Published On : Wed, Apr 18th, 2018

Is Purohit’s pat really a national calamity?

So 78 years old Banwarilal Purohit, who is affectionately known as ‘Babuji’ in Nagpur, patted the cheek of a young female journalist in public view, just after a press conference.

I can quite understand that the woman concerned did not like it and was taken by surprise. (She was probably more annoyed that her question was not answered, the Governor instead made this gesture.)

But to make it out as something lecherous or ‘dirty’ (” I went to the rest room and washed my cheek repeatedly” Really??) and something the whole country should unite in condemning is taking it too far.

We know Banwarilalji. I have studied Journalism in Nagpur and worked as a free lancer for his paper Hitavada from time to time. Over many years I have had the occasion to have one to one discussions with him many times.

Never did Mr. Purohit come across as someone indiscreet, ungentlemanly or even arrogant. On one occasion – when I was just back from studying Journalism in USA and was a little too serious about the subject, I met him at a party. He was kind and humble enough to recognize me and welcome me back home. And what did I do?

I harangued him about everything I thought was wrong with his paper and how it could be improved.
He heard me out politely before walking away.

“What came over you just now? Do you realize how rude you were to a much elder person, who also happens to be a famous public person of the city? If he wanted he could have snubbed you equally rudely!” My father, who is senior to Purohit in age by a decade, chided me.

As Mr. Purohit himself said in an apology later – when the entire national media had descended on him like a ton of bricks:

“I considered (your) question to be a good one. Therefore, as an act of appreciation for the question that you had posed, I gave a pat on your cheek considering you to be like my granddaughter,” he wrote. Purohit added that it was “done with affection and to express appreciation for your performance as a journalist, since I was also a member of that profession for about 40 years.”

Did the woman let it go graciously even after that? No. She tweets she is “not convinced”. She reiterates her charges that he should not have touched someone without their consent, specially ‘not a woman’.

Well, I remember film star – superstar then – Dilip Kumar touching my friend’s cheek when we tried to ‘interview’ him when we met him by chance at a Nagpur wedding. We were both journalism students and this would have been our first ‘celebrity interview’. To Mr. Kumar though we must have come across as young female fans, not to be taken very seriously. So he smiled and touched my friend’s cheek instead of answering our questions. I don’t remember my friend getting all offended and running off to the bathroom to wash her cheek then!

So this is what Indians do. How often have we ruffled the hair of a cute kid or tweaked another’s cheeks? Well, times are not innocent any more and such gestures are best avoided hence forth!

But all this continuing drama over an avuncular and really harmless gesture makes one wonder, is there more to this than meets the eye?

Was Purohit sent to Chennai with a political agenda ? He was Governor of Assam first and was recently ‘transferred’ to Tamil Nadu. What was the purpose of the shift? Was he supposed to somehow exploit the vacuum left by Jaylalitha’s death for gain of BJP ? The southern state of Tamil Nadu has always evaded the influence of BJP till now, and this was an opening. Remember Prime Minister Modiji had himself flown to Chennai to ‘console’ the superstar turned CM’s followers after her traumatic- for the state people – death?

Wait a minute! I remember that Modiji had patted Sasikala’s head when he consoled her. Yes, the same lady who is in jail now for a number of reasons.
Why did no one make an issue over that ‘touch’ then?

Because that was Modi – the most powerful – and Purohitji is just a harmless and in reality not very powerful persona in public life? Not any more at least.

We all know he was favored with Governorship because he gave up his Nagpur Parliamentary seat for another ‘more significant and ambitious’ BJP leader, who is part of Modi’s cabinet now.

Is he being viewed as an impediment now?

All this storm in a tea cup, for no reason at all, being whipped up to send him ‘back home?’

He deserves better from a party that he embraced after having been a Congress man for many years. He quit Congress and joined BJP over the issue of Ram Mandir.

Despite having the power of the press behind him, he has never turned arrogant and fought proxy political battles – though he was often made the target of such.

He deserves a much better deal in his fading years, when governorship of Tamil Nadu could be his Swan song.

– Sunita Mudaliar
Executive Editor