Person of the Week: President Ram Nath Kovind


Person of the Week: President Ram Nath Kovind

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

In a week otherwise dominated by mainstream political parties playing the new game show, “Who Wants to Rule a Karnataka?”, the honourable President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, showed that he too is a busy man. As is tradition, he was due to hand out the the National Film Awards to this year’s winners.

But let’s not forget, it’s also currently the tradition for our government to go around suddenly changing historical practices. So on May 2, the night before the ceremony, the awardees were informed that the President wouldn’t be conferring all the pleb awards, but only 11 special ones, to winners of the most worthy categories.

Angered by this Hunger Games-esque twist to their otherwise proud day, over 50 award-winning technicians chose to boycott the event, and pen a harshly worded letter to the Directorate of Film Festivals, full of words like “protocol”, and “insult”. The remainder of the awards were handed out by India’s favourite TV bahu aka, Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani, and supporter of FTII’s “most famous” chief, Minister of State Rajyavardhan Rathore, a move that apparently made the artists feel “dejected rather than honoured”. We wonder why.

Meanwhile, so far known for being a little like that man you don’t know well, but keep bumping into at the grocery shop every now and then, the President was not used to so much attention. With all due respect, the last time anyone spoke about Ram Nath Kovind, he had just been nominated as President of our country. The conversation lasted a grand total of two internet minutes, Mr Kovind ensured his name in history textbooks, and we went went back to deciding which political party had electrified more toilets in Wakanda in the years 1990-1999.

So this time, in the face of this surprise backlash, the Rashtrapati Bhavan decided to go the babu way and deflect all the blame down to the I&B ministry and Smriti Irani. (This is what hanging around with politicians does to you.) Mr Kovind’s press secretary insisted that the I&B ministry was informed well in advance that the President would only be available for an hour, because he probably had a packed schedule. Maybe there was some financial power that he really needed to exercise that evening. It can’t be easy being the president of such a populous country — there’s always those pesky school annual days or sports days to grace.

Most Indians, courtesy our stunned understanding, do not consider technical work an art form — we don’t even think it’s a worthy way to spend our time.

So it’s the ministry’s fault that no one was informed. Great. In this version, Smriti Irani’s ministry, just casually put out some fake news. Very believable.

Meanwhile, the award winners, which included Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty, director of National Award-winning Parzania Rahul Dholakia, director Ashwini Chaudhary who made the film Dhoop, continued to angrily tweet about how it was a dark day for the film industry, and about how the President couldn’t spare three hours to felicitate them for all their hard work. And there’s a fair point to be made there too –  you’ll probably struggle to find a person who can list three things the President does off the top of their heads. Appoint a governor, maybe? Dissolve the Lok Sabha? Review a death penalty?

Some filmmakers who chose not to accept the award, such as Praveen Morchhale, said the snub made them feel like they were being divided in classes. This complaint becomes more evident when you notice that among the 11 special awardees are Vinod Khanna and Sridevi, both of whom were honoured posthumously, and A R Rahman. Maybe the President, like most of Bollywood, believes B-town = Indian cinema? Or maybe he’s simply star-struck?

In all of this, we feel for the winners of the technical awards, who are probably used to being ignored. Most Indians, courtesy our stunned understanding, do not consider technical work an art form — we don’t even think it’s a worthy way to spend our time. In fact, we positively look down upon any job that involves physical labour. It’s the same attitude that makes us feel good about paying a carpenter from down the road to hammer in one nail for us, or call a plumber when a tap is clearly not turned off fully.

Even as the grievances continue to pour in, the I&B ministry has indicated that next year, the President may not confer any of the awards. Maybe, like former prez Pratibha Patil, Mr Kovind can become a jet-setter.

And for that, we are proud to announce that the President is our Person of the Week. Declare a state of emergency or promulgate an ordinance, because at this party, a nominal head is in charge.