For all his soaring oratory—and his 56″ inch chest—Narendra Modi will go down as the first prime minister in Indian history who did not hold a single press conference during his five years in office.
Modi did meet individual TV journalists, like Arnab Goswami of Republic TV and Smita Prakash of ANI, and he did do “interviews” with newspaper journalists like Diwakar of The Times of India and Shishir Gupta of Hindustan Times.
But these were mostly friendly, structured affairs with the the rules of engagement not allowing for jousting or supplementaries. It was never ‘live’, and in the print interviews, the answers were clearly drafted by somebody else.
In contrast, his predecessor, the “meek” Manmohan Singh, held a ‘live’ press conference every year, met Editors in the PMO, and addressed journalists on board Air India One while returning from a foreign tour—18 times.
Clearly, Modi prefers the one-way route of communication: I speak, you listen.
On the Mukesh Ambani-owned CNN News 18, anchor Bhupendra Chaube threw up a different set of numbers to frame Modi as a master “communicator”, who uses his own tools to answer questions in “Naya Bharat”, words straight out of BJP propaganda.
By this reckoning, Modi has answered:
133 questions on his radio show, ‘Mann ki Baat‘
156 questions on his party programme, ‘Mera booth sabse mazboot‘
63 questions in so-called Townhall gatherings
414 questions on his personal mobile app, the so-called NaMo app.
Quoting “top government sources”, Chaube says Modi has spoken in Parliament 23 times and made 1,100 speeches in his five years, as opposed to 20 and 650 for Manmohan Singh, respectively, in UPA’s second term.
But is it “communication”?
By shutting out media from the PM’s empty aircraft; by not addressing an open ‘live’ press conference; by emailing interviews; by only indulging in one-way communications; by calling media “dalals”, by allowing his attack dogs to troll journalists, Narendra Modi has used every trick in the book to delegitimise media.
Little wonder, the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, whose mother Sonia Gandi too kept her distance from the media, repeatedly taunts Modi’s inability to take questions from the media, or the people.
And little wonder, lapdog media is rushing to defend the PM’s right to choose the way he wants to “communicate”.
Screenshot: courtesy The Telegraph