Compare the flattering treatment, the softball questions, to the interview that Rahul faced.
We have been awaiting this moment ever since Rahul Gandhi faced the nation. In other words, he found himself staring at Arnab Goswami (Times Now) — it’s one and the same thing. After a hard-hitting session, the verdict was clear: Rahul had taken tough questioning without flinching under fire — but bored viewers with his repetitive answers to many questions on empowering women, the youth and changing the system.
We wondered then, whether and when Narendra Modi would allow himself to come face to face with Goswami or any other news anchor and whether TV anchors would give him as torrid a time as they had given Rahul. When it happened earlier this week, it came as welcome sign that Modi was prepared to be at least questioned on TV, something he has shied away from thus far. And yet, none of us could have predicted that when he finally gave a TV interview, it would be to a regional news channel — ETV Rajasthan —
and another to one of his more recent admirers, Madhu Kishwar.
The latter, broadcast in a series of excerpts from a long session with Kishwar for her book, Modi, Muslims and Media, showed up on News X. Over the last few days, Decoding Modi has brought us face to face with the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. That’s the kind of interview it was: Modi in full frontal with Madhu Kishwar invisible but for the occasional “Hmmm”. Modi’s monologue — because that is what it was — was accompanied by matching visuals. So if he was describing his elevation to chief minister of Gujarat, there were stills/ footage of him being sworn in. If he was speaking about Godhra, we saw him emerge from the burning train, etc.
The interview was not much of an interview. It looked more like a documenting Modi rather than decoding him — given that it was part of Kishwar’s research. We seldom heard Kishwar’s questions — the entire focus was on Modi. And how he reveled in it, recounting anecdotes about his life and times as chief minister of Gujarat. The exercise was desultory and allowed him to say just what he pleased.
In the other one on ETV Rajasthan, we saw and heard the anchor. Saw him ask each questions with his mouth and his hands. He couldn’t control them as they sketched circles in front of his face. Modi sat opposite him, perfectly still. And why not? He was asked leading questions, allowing him to expand on his vision for the future of India. Didn’t hear even one tough question. So Modi had the time of his life, repeating much of what he says in his election rally speeches — the Gujarat model, for instance, came up for a long explanation and how the Chinese had come to admire it. He was the master of the generalised statement: for instance, while speaking on defence production, he airily commented, “Can’t the youth of this country (make defence equipment)?”
In conclusion? The media is either unwilling or unable to ask Modi penetrative questions. In these two interviews, he swatted away softball questions with a hard bat. Perhaps he only agreed to be interviewed on condition that he not be asked uncomfortable questions. If you compare this interview with Rahul’s on Times Now, the contrast is stark: Rahul was asked at least some hard-hitting questions, cornered on issues like the 1984 Sikh riots, although he was allowed to have his say on his pet themes. In Modi’s case, he simply had his way throughout. Not once was anything he said challenged. It made for poor TV. If he continues to give soft interviews, they will be viewed as plugs for him — another strategy in the marketing of Modi.
You notice a contrast in the advertising campaigns of the Congress and BJP too. The Congress ad currently on the air features people from different walks of life in brief encounters with Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. It ends with Rahul in the foreground with “the people” behind him. The present BJP ad features only Narendra Modi. The cult of Gujarat’s chief minister is being assiduously cultivated, maybe at the cost of the BJP. Increasingly, this election is being projected as a fight between Modi and the political parties which oppose him. The BJP is almost an afterthought.