabha secretariat sends out press releases about TDP, then withdraws them

The releases made partisan references to the Telugu Desam Party, raising questions about what is supposed to be an apolitical office.

The Rajya Sabha Secretariat on Wednesday sent out two press releases with partisan language, singling out one political party for being “isolated” and eventually being forced to “fall in line.” The secretariat later emailed asking reporters to not consider the press releases as “official”, but said they could be attributed to sources.

On Wednesday at around 6pm, the Rajya Sabha media unit sent out an email with the subject line being, “Press Releases pertaining to the functioning of the first day of the 246th Session of Rajya Sabha.” The email, signed by Ratan Kumar Sahoo, Additional Director (Media) of the Rajya Sabha secretariat asked reporters to give due publicity to the four press releases that were attached.

The secretariat is controlled by Vice President of India, who also serves as the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

One press release spoke about how the Rajya Sabha got off to a smooth start and mentioned that Question Hour was taken up in full after a long break. The other claimed that Vice President Venkiah Naidu had set a record of sorts by speaking in 10 languages in the house.

The other two releases were more unusual.

‘TDP isolated’

One was titled, “TDP isolated”. The release, printed like the others on the Rajya Sabha Secretariat’s letterhead, said that the Telugu Desam Party was “which was in the forefront of disrupting Rajya Sabha for most of the last session does not seem likely to be able to do so this session.” The release said TDP’s “predicament” became clear after Naidu called a meeting of leaders, right after he had adjourned the House, only to find that other Opposition leaders wanted the Rajya Sabha to function. The report concluded by saying TDP leader “YS Chowdary conveyed his resentment but his party is clearly under pressure from other opposition parties to stop disrupting the proceedings of Rajya Sabha”.

The other press release, titled “Rajya Sabha to discuss Andhra Pradesh issue next week” also took aim at the TDP. It said that a discussion on the issue of the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh would take place next week, after a decision on this matter had been taken by leaders of different parties in the Venkaiah Naidu’s chamber after the House had been adjourned for lunch.

 “TDP again found itself in a corner when the opposition leaders again asserted that TDP members cannot go on disrupting the House session after session. The reluctant TDP had to fall in line sensing the feelings of other opposition parties and demanded adequate time for discussing their demands.”

Political journalists say that this sort of language, calling one party “isolated”, saying it has a “predicament” and that it has found itself in a corner, is unexpected. The secretariat’s job is to treat all parties equally and according to the rule book.

“The Rajya Sabha secretariat usually tries to be formally as non-partisan as possible,” said Ajoy Bose, a senior political journalist. “So I’m quite surprised they sent this out as an official press release. Obviously somebody got carried away.”

He added: “I can’t remember the Rajya Sabha itself making a comment on a political party, over the last 30 or 35 years, so it is quite unusual, quite unprecedented.”

About two hours later, another email came from Sahoo, the additional director (media) at the Secretariat, with the subject line “corrigendum to the earlier mail”. In it, Sahoo clarified that only two news items from the previous email may be considered official Press Releases.

“The other two Press Releases titled “TDP isolated as all Parties want Rajya Sabha to function; Opposition parties say let us discuss TDP concerns and corner Government” and “Rajya Sabha to discuss Andhra Pradesh issue next week” are not official and may be attributed to the sources. Inconvenience caused is regretted.”

This email meant that the release was not exactly withdrawn, it had just been made “off record”, similar to the briefings that politicians or their press officers will frequently give reporters. The difference is that off record briefings are almost always in person, or over the phone.

“To have it done formally like this is curious and very unusual,” said Neerja Chowdhury, a senior political analyst. “On the Rajya Sabha secretariat paper, that too. The fact that they swiftly withdrew the document shows that they realise they made a faux pas.”

Bose said the same. “I’m surprised they sent it by mail. You call people and brief them off the record, and say these comments are attribute to sources. That’s normal. I’m surprised they actually put out a mail that can be quoted back at them. To my mind that is quite unprecedented... and the fact that the Rajya Sabha quickly tried to correct it that itself speaks further.”

In a reply to queries about Scroll.in, Sahoo said, “It was an error and same had already been regretted by the Secretariat.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.