THE CITIZEN COMMENT | 18 MAY, 2019
India Ponders On Modi: Why?
PM Modi’s strange meet with the media
When journalists gathered for the press conference, and looked on as Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked into the hall with BJP chief Amit Shah and others in the BJP hierarchical line up, there was a buzz of excitement. Finally after five years ---1817 days---the PM was going to address a press conference. And depart from his usual prepared scripts, and orchestrated interviews to subservient journalists, and actually take some real questions.
But that was it, and perhaps The Telegraph put it most eloquently this morning with:
Modi did not say a word. His role was reduced to gestures, expressions as he listened to the party chief hold forth. Efforts by scribes to get him to answer met with a sorry, I am a disciplined soldier response, directing the question to the BJP chief. Or dismissive words from Amit Shah saying it was not necessary for the PM to answer.
Then why was he there? What was the idea? What did he think he would achieve? These questions have become the focus of journalist chatter with not a single answer or even speculation that could throw light on this absurd pantomime where the Prime Minister holds a press conference and does not take a single question!
If it was a public relations exercise it failed miserably.
If it was an attempt to underline his ‘democratic’ credentials, it failed even more miserably as being present at a press conference means nothing unless you answer questions.
If it was an attempt to grab some more headlines, it fell flat as all it got were memes, trolls, jokes and The Telegraph kind of reactions all around.
If it was a photo opportunity, Modi looked despondent, worried, and certainly not his best. Many who are these days reading election results in body language insist that his facial expression and the droop of his shoulders suggested defeat! So clearly did not work.
So why? Well only he knows. Perhaps in the new authoritarian order the Prime Minister sits and others speak for him.
But instead of puncturing it reinforced the criticism against Modi for not addressing the media, for not answering questions, for not just ducking but hiding. More so with Congress President Rahul Gandhi holding a parallel press conference to mock the PMs “unprecedented” interaction with the media.
Stories of the Prime Ministers interviews to television channels, filtering out from strict secrecy an closed doors have become legendary. Of how scripts are given out and have to be followed by the questioner. Of how Modi loses his cool when this does not happen. Of how questions to be asked by the pliant interviewers are cleared beforehand. And of how none of it is spontaneous, but carefully rehearsed with questions prepared and answers scripted. Modi does not like surprise questions, and has made this clear in ample terms. All those inside the recording room are sworn to secrecy, with the threat of losing their job if they share any of the proceedings within. According to reports one journalist was actually fired on this count.
So for a Prime Minister who does not go in for a media interview without sufficient preparation and to and fro exchanges with the interviewers before the actual recording, this walk into a media briefing was perhaps a major step forward. And he was actually convinced that by just that impromptu (for him) gesture he would win the day!
Well, journalists have sold their souls but despite that there are still many left who remember the good old press conferences of yesteryears by Prime Ministers who embraced this embellishment of democracy with grace.