Herald View: What explains the Prime Minister's reluctance to take questions from the Press?
Indira Gandhi took questions in India and abroad. Dr Manmohan Singh, mocked by Modi, took questions from the Press. What is the Indian PM afraid of ? Why is he afraid to defend his own policies?
Whether the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to the US last month was a disaster or a triumph can elicit different answers from different people. The ostentatious welcome accorded to him on his return, with the national capital plastered with posters welcoming back the ‘global leader’ after four days abroad, and complete with Bhangra dancers and bands, was over the top. And it could lend itself to different interpretations. The Prime Minister’s visit could have been so disastrous that it became imperative to gloss over it. Or, it is also entirely possible that the PMO and BJP genuinely believed that the PM’s visit was so successful that it merited what seemed otherwise to be a foolish display. The dutiful Indian media did gush that the Prime Minister had worked so hard that he attended as many as 42 meetings in just those three days. That most of these ‘meetings’ with world leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly were mere photo-ops was of course ignored. The gushing media coverage was also somewhat spoilt by live footage showing a less than full UN General Assembly listening to the Indian PM. The PM or PMO’s fixation for live coverage also provided some light entertainment, if not some comic touches. Observers speculated if this was the first time an Indian PM had not been received on the stairs of the White House by the President and the First Lady. The PM’s ponderous walk, through lobbies and corridors to the oval office seemed to many a sad and sorry spectacle.
In some ways the unkindest cut was when the US President quipped that the Indian Press was much better behaved than the American Press. The irony was not lost on anyone barring the Prime Minister who blurted out that he totally agreed with the assessment and to the proposal that they do not take any question from the Press. The US President was clearly following his brief and seemed to know exactly how well behaved the Indian Press is and the reputation of the Indian PM for not taking questions. The PM has no difficulty in answering questions on whether he prefers to suck on mangoes. Nor does he have a problem in answering questions on whether he carries a wallet. But besides such inanities, widely suspected to be pre-determined, he is known to have walked out when faced with inconvenient questions. Strangely Indian analysts have interpreted this as one of his great strengths. The question really is how long he will be given a free pass. Every other Indian Prime Minister has answered questions at home and abroad. Even Mrs Indira Gandhi did not flinch from questions on the Emergency. But the present Indian PM refuses to answer questions on any subject, let alone the economy, the Chinese aggression or Demonetisation. Even the Prime Minister’s ‘buddy’ Donald Trump took questions. Every US President answers questions from the Press. Dr Manmohan Singh, who Mr. Modi mocked for allegedly being forever silent, took questions on his government’s performance and allegations of corruption on the chin. So, what is special, or more correctly what is wrong with Prime Minister Modi? Why doesn’t he answer questions on live TV, which is his favourite medium? What is he afraid of? Does he suffer from attention deficit syndrome or from lapses of memory? Does he find it difficult to marshal details? Or is he afraid of betraying his ignorance of policies and is incapable of defending them?