By Sushil Kutty
These days spanning a month are an essay of our times. That said, it took less than 75 years for India to start unravelling. Some will set the date closer by decades; like eight years to date—from May 26, 2014 on, from the time the BJP won a majority in the Lok Sabha and installed a government under Narendra Modi, till then undisputed king of Gujarat, now unrivalled leader of the world’s largest democracy.
Modi’s eight years in power is being debated and thrashed by assorted sections of people even as an uneasiness cloaks the discourse. People—large sections of the citizenry—are unhappy, at odds with the ruling dispensation’s claim that India has never been in better shape than under the “strong and stable leadership” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The uneasiness stems from that—the “strong and stable” character of Modi rule, which is disturbing to plenty of people. Like somebody said the other day to “kisan leader” Yogendra Yadav and Trinamool Congress leader Pawan Varma, “perception is based on bias, and opinion is stuck on facts!” Judging Narendra Modi through the prism of perception should be shunned. But then, where are the facts to hang an opinion of Modi and his rule on?
The problem is, India and the world, indeed, has been functioning, and continues to function, under a canopy of half-truths and post-truths for the duration of nearly a decade, ever since the rightwing everywhere did a somersault and came to rule several countries including the United States, and India. The US has since returned to the left, but India continues to lean right.
A feature of the Modi years is that an honest political and/or economic analyst would not be able to get his head round the barrage of dubious information he is fed with and make much headway. Has India developed in the last eight years? Where are the believable figures to prove that “fact’? The common man is lost in the maze, and for good reason—the fourth pillar, the omnipotent media, cannot be trusted to corroborate the truth.
BJP spokespersons dominate the news cycle, to the extent they even dictate the line-up of news. Development indices like jobs created, the unemployment rate, inflation going north or south, is the IMF right, or the RBI? These are only a few of the uncertainties in these times of Modi. The dispensers of news are so caught up in tailing Modi around the globe that they have no time to ask him the questions they should ask.
The question is, if Modi doesn’t talk one-on-one to the Press, what stops the Press from reminding him of the misdemeanour every single day? By posting a ‘clock’, updated daily, on the TV screen that keeps track of the number of days Modi hasn’t held a press meet! Of course, the number will remain stuck at “zero”. But that is not the point. The point is, the BJP and Modi should get to see the “zero” every day of the year, week after week, month after month, year after year.
It will be an “in your face” challenge for Modi, a perpetual reminder that he is afraid to face the Press, and why, for what? Something like the ‘Population Clock’ at the AIIMS Crossing in New Delhi. Is it still there, a ticking time-bomb, the seconds and minutes ticking away? The ‘No Modi Press Meet’ signage on every TV screen, scrolling on a loop behind the pretty anchor, should remind Modi every single passing minute that he is afraid to face the Press! Afraid of the uncomfortable questions!
People are tired of Modi’s weekly ‘Man Ki Baat’. Even kids aged 10 and 12 know they are staged, and anybody can drone away if nobody is physically present to question the “Baat”. The reality is Modi will not change. But an intervention is needed. The television media should intervene. Right after Modi is done with his ‘Man ki Baat’, there should be an analysis of what all he spoke. Questions should be asked of him. He should be asked about the nitty-gritty of his ‘Man Ki Baat’ with the public in the studio.
No Prime Minister should be allowed to get away with blanket statements that cannot be responded to. Like Modi compels the people to listen, Modi should be compelled to listen.
Isn’t that what Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s grouse is—that the Prime Minister “‘does not listen”. A brave set of media can force the Prime Minister to “listen” even if he shuts his ears and eyes to the questions asked. Which media has the guts to print/broadcast/telecast “Ten Questions For Prime Minister Modi” every single day till the big day in 2024? There are any number of cerebral journalists to come up with 10 questions, Sunday after Sunday?
So far, in all his eight years in the hot-seat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been having it cool, very easy. He is accessible only if he wants to be accessible, and he avoids one-on-one interactions with the Press. Ask India’s media what India’s Prime Minister is up to and there will only be blank stares. Narendra Modi has lots of questions to answer. Like, for instance, what is he going to do with the Uniform Civil Code? (IPA Service)