PR OR MORE? Union minister Murali lands in row over presence of Kochi PR woman at external affairs ministers’ meet in Abu Dhabi in November last year


NEW DELHI: Union minister of state for External Affairs, V Muraleedhan has ended up in a controversy over the presence of a Kochi-based PR-Journalist Smitha Menon, at a high-level meeting of foreign ministers of over 20 countries, held in Abu Dhabi in November last year. This is seen as a breach of security, as the deliberations at the meeting were confidential.

Reports say that Smitha Menon was later inducted as the general secretary of the  state Mahila Morcha. She is married into a family of a prominent RSS functionary in the state, but was not being active in politics. She is a journalist by profession.

The issue was first raised by the Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) leader Salim Madavur. He brought it to the attention of the External Ministry higher-ups, and asked how she was allowed into the Abu Dhabi meeting.  LJD is a constituent of the NDA, and is led by Bihar politician and Union minister Ramvilas Pawan.

The Prime Minister’s Office, seized of the matter, has asked for an explanation from the external affairs ministry, which is normally done when such a complaint reaches the PMO or the PM. Muraleedharan has good relations with both PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. However, if there was a breach of protocol, the matter would be taken seriously.

At the Abu Dhabi meeting, the woman was seen seated close to the front row where Muraleedharan and other foreign ministers from other countries came and sat.

The woman responded by saying she went to Abu Dhabi on her own, and spent money from her purse. She also said she did not take any money for the PR sheets she prepared at the meeting. She also said she went to Abu Dhbai after consulting the minister.

The minister told the media in reply to questions that he was not the one to give permission for participation.

A new twist was added to the controversy when state BJP leader MT Ramesh said he had no idea who this woman was. State BJP president K Surendran addressed a press meet in Kozhikode, in which he said it was he who recommended Smitha Menon’s name for the general secretary post, effectively bailing the minister out of the issue. -IHN=NN



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