What We Can Learn From Modi's Scripted 'Interviews'

PRIME Minister Modi’s ‘interviews’, given to certain select journalists during the 2019 parliamentary election campaign reveal much about himself and his politics. They reveal much in spite of the fact that the journalists who interviewed him avoided doing their jobs. The worst of these journalist acted as fawning cheerleaders; and even the best among them avoided the most relevant and vital questions.

Modi’s interview with News Nation inadvertently confirmed that its questions and answers were pre-scripted. Sharp-eyed viewers spotted that Modi had a printed script in his hand, in which the question he had just been asked (about his poetry) could be seen along with the poem he went on to read. The printed script not only proved the ‘fixed’ nature of the ‘interview’, it also punctured the claim Modi had just made: that he had just scribbled the poem by hand, in illegible handwriting.

The News Nation interviewers asked Modi whether or not he used a wallet: a question that can compete for hagiographic inanity and irrelevance with Akshay Kumar’s ‘apolitical’ question about mangoes. But Modi seemed to need a written script to answer even such inane questions.    

The News Nation interview also inadvertently revealed the danger that Modi’s and BJP’s anti-intellectualism poses to India. Modi boasted that while experts had wished to postpone the Balakot air strike due to bad weather, he himself had made the decision that the strike should be carried out, because clouds would prevent detection by Pakistan’s radars! He implied that while experts were baffled by the bad weather, he, Modi, in spite of not knowing the science of radars, came up with a brilliant idea of using the bad weather as cover. The BJP tweeted this claim of Modi’s - and then deleted the tweet when social media erupted with laughter and anger at the PM’s ignorance. It was pointed out that radars are intended to penetrate cloud cover.

Modi either made up the ‘cloud’ story to falsely claim credit for the Balakot decision and insert himself as a hero into the Balakot narrative. Or he did in fact bypass expert opinions to impose his own ignorant one - in which case he endangered the lives of Indian Air Force personnel and the success of an IAF operation.

In the same interview, Modi also claimed to have owned India’s first digital camera in 1987-88, and also been among the first to use email in the same year, emailing a colour photograph of Advani. Commercial email was not available anywhere in the world till the mid-1990s - so Modi’s claim is laughable. The first digital camera was sold in 1987 - how did Modi, who claims to have been penniless in his youth, acquire a digital camera the same year?

Modi’s other recent interview was with the Indian Express. In this interview, the journalists have at least kept up the appearance of an ‘interview’, with no questions about wallets and poetry. But even this interview avoids asking a single question about the cronyism involved in the Rafale deal, about India’s record unemployment rate under Modi, or about Modi’s repeated assertion that no Hindu has ever been or can ever be a terrorist. Instead, Modi on his own made statements defending Pragya Thakur’s candidature - without the IE journalists asking a single follow-up question challenging his narrative. To understand how this interview fails in its journalistic duty, it can be contrasted with a recent interview in which British journalist Mehdi Hasan grilled BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli on Thakur’s candidature, asking all the questions that the IE journalists should have asked but did not.

At one point, Modi responded to a question about hate-mongering by his supporters, by saying ‘Please tell me a single incident where our government institutionally discriminated against any community.’ The IE journalists should have responded with a follow-up question on whether the Modi Government’s proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) was not institutionalised discrimination against minorities, since these promise citizenship to Hindu immigrants while forcing Muslim and Christian minorities to provide documentary proof for their citizenship. But they did not even mention the CAB or NRC.    

Throughout his election campaign, Modi has refused to entertain any questions about his own Government’s accountability and responsibility. Indian media, instead of holding him accountable, has instead provided a platform for Modi to aggrandise himself. With the failure and complicity of institutions, including the media, the task of holding Modi and his regime accountable is left to India’s people.