By Sushil Kutty
In the United States former presidents continue to be ‘President’ for the rest of their lives. And so, ‘President Trump’ gave an interview to NDTV and but for the fact that seven seas separated India from the United States, Trump wouldn’t have agreed to the interview for the simple reason that within earshot Trump would have known years ago that of the hundreds of Indian TV media, NDTV comes the nearest to aping CNN in its reportage philosophy.
And everybody knows how CNN decimated and demeaned the 45th POTUS. And continues to do so as an addiction can only be fought, not defeated. The grouse against President Donald Trump since the time he was forced to vacate the White House is that to this day he refuses to concede President Joe Biden defeated him “fair and square” in 2020. CNN, especially, went to town with this Trump infringement and NDTV also made no bones about it.
Of course, Donald Trump did not know NDTV well when he sat down with the channel’s Sreenivasan Jain and “Hindu American” Shallabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar for the interview. As it happened, Sreenivasan Jain turned out to be no match to the CNN’s then White House correspondent Jim Acosta whose volatile encounters with Trump at White House pressers made him a poster boy of the left-liberal who hated Trump from his shoelaces up.
Unlike Acosta, Sreenivasan Jain gave the impression he didn’t want to touch a raw Trump nerve. To his audience at home, this was not the Sreenivasan Jain they had come to accept as a natural-born tough cookie. Jain’s line of questioning of ‘The Donald’ was tame, acetone-free and aseptic; perhaps the most docile journalist Donald Trump had ever faced in a career of journalists.
NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain allowed Trump slack and more. This interview wouldn’t stand for a “roast” if the stove itself was on fire. For example, Trump told NDTV that “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing a terrific job” and Jain let it go, scot-free! He didn’t counter Trump with even a whimper. Jain could have put his foot down and disputed Trump’s carte blanche, asked Trump to explain himself; told him most Indians wouldn’t give Trump the time of the day after hearing this.
That would have disabused Trump of his long held view that Modi held India by its pulse. At the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, the Trump-Modi bonhomie was at its peak. And “yesterday at the interview” was the chance for NDTV to puncture Trump’s Modi-balloon. But Sreenivasan Jain let the opportunity slip out of NDTV’s hand and this was, perhaps, the ultimate lost opportunity in the history of lost opportunities.
At another point, to another question, President Trump told Jain, “I’ve had a great relationship with India and with Prime Minister Modi. We were, we’ve, been friends. And I think he’s a great guy and doing a terrific job. It’s not an easy job he’s got. But we’ve known each other a long time. Good man.”
Jain let that too go without raising a middle-finger equivalent. Donald Trump isn’t the sort who doesn’t like revelations. For sure, his understanding of Modi must only be skin deep despite the heavy hug-holding. He would have been intrigued if he was told a brief history of Narendra Modi in the best-NDTV rendition. But Sreenivasan Jain didn’t ask Trump to explain the “terrific job” Modi has been doing.
Instead, he gave President Trump a clear route to take potshots at POTUS Joe Biden, and the Democrats. Sreenivasan Jain appeared too keen to position NDTV as a global media channel with this “world exclusive”. Post the interview, the channel was congratulating itself on being the first in the world to make Trump confess there would be a Trump 2:0, and that Trump was continuing to allege “vendetta”.
Trump was asked “But you say this vendetta?” and the reply came from “Hindu-American” Shallab ‘Shaili’ Kumar: “Hindu Americans and India must know there’s a big parallel from 2002 to 2014, everybody wanted to put Narendra Modi in jail. He was being vilified…Now he’s the most popular man. The same thing is happening…President has been, you know, witch hunt. First, the Russian collusion – nothing. Impeachment – nothing”.
NDTV let that, too, to go. In fact, it seemed like Sreenivasan Jain was in awe of the “Hindu-American” go-between, and the two had come to an arrangement on the particular line of questioning Trump; and, while at it, also give Modi slack. So, India “has never had a better friend than me”, and Trump had given the “broadest hint (to any channel worldwide) yet that he may be running for office again in 2024” became the punch-lines for this “NDTV world-exclusive”. (IPA Service)