Prime minister Narendra Modi‘s interview with The Indian Express has been totally overshadowed by Time magazine calling him “Divider-in-Chief” on its cover, and the NewsNation TV “interview” in which he reveals how he fooled Pakistan’s radars by going in for the air strike in Balakot on a cloudy night.
But the Express interview with Ravish Tiwari and Raj Kamal Jha is remarkable for the number of times Modi brings up the name of The Indian Express—ten, actually.
That the PM feels the need to pick holes in The Indian Express coverage is interesting, because the paper has a long history with the RSS and the BJP. And, despite its outward projection of “journalism of courage” has dutifully operated within the tramlines in the last five years, of not attacking the “big two”: Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
“This may not have been corruption for The Indian Express which does investigative journalism — the money meant for feeding the poor kids in Bhopal (being siphoned off) — I take news in The Indian Express very seriously; by and large, it has made a name for itself in the world of investigative journalism. In that, it is still ahead of others.”
“Your paper has always been at the forefront of raising issues relating to crime against the backward community. But the horrific rape in Alwar, Rajasthan, missed the relentless follow-up you are known for. Your paper has always been at the forefront of protecting freedom of speech. But when people are booked by police in MP for chanting ‘Modi, Modi’, it missed your front page.”
“I will tell you two incidents which I would like The Indian Express to write about in the correct perspective. From where did this INS (Viraat) subject come? This is not a new issue that I wasn’t aware of. Why did it come? Rajiv Gandhi is not my issue. You are free to highlight Rajiv Gandhi, if you want to help him. It is your call. These things were reported by The Indian Express even then, these admirals did not step out then.”
“I give advertisements to The Indian Express. It doesn’t benefit me, but is it a dole? Advertisements to newspapers may fit into a description of dole. After December 11, DAVP rates were enhanced. It is a dole? But if I am getting houses built (for the poor), is it a dole? Then I do not get the definition of a dole.”
“Take the example of The Indian Express’s one-time karta-dharta had written an article on the merger of banks in the country as a big reform. I have merged five banks into SBI and three more banks have been merged. Where is he?”
“Did The Indian Express, which does investigative journalism, write that 100 per cent electrification has been achieved after Governor’s rule (in J&K). Isn’t it news?”
“A Dalit girl is raped in Alwar and it doesn’t become a headline in The Indian Express till May 6 (when polls concluded in Rajasthan), it will raise question on the neutrality of The Indian Express. It was not there until May 6 because there was polling till then. Can you listen to it whether you like it or not?”
“Newspapers were a kind of satyagraha at the time of freedom struggle. Those people running newspapers faced several troubles because of it. The media’s legacy is born out of that struggle. Earlier when I used to pick up The Indian Express, it wouldn’t matter to me whether a report is by Ravish or Rahul or someone else. Because all that mattered was The Indian Express. But with the advent of social media, I can look at 50 tweets of Ravish and make an impression. Aaj aap benaqab ho gaye hain, sabhi patrakar (Today the masks are off all journalists).
As if these unsolicited homilies on journalism—from a man who has not held a single press conference, under a regime when India’s standing on the World Press Freedom Index has fallen—were not enough, Modi has the temerity to talk of the big ‘O’.
What was not possible for your government even with 282 (seats)?
“Getting The Indian Express to be objective in criticism of Modi (smiles).”
Clearly, Raj Kamal Jha’s 2016 speech in Modi’s face, saying criticism from government is a badge of honour has not been forgotten.