Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to the Hindustan Times summit on Thursday morning fresh from his meeting with Ivanka Trump in Hyderabad and a trip back home to Gujarat, to ask, among other things, Why is the media so negative on India when, in fact, the “irreversible rise” had begun since his government came to power?
Towards the end of his speech, in which he listed out his government’s achievements and compared them favourably to the last three years of the previous UPA government – in terms of laying roads, rail tracks and electrification, capital expenditure and not least, the hugely successful campaign against black money – Modi quoted former president Abdul Kalam to ask:
“Hamare yahan ka media itna negative kyon hai?” Why is the Indian media so negative ?
He went on to add: Why is it that we are so embarrassed about our achievements and our capabilities? We are such a great country, we have such amazing stories to tell, so why is it that we refuse to acknowledge them? Aakhir aisa kyon hai? Why are we like this, anyway?
The PM seems genuinely perplexed. He has just finished telling one of the country’s largest and oldest media houses — as well as the city’s Who’s Who which had gathered to hear him — that he and the BJP had rewritten the rules of government not only in the last three years, but no government had ever dared to do what he had done.
Certainly, there’s no denying the PM’s grand ambitions. He likes to quote from the Gita, to point out that the even Buddha had said much the same thing as he is now. Lift yourselves up. You are your own friend and enemy. Be your own light.
So why is the PM feeling the media isn’t treating him and his government’s achievements fairly? Too much criticism on demonetization, GST, the country’s US-obsessed foreign policy? The PM answered each of these unasked questions in his speech.
After all, this is only the second time in three years that Modi ji is attending a big function of a big media house – recently, he was chief guest at the Tamil newspaper, the ‘Daily Thanthi’. He hasn’t kept a media advisor, sources say, because he doesn’t want to discriminate between journalists for access. He likes to play fair.
So instead of a media advisor, the Prime Minister’s Office sends the occasional direct email to all interested parties, including the media, on what Modi ji is regularly up to. There is the Narendra Modi app. Of course, there has always been Facebook and Twitter on which he is an incredible presence.
So the PM came to the HT Summit from his campaign rallies in Gujarat, where he addressed meetings in Morbi, Prachi, Palitana and Navsari. At Morbi, he attacked his chief opponent and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for attacking the GST and calling it the Gabbar Singh Tax. What a Grand Stupid Thought it was, said the PM, for these economists-come- lately to have decided that all taxes should be capped at 18 per cent?
But his carefully curated Twitter handle – the PM is said to clear every tweet that is pushed out in his name — didn’t pick up this expanded GST version regarding the Congress leader.
The PM wasn’t done at Morbi. So at Prachi @narendramodi said:
Actually, the brouhaha turned out to be much larger. The BJP picked up on the fact that a Congressman had entered the entire Congress delegation led by Rahul Gandhi and which included Ahmed Patel in the Somnath Temple visitor’s book as “non-Hindus”. The Congress alleged that it was the BJP which had put Rahul’s name there and went on to justify his “janeu-dhari” status, touching a new low in this battle for Gujarat.
But the attack on Jawaharlal Nehru continued. Nehru did not want the Somnath temple to be built in the first place – if Sardar Patel wasn’t around, what would have happened, asked Mr Modi, so why does Nehru’s great-grandson now want to visit ?
Certainly, the PM is fighting fit. A large part of his speech at the HT Summit was devoted to his government’s attack against black money, which is what demonetization was really about. “For the first time since independence, the corrupt have become afraid of being caught,” he said. Once again, that old insistence that he was there first.
The PM pointed out that the government had come to know about 400-500 shell companies which were listed on one address and each of these companies had opened 2000 accounts. “Isn’t this odd? People from Kolkata sitting here know this very well,” the PM said, intriguingly. The information that the demonetization exercise had thrown up would be used to clean up the corrupt system that had been operation since independence, he added.
The peripatetic PM will be back in Gujarat on Saturday. He knows this is far too important a battle not to win handsomely. The bugles have been sounded, for some time. The HT summit today was an opportunity to reiterate that.