Worried about a negative image of the party in the media, BJP president Nitin Gadkari has warned party leaders not to brief journalists without authorisation.

“It is a virtual gag order on all partymen, including office-bearers,” a senior leader told The Hindu. At an office-bearers' meeting recently, Mr. Gadkari cautioned leaders against talking to the press, adding “reports on who is talking to reporters come back to me,”

Mr. Gadkari, who took charge as BJP president towards the end of 2009, has several times warned colleagues that none other than authorised spokesmen should talk to journalists.

That Mr. Gadkari now issued the warning, almost threatening that action would be taken on the basis of “call records” he collected, was confirmed by four office-bearers this reporter talked to.

“As we left the meeting venue, leaders glanced at each other, pointed to their mobile phones and gestured they should not use them when talking to the press,” one senior leader said.

Yet another office-bearer said it was especially “dangerous to say anything that may be seen as an adverse remark against the party on the mobile phones given to us by the BJP.” With new technology, it was “very easy” to get detailed phone records, he said.

One office-bearer said “there was talk of tapping phones and taping conversations.” The result of this clampdown was immediately felt.

On Thursday, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj pointedly told journalists that they should not expect to talk to her over telephone and that she had stopped returning calls from them. “You can get whatever information you want from our spokesmen. Six or seven have been appointed. And if they do not have the information you are seeking, they will get it and call you. I am not here to offer comments you seek on various current political events,” she said firmly.

When reminded that till recently she always returned calls if messages were left at her home, Ms. Swaraj said, “Not now. I have told you, talk to the authorised spokesmen … during parliamentary sessions I meet you to clarify issues since I am aware of what goes on in Parliament.”

A controversial subject

“Briefing” by senior leaders has become a controversial subject in the BJP ever since Uma Bharti was expelled in November 2004 after she openly — and in the presence of the press and senior leader L.K. Advani — accused some senior leaders of indulging in “selective briefing” and “planting stories” in newspapers against colleagues.

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